Compressed Air System Maintenance

When I was seventeen my grandfather took me to a used are dealership and helped me buy my first car. It wasn’t anything special, as it was a 1996  Chevrolet Lumina. It had its fair share of bumps and bruises, but the bones were solid. We took it home and he taught me how to do all the basics, we changed the oil, oil filter, air filter, brakes, pretty much every fluid we could, we changed.

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You see my grandfather retired from Ford Motor Company after 50+ years of service. And he always said, “If you treat it right, it will treat you right.”; and I’ve lived by that ever since.

Just like a car, air compressors require regular maintenance to run at peak performance and minimize unscheduled downtime. Inadequate maintenance can have a significant impact on energy consumption via lower compression efficiency, air leakage, or pressure variability. It can also lead to high operating temperatures, poor moisture control, and excessive contamination.

Most problems are minor and can be corrected by simple adjustments, cleaning, part replacement, or the elimination of adverse conditions. This maintenance is very similar to the car maintenance mentioned above, replace filters, fluids, checking cooling systems, check belts and identify any leaks and address.

All equipment in the compressed air system should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturers specifications. Manufacturers provide inspection, maintenance, and service schedules that should be followed strictly. In many cases, it makes sense from efficiency and economic stand-points to maintain equipment more frequently than the intervals recommended by the manufactures, which are primarily designed to protect equipment.

One way to tell if your system is being maintained well and is operating properly is to periodically baseline the system by tracking power, pressure, flow (EXAIR Digital Flowmeter), and temperature. If power use at a given pressure and flow rate goes up, the systems efficiency is degrading.

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Air Compressor

Types Of Maintenance

Maintaining a compressed air system requires caring for the equipment, paying attention to changes and trends, and responding promptly to maintain operating reliability and efficiency. Types of maintenance include;

  1. Poor Maintenance – Sadly, some plants still operate on the philosophy, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Due to the lack of routine preventative maintenance, this practice may result in complete replacement of an expensive air compressor as well as unscheduled and costly production interruptions.
  2. Preventive  Maintenance – This type of maintenance can be done by plant personnel or by an outside service provider. Usually, it includes regularly scheduled monitoring of operating conditions. Replacement of air and lubricant filters, lubricant sampling and replacement, minor repairs and adjustments, and an overview of compressor and accessory equipment operation.
  3. Predictive  Maintenance – Predictive maintenance involves monitoring compressor conditions and trends , including operating parameters such as power use, pressure drops, operating temperatures, and vibration levels. The Right combination of preventive and predictive maintenance generally will minimize repair and maintenance costs.
  4. Proactive Maintenance – If a defect is detected, proactive maintenance involves looking for the cause and determining how to prevent a recurrence.

Unfortunately, even the best maintenance procedures cannot eliminate the possibility of an unexpected breakdown. Provisions should be made for standby equipment to allow maintenance with out interrupting production.

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 Tampere Hacklab

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

 

Compressed Air Demand Preventative Maintenance

Preventative maintenance for compressed air demand products is a simple as keeping the compressed air clean and condensate free. It is simple because all it takes is a filter and keeping the filter element clean, just like you do for your home furnace and/or air conditioner.

I received a phone call from a customer that needed replacement elements for EXAIR filters.  They were using four different models of Filter Separators and Oil Removal Filters.  The filters had been in service for one year, and the internal elements needed to be changed.  They requested a quote to replenish the replacement elements that they stocked as a preventative measurement.  What an idea!

Majority of EXAIR products use compressed air for cleaning, cooling, conveying, static elimination, coating and more.  To help keep your EXAIR products running efficiently, it is important to supply them with clean, dry, pressurized air.  EXAIR offers a line of Filter Separators and Oil Removal Filters to supply quality air to your equipment.  In this blog, I will explain the two types of filters that we carry and the maintenance requirements.  The filters and preventative measures can play an important part in your compressed air system.

Filter Separators are used to remove bulk liquid and contamination from the compressed air stream.  They utilize a 5-micron filter with a mechanical separation to help remove large amounts of dirt and water.  This type of filter would be considered the minimum requirement for filtration.  Most of the Filter Separators come with an auto-drain to automatically dispense the collection of oil and water.  EXAIR offers a variety of port sizes and flow ranges to meet your pneumatic flow requirement.  For maintenance, the filter elements should be changed once a year or when the pressure drop reaches 10 PSID, whichever comes first.  I created a list in Table 1 showing the correct replacement element kits for each model number.  And for any reason, if the bowl or internal components get damaged, we also have Rebuild Kits as well.  Just remember, the air quality is very important for longevity and functionality for pneumatic products and even for EXAIR products.

The Oil Removal Filters can make your compressed air even cleaner.  They work great at removing very small particles of dirt and oil.  They are made from glass fibers and can remove particles down to 0.01 micron.  They are designed to collect small particles and to coalesce the liquid particles into a large droplet for gravity to remove.  Because of the fine matrix, Oil Removal Filters are not great for bulk separation.  If you have a system with lots of oil and water, I would recommend to use the Filter Separator upstream of the Oil Removal Filter.  As with the Filter Separator, the filter element should be changed once a year or at a pressure drop of 10 PSID.  EXAIR also offers a variety of port sizes and flow ranges.  Table 1 below shows the replacement Element Kits as well as the Rebuild Kits.  If the application requires very clean compressed air, the Oil Removal Filter should be used.

Table 1

By using EXAIR filters, they will clean your compressed air to prevent cross contamination, performance issues, and premature failures.  As an ounce of prevention, you can add the replacement elements in stock and enter them in your preventative maintenance program.  With clean quality air, your pneumatic system and EXAIR products will provide you with effective, long-lasting performance without maintenance downtime.  If you would like to discuss the correct type of filters to use in your application, you can speak with an Application Engineer.  We will be happy to help you.

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

Business Benefits Of Compressed Air Efficiency

The primary business benefits of an efficient air compressor system are reduced operational costs, reduced maintenance and increased up-time.  With that being said, is your compressed air system costing you more than you think it should?  Are you having failures, pressure drops, inadequate volume and/or pressure?  You might think from these issues that your system has seen better days and is ready to be replaced.  However, it is possible that your existing tried and true compressor system has more life left in it than you think and with a few simple steps you could have it performing like a champ again!

It is estimated that typically plants can waste up to 30 percent of their generated compressed air and that cost is substantial.  Considering the average cost to generate compressed air is .25 cents per 1000 SCFM, that translates into .075 cents for every .25 cents spent!  Considering that energy costs have doubled in the last five years, it couldn’t be more timely to make your air compressor system more efficient.

So just where is all this waste occurring?  The largest source of compressed air energy waste is from unused or leaked compressed air and that is followed by line pressure drops, over pressurization and inadequate maintenance of the compressor.

So how can you identify this issues in your system?

1). Finding leaks can be accomplished by several methods such as soapy water applied to a suspected joint or connection or the EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector.   It is a high quality instrument that can locate costly leaks in your compressed air system.  When a leak is present and audible tone can be heard in the supplied headphones and the LED display will light.  This testing can be done up to 20′ away so need to get on a ladder!

Leak Detector

2). Pressure drop is caused by is caused by the friction of the compressed air flowing against the inside of the pipe and through valves, tees, elbows and other components that make up a complete compressed air piping system.  If the piping system is to small, the flow (volume) will not be sufficient and the devices will not operate properly.  The volumetric demand would need to be added up to determine if the piping is of sufficient diameter to flow the required volume.  EXAIR’s Digital Flow Meter is an easy way to monitor compressed air consumption and waste.  The digital display shows the exact amount of compressed air being used, making it easy to identify piping that may be undersized.  Installing one on every major leg of your air distribution system to constantly monitor and benchmark compressed air usage is a fast and efficient way to see what your volume through that distribution leg is.

Flow Meter

3). Over pressurization is also an issue, as the pressure is raised to account for high demand periods, system leaks and pressure drops. Unfortunately operating at higher pressures can require as much as 25 percent more compressor capacity than needed, generating wasted air which is called artificial demand.

You can reduce the leakage rate by running the compressor at lower pressures. If you’re short on air, don’t turn up the pressure. Run your compressor at no higher pressure than what you process requires. To relieve peak demands on your system consider the EXAIR Receiver Tank.  It store’s compressed air during low usage times and releases it when the demand is increased without working your air compressor system harder.

receiver_tank

4). Finally, a preventative maintenance (PM) program will need to be implemented to keep the air compressor system running properly.  Two items that are often neglected are the drive belts and filters.  Loose belts can reduce compressor efficiency and dirty filters allow dirt to get through the system and cause pressure drops.  EXAIR has replacement elements for our line of filter separators to keep you air clean and line pressure down.

By increasing your awareness of the health of your air compressor system and implementing a PM program you can significantly reduce your costs from wasted energy and avoid costly down time from an out of service air compressor.

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.

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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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 

Keep Your Air Clean

I have been reading Kyle Thill’s blog over at Toyota Forklift, and he often speaks about the benefits of preventative maintenance and service schedule. With our products preventative maintenance can be the last thing on anyone’s mind, but it is important work to keep your compressed air systems clean and dry. Today I received a reminder of this.

We received a Heavy Duty Line Vac back from a customer today, who had taken us up on our offer of a 30 day Unconditional Guarantee.  It was no problem for us to take the unit back, but as we were taking it apart, we received a gentle reminder how important it is to use clean dry air with our products and to use compressed air filters on your compressed air lines.

IMG_3652             IMG_3655

On the right, we have a photo for Heavy Duty Line Vac for reference.  As you can see, a new Heavy Duty Line Vac will have clean metal surface inside the inlet.  When our quality department inspected the used unit returned from the customer, we found this pile of rust particles that had been deposited inside the unit, right at the air inlet position.  One of the reasons filters are so important with new equipment is that the increased load can dislodge contaminants that may have been building up inside old compressed air lines.  The other reason we always recommend compressed air filtration is because filters prevent debris from ending up on anything you blow off, cool, move or coat with our products.  Compressed air lines can carry oxidized metal, water or oil contaminants, which can be easily removed to ensure your products and ours are kept clean.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
Davewoerner@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_DW