Compressor Room Updates Improve Performance

I’d like to start out by saying a common theme I have observed over the past six months is a huge spike in DIY projects around the home. While everyone has been sent home to work and kids have been sent home to learn remotely, the home has become more than just a resting place. It is an office, school, recreation center, even movie theater. This led to an amazing year for home improvement big box stores and lots of people are tackling projects that they may have thought were beyond their level. At this point in the year we are also seeing a lot of manufacturing that either hasn’t stopped or is starting back up safely, there are lots of projects around an industrial facility that can be tackled during downturns as well.

Compressor Room – 1

The main focus today will be on a critical room that generally gets shoved back into a deep dark corner, the compressor room. The air compressor is a piece of capital equipment that generates a companies 4th utility, compressed air. This is then sent throughout most of the facility and utilized at critical points within production. Air compressors have changed their look over the years and are still often crammed into a small dimly lit room that no one wants to venture into. Having an outdated compressor room can also be causing undesirable performance and lack luster performance as well. Here’s a few items that can more often than not be addressed pretty simply to improve the overall appearance and most importantly the performance of the compressors.

Clean air intake on a screw compressor – 2

First, clean air intake. Rather than letting the compressor suck air in from the room that may be stagnant or even worse, just sucking in the hot air coming off the heat exchangers on the compressor and causing elevated compressed air temps. This fix can include ducting clean air from outside of the facility to ensure micro-debris from within the facility isn’t being pulled in. While pulling in ambient air from outside the facility will still require a filter that will need to be maintained. If a large single source is used, that is perfectly acceptable. To step this project up multiple smaller inlets that are each controlled by a damper would permit variability to match ambient conditions on temperature.

Industrial exhaust fan – 3

Second, install an exhaust fan that feeds the air not just out of the room, yet out of the facility if at all possible. This helps to promote a through-flow of air with the clean air intake and keep from recirculating dirty already cycled air. This will also help any form of system based air treatment that relies on an exchange of heat, such as a refrigerant dryer. Again, a fan that stays on constantly would be the base level fix, step this up by adding a thermostatically controlled system so the fan doesn’t run continuously.

Third, if you heat your facility throughout the winter, use that hot exhaust air from the compressors to reclaim the heat of the compression cycle and optimize your return on using electricity. This can be done by strategic routing of the exhaust ductwork mentioned above, and can be stepped up to have thermostatically controlled dampers on the ducts to open and flow the air through an adjacent room for cooler months rather than exhaust straight out during the warm Summer months.

If you would like to discuss any of these topics or any of your compressed air point of use applications, feel free to contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

 1 – Air Compressor in Engine Room – retrieved from, Work With Sounds / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Air_compressor_in_engine_room.JPG

2 – Screw Compressor 1 – retrieved from, Endora6398 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Screw_compressor_1.jpg

3 – Industrial Exhaust Fan – retrieved from , Saud / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Industrial_Exhaust_Fan.jpg

Compressed Air System Maintenance

Air Compressor and Storage Tanks

Compressed air is the life blood of a manufacturing plant, and the air compressor would be considered the heart. To keep things “fit”, it is important to check all areas and to optimize your system to keep your plant running safely and efficiently. You do not have to be a doctor to do these “operations”. If your compressor fails, the entire facility will stop working. In this blog, I will cover some simple preventative maintenance that can really help you.

As margins get tighter and cost of manufacturing climbs, industries are looking into other areas to be more economical. A big focus today is the compressed air system. Compressed air is considered to be a “forth” utility behind gas, water, and electricity, and it is a necessary to run your pneumatic systems. But it is the least efficient of the utilities. So, it is very important to use this utility as practical as possible and to use a PM program to keep it going.

If we start at the beginning of your compressed air system, this would jump us to the air compressor. This is the machine that uses an electric or gas motor to spin a crank. It compresses the ambient air into a small volume to generate stored energy to be used by your pneumatic systems. Because the air compressor is complex and intricate, I would recommend a trained service personnel to do the maintenance. But, if your staff is familiar with air compressors, I wrote a blog to help look at certain parts periodically. You can read it here: “6 Basic Steps for Good Air Compressor Maintenance (And When to Do Them)”.

The next part after the air compressor is to look at the aftercoolers, compressed air dryers, receiver tanks, filters, and condensate drains. Some facilities may only have some of these items.

The aftercoolers are designed to cool the exit air from your air compressor. It uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature. It is easy to check the fan to verify that it is spinning and to keep the coils clean from debris.

The compressed air dryers can range in size and type. For the refrigerant type air dryers, you should periodically check the freon compressor with ohm and amp readings, the condensers for cleaning, and the super heat temperature as well. For desiccant type air dryers, you will need to check the operation of the valves. Valves are used to regenerate one side of the desiccant bed. The valves can fail and stick either open or closed. In either way, if the desiccant cannot regenerate, then it will allow moisture to go down stream and eventually destroy the desiccant beads.

The receiver tanks have safety relief valves that will need to be checked to make sure that they are not leaking. If they are, they should be changed.

As for the filters, they collect contamination from the compressed air stream. This will include liquid water, oil, and dirt. A pressure drop will start to increase with the contaminants, which will reduce the potential energy. If they do not have pressure drop indicators, you should have two points of references for pressure readings. You should change the filter elements when the pressure drop reaches 10 PSID (0.7 bar) or after 1 year.

With all these items above, water is created. There should be condensate drains to discard the water. The most efficient types of condensate drains are the zero loss drains. Most condensate drains will have a test button to be pressed to verify that they open. If they do not open, they should be replaced or fixed. Do not place a valve on them and partially open for draining. For float type drains, they will have a pin inside that can be pressed to open. You can verify that all the liquid has been expelled.

The distribution system are the pipes and tubes that run compressed air from the supply side to the demand side of your pneumatic system. One of the largest problems affecting the distribution system are leaks. That quiet little hissing sound from the pipe lines is costing your company much money. A study was conducted by a university to determine the percentage of air leaks in a typical manufacturing plant. In a poorly maintained system, they found on average of 30% of the compressor capacity is lost through air leaks.

To put a dollar value on it, a leak that you cannot physically hear can cost you as much as $130/year. That is just for one inaudible leak in hundreds of feet of compressed air lines. Unlike a hydraulic system, compressed air is clean; so, leaks will not appear at the source. So, you have to find them by some other means.

Digital Flowmeter

 

EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector

Most leaks occur where you have threaded fittings, connections, hoses, and pneumatic components like valves, regulators, and drains. EXAIR has two products in our Optimization product line that are designed to help find leaks in your compressed air system.

The Ultrasonic Leak Detectors can find air leaks, and the Digital Flowmeters can monitor your system for loss of air. When an air leaks occur, it emits an ultrasonic noise caused by turbulence. These ultrasonic noises can be at a frequency above audible hearing for human. The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector can pick up these high frequencies to make inaudible leaks audible.

With the Digital Flowmeters, you can continuously check your system for waste and record it with a USB Datalogger.  Air leaks can occur at any time within any section of your pneumatic system.  With a Digital Flowmeter, you can also isolate an area to watch for any flow readings; telling you that the air is leaking in that section.  With both products included in your leak-preventative program, you will be able to reduce your waste and optimize your compressed air system.

Family of Nozzles

At the point-of-use areas, this is the easiest target area for compressed air maintenance. If you are using open tubes or drilled pipes for blowing, they are loud, inefficient, and unsafe. They can be easily change to an engineered blow-off product from EXAIR which are very efficient and OSHA safe. EXAIR offers a range of Super Air Nozzles and Super Air Knives to simply replace the current blow-off devices that overuse compressed air. If we go back to the beginning of your system, the air compressor is a mechanical device which will have a MTBF, or Mean Time Between Failures. The hour meter on your air compressor is like a life monitor. By using less compressed air, your air compressor will extend that time in MTBF.

Keeping your compressed air system running optimally is very important for a business to run. With a simple maintenance program, it can help you with your pneumatic operations and energy savings. Like stated above, your compressed air system is the life blood of your company, and you do not need a PhD to keep it well maintained. Just follow the target areas above. If you would like to discuss further about the health of your compressed air system, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR. We will be happy to help “diagnose” a solution.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

6 Basic Steps for Good Air Compressor Maintenance (And When to Do Them)

A production equipment mechanic with the 76th Maintenance Group, takes meter readings of the oil pressure and temperature, cooling water temperature and the output temperature on one of two 1,750 horsepower compressors. (Air Force photo by Ron Mullan)

In one of my previous jobs, I was responsible for the operation of the facility.  One of my biggest responsibilities was the air compressor because it supplied pressurized air though out the facility to feed the pneumatic systems.  Like with many industries, the compressor system is the life blood of the company.  If the compressor fails, the whole facility will stop.  In this blog, I will share some preventative maintenance items and schedules for your air compressors.

Because the cost to make compressed air is so expensive, compressed air systems are considered to be a fourth utility.  And with any important investment, you would like to keep it operating as long and efficiently as possible.  To do this, it is recommended to get your air compressor a “checkup” every so often.  I will cover some important items to check as well as a recommended schedule for checking.  Depending on the size of your air compressors, some items may or may not apply.

1. Intake filter:  The intake filter is used to clean the air that is being drawn into the air compressor.  Particles can damage the air pump mechanisms, so it is important to have the proper filtration level.  But, as the intake filter builds up with debris, the pressure drop will increase.  If they are not properly monitored and cleaned, the air flow will be restricted.  This can cause the motors to operate harder and hotter as well as reduce the efficiency of the air compressor.

2. Compressor Oil:  This would be for flooded screws and reciprocating compressors that use oil to operate the air pump.  Most systems will have an oil sight gauge to verify proper levels.  In larger systems, the oil can be checked for acidity which will tell you the level at which the oil is breaking down.  The oil, like in your car, has to be changed after so many hours of operation.  This is critical to keep the air pump running smoothly without service interruptions.

3. Belts and Couplings:  These items transmit the power from the motor to the air pump.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  You should have spares on hand in case of any failures.

4. Air/Oil Separators:  This filter removes as much oil from the compressed air before it travels downstream.  It returns the oil back to the sump of the air compressor.  If the Air/Oil Separator builds too much pressure drop or gets damaged, excess oil will travel downstream.  Not only will the air pump lose the required oil level, but it will also affect the performance of downstream parts like your air dryer and after cooler.

5. Internal filters:  Some air compressors will come with an attached refrigerated air dryer.   With these types of air compressors, they will place coalescing filters to remove any residual oil.  These filters should be checked for pressure drop.  If the pressure drop gets too high, then it will rob your compressed air system of air pressure.  Some filters come with a pressure drop indicator which can help you to determine the life of the internal filter element.

6. Unloader valve:  When an air compressor unloads, this valve will help to remove any compressed air that is trapped in the cavity of the air pump.  So, when the air compressor restarts, it does not have to “work” against this “trapped” air pressure.  If they do not fully unload, the air compressor will have to work much harder to restart, wasting energy.

Preventative maintenance is very important, and checks need to be performed periodically.  As for a schedule, I created a rough sequence to verify, change, or clean certain items that are important to your air compressor.  You can also check with your local compressor representative for a more detailed maintenance schedule.

Daily:

  • After stopping, remove any condensate from the receiver tank.
  • Check oil level.

Monthly:

  • Inspect cooling fins on air pump. Clean if necessary
  • Inspect oil cooler. Clean if necessary

Quarterly:

  • Inspect the inlet air filter. Clean or replace if necessary.
  • Check the belt for tension and cracks. Tighten or replace.
  • Check differential pressure indicators on outlet compressed air filters.

Yearly:

  • Replace Air Inlet Filter
  • Replace the air-oil separator
  • Test safety valves and unloader valve
  • Replace compressed air filters
  • Change oil
  • Grease bearings if required

Keeping your air compressor running optimally is very important for pneumatic operations and energy savings.  I shared some important information above to assist.  Another area to check would be your pneumatic system downstream of the air compressor.  EXAIR manufactures engineered products that can reduce air consumption rates.  You can contact an Application Engineer to discuss further on how we can save you energy, money, and your air compressor.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

The Importance Of Air Compressor System Maintenance

It should go without saying, but proper operation of anything that has moving parts will depend on how well it’s maintained.  Compressed air systems are certainly no exception; in fact; they’re a critical example of the importance of proper maintenance, for two big reasons:

*Cost: compressed air, “the fourth utility,” is expensive to generate.  And it’s more expensive if it’s generated by a system that’s not operating as efficiently as it could.

*Reliability: Many industrial processes rely on clean or clean & dry air, at the right pressure, being readily available:

  • When a CNC machine trips offline in the middle of making a part because it loses air pressure, it has to be reset.  That means time that tight schedules may not afford, and maybe a wasted part.
  • The speed of pneumatic cylinders and tools are proportional to supply pressure.  Lower pressure means processes take longer.  Loss of pressure means they stop.
  • Dirt & debris in the supply lines will clog tight passages in air operated products.  It’ll foul and scratch cylinder bores.  And if you’re blowing off products to clean them, anything in your air flow is going to get on your products too.

Good news is, the preventive maintenance necessary to ensure optimal performance isn’t all that hard to perform.  If you drive a car, you’re already familiar with most of the basics:

*Filtration: air compressors don’t “make” compressed air, they compress air that already exists…this is called the atmosphere, and, technically, your air compressor is drawing from the very bottom of the “ocean” of air that blankets the planet.  Scientifically speaking, it’s filthy down here.  That’s why your compressor has an inlet/intake filter, and this is your first line of defense. If it’s dirty, your compressor is running harder, and costs you more to operate it.  If it’s damaged, you’re not only letting dirt into your system; you’re letting it foul & damage your compressor.  Just like a car’s intake air filter (which I replace every other time I change the oil,) you need to clean or replace your compressor’s intake air filter on a regular basis as well.

*Moisture removal: another common “impurity” here on the floor of the atmospheric “ocean” is water vapor, or humidity.  This causes rust in iron pipe supply lines (which is why we preach the importance of point-of-use filtration) and will also impact the operation of your compressed air tools & products.

  • Most industrial compressed air systems have a dryer to address this…refrigerated and desiccant are the two most popular types.  Refrigerant systems have coils & filters that need to be kept clean, and leaks are bad news not only for the dryer’s operation, but for the environment.  Desiccant systems almost always have some sort of regeneration cycle, but it’ll have to be replaced sooner or later.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on these.
  • Drain traps in your system collect trace amounts of moisture that even the best dryer systems miss.  These are typically float-operated, and work just fine until one sticks open (which…good news…you can usually hear quite well) or sticks closed (which…bad news…won’t make a sound.)  Check these regularly and, in conjunction with your dryers, will keep your air supply dry.

*Lubrication: the number one cause of rotating equipment failure is loss of lubrication.  Don’t let this happen to you:

  • A lot of today’s electric motors have sealed bearings.  If yours has grease fittings, though, use them per the manufacturer’s directions.  Either way, the first symptom of impending bearing failure is heat.  This is a GREAT way to use an infrared heat gun.  You’re still going to have to fix it, but if you know it’s coming, you at least get to say when.
  • Oil-free compressors have been around for years, and are very popular in industries where oil contamination is an unacceptable risk (paint makers, I’m looking at you.)  In oiled compressors, though, the oil not only lubricates the moving parts; it also serves as a seal, and heat removal medium for the compression cycle.  Change the oil as directed, with the exact type of oil the manufacturer calls out.  This is not only key to proper operation, but the validity of your warranty as well.

*Cooling:  the larger the system, the more likely there’s a cooler installed.  For systems with water-cooled heat exchangers, the water quality…and chemistry…is critical.  pH and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) should be checked regularly to determine if chemical additives, or flushing, are necessary.

*Belts & couplings: these transmit the power of the motor to the compressor, and you will not have compressed air without them, period.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  Keeping spares on hand isn’t a bad idea either.

Optimal performance of your compressed air products literally starts with your compressor system.  Proper preventive maintenance is key to maximizing it.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to shut down any system to replace a moving (or wear) part.  With a sound preventive maintenance plan in place, you have a good chance of getting to say when.

If you’d like to talk about other ways to optimize the performance of your compressed air system,  give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Image courtesy of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet, Creative Commons License