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 

Reducing Lubricant in a Blanking Operation

We recently chatted with a customer that was looking to improve the lubrication system for multiple blanking lines.  Blanking involves the cutting of sheet metal in a single step, to separate the piece form the surrounding stock. The part that is cut out is the desired product and  is called the ‘blank.’  This operation can be moderate to fast in speed, and the process creates heat, so a lubricant is used to cool and decrease the wear on the tooling.  Our customer was looking for a better way to apply the lubricant.

We proposed the model AN2010SS, a No Drip, internal mix, narrow angle, round fan Atomizing Nozzle.  The nozzle uses compressed air to create a mist of the liquid with very fine droplet size. When using for the  lubricant, a fine layer can be applied over the entire surface without areas of over coverage and waste.  This leads to lower costs for lubricant, and less mess on the blanks.

No Drip Atomizing Nozzle
No Drip Atomizing Nozzle

To simplify the process, the No Drip model was chosen. The No Drip style has the added benefit of positively stopping liquid flow when the compressed air is turned off.  There is no need to independently control the liquid flow via a control system and valve.

Finally, to control the compressed air side, we recommend the Electronic Flow Control (EFC.)  Utilizing a photoelectric sensor, the open position of the press can be detected and using 1 of many program options, the compressed air can be turned on and off to accurately control the application of the lubricant.  Due to the excessive amount of lubricant being used, the customer was applying every other cycle.  The first blank would be overly lubricated so that there would be some remaining for the next.  With the Atomizing Nozzle and EFC, the right amount of lubricant can be applied for each cycle.  The result is reduced lubricant usage, and a better operation.

EFCp4

If you have questions regarding Atomizing Nozzles or any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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Atomizing Nozzle Used in Copper Forming Applications

Lan
EXAIR Atomizing Nozzle, Narrow, Round Spray Pattern

 

Copper and its alloys are used in a variety of products from consumer goods like musical instruments, drawer and door pulls, wind chimes, electrical contacts and many other, similar parts that you do not see on more complicated pieces of equipment such as HVAC systems.

Comparatively speaking, copper is quite a malleable metal. That’s what makes it so useful for manufacturing processes such as expanding, reducing, flaring, beading and other similar processes that don’t necessarily involve a cutting or grinding action on the material, but rather a tool that comes into contact with the material to impart a specific shape that makes the made part beneficial to some other product or process.

And so, in the metal forming process, you generally have a hardened alloy tool that comes into contact with the soft copper (or brass) to impart one of the above mentioned effects to the material. With the metal forming process, you have friction that needs to be reduced substantially to aid in the forming process while maintaining the tool integrity and keeping heat generation to a minimum. There are a variety of oil-based lubricants that companies who specialize in this kind of processing, will use to lubricate the raw part prior to forming.

This is the point within the process where EXAIR Atomizing Nozzles can play a significant role in application of the lubrication. By atomizing the lubricant, the customer can have a controlled, even application of the lubricant to the tooling and/or material surface prior to putting the material through the forming operation. By applying a controlled layer of atomized lubricant, the customer can apply the lubricant in a sparingly manner to conserve on how much is used for each part formed. They get the benefit of the lubrication without over-doing it and wasting excess volume of lube applied. This, in turn, allows for a cleaner and safer processing area as well as measurable cost savings for the lubricant as well.

For lower viscosity lubricants (< 300 cP) that require only a light application of material, we have model AN1010SS which can provide a Narrow, Round spray pattern to coat smaller parts. If the part is larger or perhaps starts out as a sheet, we do also have model AW1030SS which can provide a Flat, Wide Angle spray pattern. If the lubricant has a viscosity that is higher than 300 cP, we also have a series of External Mix Atomizing Nozzles with similar spray flow patterns that can be selected for high precision adjustment of the liquid flow and droplet size to suit any need.

If you are in the metal forming industry and you are concerned with application of lubricants in your applications, we be glad to help you pick an Atomizing Nozzle to suit your needs. Contact us to discuss your application.

Neal Raker, International Sales Manager
nealraker@exair.com
@EXAIR_NR

Internal Mix Atomizing Nozzle for Roll-forming Application

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Roll-formed metal stud material

Our distributor from South Africa contacted me recently with a problem that one of his customers were having with their roll forming process. Their business is making metal studs used for erecting walls and covering with drywall. The metal studs start out as a 200 mm wide x 0.5 mm thick roll of sheet metal. The customer feeds the sheet metal through a series of rolling dies that gradually impart the final shape of a metal stud to the material. During this process, a lubricant is applied through a couple of metal pipes with drilled holes in them to disperse the lubricant onto the metal sheet.

The problem with the application is that it makes a total mess because there aren’t any controls on the fluid flow to keep the application rate where it needs to be. All they need is a light coating of the lubricant. What they’re getting now is a constant drizzle from multiple holes. Not only is this wasteful for the use of the lubricant, it causes a huge mess in the form of puddled lubricant on the floor. This problem also presents a slip and fall hazard to the operators as well. See the photo below.

 

 

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Application of lubricant through drilled, metal pipe

In an effort to help them, my friend Wayne contacted me about the situation and presented a couple of scenarios he had in mind. One was to keep the existing system in place and use a couple of Super Air Knives to blow off the excess lubricant into a catch basin. The other was to apply a couple of our Internal Mix, Wide, Flat Atomizing nozzles into the application to provide a fine spray of the lubricant on both sides of the sheet metal.

After asking a few questions about whether the liquid was under any sort of pressure, its viscosity and the desired application rate I suggested to Wayne that the customer go with (2) pieces of model AF1010SS Internal Mix, Flat Fan Atomizing Nozzle. This Atomizing nozzle is more than adequate to provide the customer with the precise amount of the lubricant onto the sheet metal just prior to forming. The point in recommending the atomizing nozzles is to conserve the customer’s lubricant when it is applied in the first place so that they don’t have the huge mess that ends up developing during continuous operation. In this way, they are not treating a symptom of the problem by blowing the excess lubricant with a Super Air Knife, but rather tackling the problem right at its source by choking back on the application of the fluid in the first place.

After the customer installed their nozzles and made a production run, they were able to dial the application rate in to exactly what they needed. The mess and safety hazard went away and the customer was able to cut their lubricant use by half so far. They say they will continue to try and optimize its use as saving the lubricant used represented a nice cost savings to the customer that they had not thought about prior to engaging our distributor to help them take away this headache. They were simply concerned about the mess in the beginning.

It’s always nice to have such positive knock-on effect when you make process improvements like this.

Neal Raker, International Sales Manager
nealraker@exair.com
@EXAIR_NR