There is no doubt about it: winter is here. You can feel it in the air as you spend a few extra minutes scraping your windshield off in the morning and see it at the store as people begin to stock up on shovels, snow melt, and firewood. The truth of the matter is, just as you would make sure your home is ready for winter, so should you make similar seasonal checks for your compressed air system, especially if you have an outdoor installation. Here are five tips to help make sure your compressed air system is ready for winter.
1. Drain receiver tanks: This is especially important in the wintertime because you do not want any type of moisture to freeze in the tank. Throughout the year, you should really be checking the tanks for condensate daily and draining when necessary. Keep in mind that a sudden increase in condensate can be an indicator of a more serious problem in your system. Your receiver tank should be fitted with a drain (at the lowest position possible) for maximum condensate collection. If you have an automatic drain, many models have a test button you can use to check to see if it is functioning properly.
2. Winterize outdoor condensate drain lines and drain bowls: Many people forget to protect their drain lines during the winter. If you have any condensate drain lines that will be exposed to air below freezing, use heat trace tape to make sure they don’t freeze. An important point to keep in mind is that, if your plant is going to be shut down for the holidays or if any of your equipment will be turned off due to lower production demands, then your heat tape will not function because power will not be supplied to it. If this is the case, be absolutely certain that all of the water is drained from your lines.
3. Adjust louvers: Many applications are now recovering the heat that is rejected from the compressors. While heat recovery systems vary, the simplest application involves ducting the warm air and recirculating it. During the summer, this warm air can be ducted away from the compressor room to prevent the ambient temperature from rising too high. During colder months, the warm air can be recirculated back into the compressor room to keep the compressor from running too cool or it can be ducted out to an adjoining work area or storage space to reduce heating costs. If you do not have thermostatically controlled, motorized louvers, you will need to manually adjust them to ensure proper temperature control.
4. Use cabinet or ambient heaters: Some compressors can be equipped with optional cabinet heaters to preheat and keep the lubricant warm. If this is not an option for your system, you can also use an ambient heater. Keeping the lubricant above its minimum allowable temperature helps to prevent cold starts, which can cause wear and tear on your motor and airend and, in some cases, catastrophic failure. If you already have a cabinet or ambient heater installed, check to make sure they are functioning properly and adjusted for the lowest allowable operating temperature recommended by the compressor manufacturer.
5. Clean and rebuild the separators and drains in your system: Many plants reduce production over the winter months or holiday season, making it the perfect time to clean and rebuild all of valves and drains. Many valves operate with untreated compressed air that carries moisture to the valve body. This moisture can freeze, causing the valves to stick and misfire. Separators and drains in the compressed air system are also susceptible to moisture and should be cleaned and/or repaired during winter shutdowns to prevent condensation from freezing.
While this list has key points to check for your system, it is by no means exhaustive. A compressed air service professional can help make sure your system is 100% ready. Remember that each system is different and that certain applications may require additional considerations to face whatever storms this winter has in store.