5 tips for getting the most out of your air compressor

It comes down to proper equipment maintenance. Here's what that looks like.

By Alan Suan, Industrial Americas marketing adviser, ExxonMobil

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Air compressors play a vital role in virtually every industrial operation today, as they offer a reliable, efficient source of power from a compact design.

In fact, they have a direct impact on the performance of your plant, so it’s important that you know how to properly protect air compressors for the long haul.

In large part, it comes down to equipment maintenance. Proper equipment maintenance helps your equipment perform at its best both by providing the equipment with the protection it needs in challenging industrial operating environments and by helping you identify performance challenges in a timely manner.

Here are five maintenance tips that, if followed correctly, can help you get the most out of your air compressor. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Take care of the basics

At the most basic level, you want to make sure equipment components are maintained in top condition.

For example, air leaks anywhere in the air system can cause the compressor to compress more air than needed, thus increasing your operating costs. Air leaks can be detected easily using ultrasonic leak detectors. It's recommended that you conduct regular checks for air leaks so that any loss of air can be remedied quickly.

Further, the vibration of your air compressor during operation can result in loose screws, nuts, and bolts, so be sure to regularly check these components and ensure they are fastened properly.

2. Ensure optimum operating temperature

Often, air compressors operate in high-temperature environments. And in extreme cases, abnormally high temperatures can result in a fire or an explosion.

To help mitigate temperature challenges, be sure to maintain the water temperature at 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the inlet air temperature to prevent moisture from condensing in the cylinders of water-cooled compressors.

Cooling water outlet temperatures should also not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 49 degrees Celsius. To ensure proper operating temperatures, never start a compressor while the cooling water is flowing, and cease flow when the compressor is shut down.

Further, periodically inspecting and cleaning water jackets will help regulate temperature.

3. Minimize unwanted moisture

Approximately 5% of plant maintenance costs can be spent combating the damaging effects of unwanted moisture in compressed air systems.[i]

Frequently, air discharged from compressors is cooled in after-coolers, which can result in the formation of condensation and moisture in the air distribution system. Dryers must be used to remove this moisture.

Routine inspections can help ensure dry air and delivery at the intended pressure, which is critical, as moisture can lead to a loss of pressure between the compressor and the point of use, which is unrecoverable and money out of your pocket.

As a good rule of thumb, air pressure below 90 psi is too low for air devices to operate at optimal efficiency, and ensuring dry air can help avoid this scenario.

4. Ensure proper lubrication

For air compressors to perform correctly, you must use lubricants with characteristics suited to your service conditions. In other words, lubricant formulation matters, and there can be a vast difference in quality even between two seemingly similar lubricants.

The best lubricants are engineered using a balanced formulation approach, which means using optimal base stocks and a tailored additive package designed to meet the specific needs of air compressors.

Take, for instance, modern air compressors. They often operate in extreme temperatures and can discharge temperatures up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit, or 200 degrees Celsius. Even at lesser temperatures, any moisture in the compressed air can quickly lead to oxidation, which shortens service life by potentially decreasing oil viscosity, increasing oil drain intervals (ODI) and leading to system deposits or rust. 

To mitigate these challenges, it is important to use a lubricant that has been formulated with specific base oils and additives to protect against rust and corrosion.

5. Prioritize Your Air Filter

The air filter is a critical component in any air compressor, as it ensures that cool, clean air passes through the system.

In addition to ensuring that your air filters are clean, you should also take readings from the instrumentation installed in the suction line between the filter and compressor at each shift to check for leakage or excessive restriction. These readings can help you ensure that you are using the correct filter and can help identify any issues with your existing filter.

Using the correct air filter and keeping it properly maintained can produce a cost savings through longer filter change intervals and reduced load time.

While the tips listed are by no means the only ones to consider – and they should also not supersede your OEM's instructions – following them can help you protect your company’s investment in its air compressors.

In addition to following some of the steps above, it's also recommended that you work with your lubricant supplier to assess your existing maintenance program and identify opportunities for enhanced performance.

Maintaining industrial equipment is never a simple task, but by taking the right approach to your maintenance program, you can help ensure that your equipment is running at its best.



[i] http://www.mobilindustrial.com/ind/english/files/tt-air-compressor-maintenance.pdf

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