Six Sigma and The Compressor Room

Throughout my undergrad courses as well as during my professional career I have encountered Six Sigma or Lean Manufacturing in many facilities.  There is at least one component to the theory that can be implemented into any facility with a compressor room. That component is the practice of the 5 S’s.

The 5 S’s of Lean Manufacturing come from the Japanese terms  listed below with their English translations:

Seiri – Sort (Organize)
Seiton – Set in Order (Orderliness)
Seiso – Shine (Cleanliness)
Seiketsu – 
Standardize
Shitsuke –  Sustain (Discipline)

These 5 points can aid in keeping any air compressor room in a facility efficient, safe, and effectively supplying the company with compressed air. How you may ask.

Sort – Keeping a compressor room as originally laid out and preventing it from being a catch-all for items that have nothing to do with the compressed air system. This can easily happen when it is actually a room that has unused floor space in a small facility. By keeping the area clean and free of unrelated materials, maintenance and troubleshooting can be done quickly. Clear labeling of anything kept in the room is also ideal to make items easily identified.

Set in Order – To deliver the air in a single path/direction as well as keeping equipment in locations where they can be easy to maintain and clearly labeled eases the troubleshooting and understanding of how the system is laid out. Rather than having a spaghetti bowl of piping running all around the room to different components it is wiser to keep a flow that matches the process. From the compressor(s) to the receivers, dryers, filter, and regulators, out to the point of use. This shouldn’t be a tangled web of piping that introduces air to a process which bypasses key components such as the dryer or receivers.

Block diagram of a compressor room layout.

Shine – The compressor room shouldn’t be a dirty grungy area. The compressor pulls the air in from this environment. Any exposed components easily collect airborne debris. By keeping the equipment clean again makes labels easy to read and a clean machine is always easier to perform maintenance and sometimes even troubleshoot. If there are puddles of oil or other liquids on the floor and no surfaces are clean then any leak may not be easily spotted.

Standardize – The layout and processes used within the room should be repeatable. Maintenance tasks should be performed on a schedule, per a process that doesn’t allow for much differentiation on methods and end results. This mitigates errors and is always the desired result when focusing on lean manufacturing. LOWER THAT DELTA!

Sustain – This is sometimes the hardest part of any process. Getting the program up and running, starting with a fresh build is always the easiest.  Everything is fresh, new and you want to keep it shiny. Years later the desire to dust and maintain piping as well as keep receiver tanks and floors clean isn’t always at the top of the desired list.  It should always be a priority because cleanliness also promotes safety and reduces overhead by lowering downturns due to housekeeping related failures.

If you want to discuss how we can help lean out your compressed air usage, maintenance costs, and help to standardize the use of compressed air in your facility, contact an Application Engineer today.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer – Green Belt Certified
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

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

Basics of the Compressor Room

EXAIR Corporation has staked our reputation on a keen ability to help you get the most out of your compressed air system since 1983.  Now, the bulk of our expertise lies in the implementation and proper use of engineered products on the demand side, but we fully recognize that there are critical elements for optimization on the supply side too.  And that, quite literally, starts in the compressor room.  This is not an exhaustive, specifically detailed list, but here are some you might consider to get the most from the (again, quite literally) beginning:

  • Location.  If you’re building a new facility, or doing a major rehab of your existing one, having the compressor room as close as practical to the point(s) of use is best, IF all other things are equal.  You’ll use less pipe if you don’t have to run it so far.  You’ll also be able to use smaller diameter lines because you won’t have to worry about line loss (pressure drop due to friction as the air flows through the total length) as much.
  • Location part 2.  If all other things are NOT equal, having the compressor room close to the point of use may not be best for you.
    • Your air compressor pulls in air from the immediate environment.  It’s better to go with longer and bigger pipe in your distribution system than it is to put your compressor in a location where it’ll pull in dust & particulate from grinding operations, humidity from a boiler plant, fumes from chemical production, etc.
    • There are some pretty darn quiet air compressors out there, but there are some pretty loud ones too.  Especially in small to mid size facilities, putting the compressor in an area that upsizes the required piping is still likely a better idea, due to the downsizing of the noise levels that personnel will be exposed to.
  • Environment.  No matter where your compressor is located, the machine itself should be protected from heat and other harsh environmental elements.  That means if it’s inside the plant, the compressor room should be adequately ventilated.  In some situations, the compressor may be best installed outside the plant, in its own building or protective structure.  This should be designed to protect against solar load…in addition to the high temperature associated with a hot summer day, the sun’s rays beating down on your air compressor will radiate a tremendous amount of heat into it.
  • Filtration.  Whatever is in the air in your compressor room is going to get into your compressed air.  This is doubly problematic: particulate debris can damage the air compressor’s moving parts, and it can likewise damage your pneumatic cylinders, actuators, tools, motors, etc. as well.  Make sure the intake of your compressor is adequately filtered.
  • Maintenance.  Air compressors, like any machinery with moving parts, require periodic preventive maintenance, and corrective maintenance when something inevitably breaks down.  There should be adequate space factored in to your compressor room’s layout for this.  The only thing worse than having to fix something is not having the room to fix it without taking other stuff apart.

Patrick Duff, 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. Each compressor is capable of producing 4,500 cubic feet of air at 300 psi. The shop also has a 3,000 horsepower compressor that produces 9,000 cubic feet of air at 300 psi. By matching output to the load required, the shop is able to shut down compressors as needed, resulting in energy savings to the base. (Air Force photo by Ron Mullan)

These are a few things to consider on the supply end.  If you’d like to talk about how to get the most out of your compressed air system, EXAIR is keen on that.  Give us a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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About Air Compressors: Air Intake Best Practices

Take a second and think about where the air compressor is located within your facility.  It is more than likely not a major focal point displayed prominently in the floor layout. There is a better chance it is tucked away in a corner of the facility where operators seldom travel.  No matter the type of air compressor, it still has an intake where it pulls in the ambient air from around the compressor then sends it through some process and on the demand side of your compressed air system.  These intakes can easily be placed out of sight and out of mind especially in older facilities that were designed when compressors were loud and the piping layout kept them away from operators due to sound level restrictions.

Air Compressor
Antique Air Compressor (Not safe for use!)

That’s why your compressor manufacturer supplies a specific grade of air 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. It’s just like changing the air filter on your car, your car needs clean air to run correctly, so does your compressor and the entire demand side of your compressed air system.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, as a compressor inlet filter becomes dirty, the pressure drop across the inlet increases, this is very similar to the point of use compressed air filters.  The inlet filter on the compressor is the only path the compressor has to pull in the air, when restricted the compressor can begin to starve for air very similar to if you only had a small straw to breath through and told to run a marathon.  A clogged inlet filter can give false symptoms to compressor technicians as well.

The effects can mimic inlet valve modulation which result in increased compression ratios. If we were to form an example based on a compressor with a positive displacement, if the filter pressure drop increases by 20″ H2O, a 5% reduction of the mass flow of air will be present without a reduction in the power being drawn by the compressor. This all leads to inefficiency which easily amounts to more than the cost to replace the depleted inlet air filter.

compressor
Compressed Air System

Where you place the filter is just as important as how often you replace it.  There are some tips to be used when mounting the inlet filter.

  1. The filter can be placed on the compressor, but the inlet pipe should be coming from an external area to the compressor room or even the building if possible. The inlet should be free from any contaminants as well.  Some examples that are easy to overlook are nearby condensate discharges, other system exhausts and precipitation.
  2. Depending on the type of compressor being used, a lower intake air temperature can increase the mass flow of air due to the air density.  A compressor that is lubricant injected is not susceptible to this due to the air mixing with the warmer lubricant before being compressed.

If you would like to discuss improving your compressed air efficiency or any of EXAIR’s engineered solutions, I would enjoy hearing from you…give me a call.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge and thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.