Compressed Air System

How to select a compressed air system services provider

The Compressed Air Challenge has developed a list of guidelines to help you select the right compressed air system services provider.

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 do I know whether the service provider I engage to assess my compressed air systems possesses the necessary skills to do so?

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.

Company capabilities

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.

Service facilities

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.

Energy utilities are involved actively in these efforts and some provide incentives to use these analyses to improve the energy efficiency of compressed air systems.

Conducting a walk-through evaluation is the first step in analyzing a compressed air system. Depending on individual needs, this can be conducted either by plant personnel or by an experienced compressed air system services provider. A walk-through evaluation is not intended to provide the level of detail found in a system assessment or audit, but significant reductions in energy (25 percent or more) and maintenance costs have resulted frequently from a walk-through evaluation alone. Once initial opportunities have been identified, a decision should be made concerning whether additional analysis services are required to further define system dynamics and corresponding system improvement opportunities. This decision will depend, in part, on the size and complexity of the system being examined (both supply and demand) and whether critical issues surfaced during the evaluation will require further investigation to determine the root cause and identify potential remedies.

Walk-through evaluation (1/2 to 2 days)

A walk-through evaluation is an overview of a plant compressed air system and identifies the types, needs and appropriateness of uses, pressures and air quality requirements.

  • The distribution system is analyzed for apparent problems of size, pressure drops, storage, leaks and drains.
  • The supply side is analyzed for types of compressors, and the types, suitability and settings of capacity controls.
  • A simple block diagram of the system is drawn.
  • Maintenance procedures and training are analyzed.
  • A written report of findings and proposed solutions is submitted.
  • Recommendations should maintain solution and product neutrality.

System assessment (2 to 5 days)

A system assessment is more detailed than a walk-through evaluation.

  • Readings are taken at appropriate locations to identify system dynamics.
  • A simple block diagram of the system is drawn, as well as pressure and demand profiles, to help identify potential problems and how they can be resolved.
  • Again, maintenance procedures and training are reviewed.
  • A written report of findings and recommendations is submitted.
  • Recommendations should maintain solution and product neutrality.

System audit (3 to 10 days)

A system audit is similar to a system assessment but in more depth and detail.

  • Data logging of readings throughout the system is conducted for a more in-depth analysis of the dynamics of the system and resulting problems.
  • Again, maintenance procedures and training are reviewed.
  • The objective is a proper alignment of the supply side and the demand side for optimum efficiency, energy savings and reliability. A baseline is established, against which the results of any proposed changes are measured.
  • A comprehensive written report of findings, recommendations and results is submitted.
  • Recommendations should maintain solution and product neutrality.

The Compressed Air Challenge

Compressed air is one of the most important utility requirements of the typical industrial manufacturer. Without a consistent supply of quality compressed air, a manufacturing process can stop functioning.

The Compressed Air Challenge (CAC) is a national collaboration created to assist industrial facilities in achieving greater reliability, improved quality control and lower operating costs for their compressed air systems. The CAC encourages facilities to take a systems approach to optimizing compressed air operation. Taking a systems approach means looking beyond individual components to assess how well your compressed air system meets actual production needs. This is known as "matching supply with demand." It also means identifying the root causes of system problems, rather than treating the symptoms.

For most industrial facilities, this approach will require specialized knowledge and equipment; both to assess system needs and to continue to service those needs over time. Outside assistance frequently is required. System assessment services and ongoing system maintenance may require the use of separate firms, although there is a growing market trend toward more fully integrated services. The process of selecting the right mix of services can be confusing. The CAC is working with the compressed air industry to develop guidelines to help industrial compressed air users become informed consumers. Guidelines for Selecting a Compressed Air System Service Provider offers guidance to assist you in selecting a firm that offers integrated services. Independent compressed air system specialists typically provide comprehensive system assessment services as their principal business; many are not involved in sales of equipment, other products or maintenance.

Contents of this article are copyrighted by the Compressed Air Challenge.