One of the biggest challenges you face as a plant professional is finding the proper answer to this question: "How do I know whether the service provider I engage to assess my compressed air systems possesses the necessary skills to do so?"
You don't need a service provider that comes in and sells you a "package deal" that includes committing to its products. You need a provider that will tailor an evaluation of the systems to meet your specific operating circumstances and requirements, as well as provide enough information to make a sound judgment.
The most important single issue is: Can the provider perform a thorough evaluation of the systems, free of product endorsement and linkage to sales? In other words, will it recommend what is best for your needs?
How often have you asked a compressor distributor, consultant or auditor to help you determine your needs, only to be told: "We'll do an audit of your systems and see what you need." Beware of the "free" audit. Do you know what an audit of compressed air systems should include? Does the person you are asking?
To help you with this dilemma, the Compressed Air Challenge has developed a set of guidelines to determine both the qualifications needed in a service provider and the scope of work level that will fit your needs best.
Familiarity with the systems approach
The Compressed Air Challenge (CAC) provides Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems and Advanced Management of Compressed Air Systems training to end users and service providers. One way to gauge a service provider's commitment to the systems approach is whether its staff has received CAC training. If it has, ask whether these individuals will be providing or supervising services for your facility. Providers familiar with using a systems approach are much more likely to address situations, both inside and outside the compressor room, that affect on the reliability of the compressed air supply.
Availability of compressed air system assessment services
Does the provider offer compressed air system analysis services? If yes, how well do they fit your needs? If no, can the provider outsource these services to an experienced system specialist? How experienced are the individuals who will be providing these services? Once a walk-through, assessment or audit is performed, what kind of follow-up services are available to ensure that recommendations are implemented properly and produce the desired results? Ask for client references, a sample of similar work that the provider has done for others and resumes of the personnel who will be performing the work. Please note that while leak detection is a useful element of a system assessment, a true system assessment includes much more. (See www.compressedairchallenge.org for additional guidance.)
Important note: Recommendations resulting from system analysis activities should provide product-neutral solutions to system problems and include, only if needed, performance-based rather than brand-based equipment recommendations.
Compressor knowledge and expertise
Does the service provider have the expertise to work on every compressor type in your facility? How much experience do the service technicians have? How are they trained? Is formal schooling involved? Knowledgeable service technicians are worth the premium price they may demand because of their ability to troubleshoot and get equipment back on line efficiently and effectively.
Component controls knowledge and expertise
Treatment, accessory and ancillary equipment. Does the service provider have the expertise to perform refrigeration and other work on dryers and related equipment? Is the service provider capable of servicing the types of filters, drains, distribution and point-of-use equipment found in your facility?
System controls. Does the service provider have the diagnostic and technical controls capability to determine how to optimize the existing control configuration and make recommendations for improvements? Can the service provider help network compressors together or monitor them remotely, if necessary? Advanced controls can save energy as well as improve reliability through automatic start and stop, and turn compressors off so they can serve as back-ups. Advance warning through remote monitoring may help identify a problem before it turns into a major shutdown.
Ask about the service provider's standards of performance for:
- Emergency service response.
- Parts shipments.
- Other factors which may influence your decision, such as installation capabilities internally or through a mechanical contractor; emergency rental fleet availability (electric or portable diesel driven).
- Request information on the service provider's:
- Financial stability.
- Insurance coverage.
- Compliance with specific government regulations or those of your company.
Visit the facilities of two or three service providers under consideration to see first hand the type of repair shop and parts warehouse with which you will be dealing.
Analysis levels of compressed air systems
The following "Levels of analysis of compressed air systems" have been developed to provide commonality of terminology, methods, and procedures to be used by service providers and the results to be expected by end users. More detailed versions of these "Levels of analysis" are under development and will be available through the Compressed Air Challenge Web site at www.compressedairchallenge.org.