A Pneumatic Cautionary Tale: Look After Your Air Compressor... Or Else!
-Another scrape from the B-movie barrel!
A big selling point for pneumatic systems is their cleanliness; in, say for example, a food & beverage environment: a hydraulic system would be too dirty (unless you use hydraulic oil as salad dressing... if so there's a cautionary tale there in itself!) so the use of compressed air is far more appealing. Likewise, in a garage/bodyworks you wouldn't want hydraulic oil mixing with the spray job or filling your tyres... some industries, pneumatics clearly is the victor. From a little piston compressor to a big screw compressor, these key components in a pneumatic system create the compressed air needed to work your equipment. If they're not looked after properly however, the results can be terrifying!
Don't be fooled into thinking that an air compressor is all you need; there are a few things in your working environment you'll need to consider or you run the risk of sending your air compressor and even your entire pneumatic system to an early grave!
The Air Compressor's Location:
This can be easy to overlook, but the environment that the air compressor is situated in can have a big effect on its performance. An air compressor sucks in air from the surrounding atmosphere to compress and feed your pneumatic system; if it's out on the factory floor and there's lots of airborne particles & chemicals flying around, it's going to suck in all of that lovely contaminated air and send it straight down the line! Where possible, you want to position your air compressor somewhere it will get a supply of clean, uncontaminated air. The inlet filter will do a good job of tidying the air up but to give it a better chance, bear the above in mind. A slight side note but you should make sure the inlet filter is changed every 2,000 hr service... sometimes, depending on the environment, every 500 hrs! I know some people who service compressors too... ahem
Water In the Line:
Another typically overlooked occurrence that shouldn't be occurring! Have you noticed your air tools will exhaust a bit of water when being used? If not then you can probably skip this section; if so, then they shouldn't be! This is the sign of not having a decent drying system in your pneumatic line.
Water vapour that is found in the air around us is sucked in alongside the air when your air compressor goes through its intake phase. As the air is compressed, the water vapour becomes a physical liquid and without a dryer in the line to intervene, it will just travel along your ring main with the compressed air. This in turn can affect or even damage your pneumatic system components... visually and/or physically! Investing in an air dryer to be installed after your compressor but before your ring main will eliminate any moisture making its way into where its not wanted. Some bigger air compressors will come with a dryer inside them, so this could be a swaying point to invest more money when you're looking to buy one. Again, I know someone who sells air compressors and dryers.. Aren't you lucky!?
A Noisy Ring Main:
This is slightly similar to above along the same lines of "it shouldn't do that": Is your work environment filled with the sound of a hissing ring main, even when the pneumatic system isn't being used? Well (you guessed it...) it shouldn't; this isn't an acceptable ambient noise for a pneumatic system, it's the sign of an air leak!
If your air compressor is slaving away half the day (piston compressor) or even all day long (screw compressor) just to have the air lost somewhere down the line with an air leak, not only are you prematurely wearing out your air compressor but you're haemorrhaging energy and ultimately money! Investing in a good ring main will ensure you get the best performance out of your pneumatic system. I'm not sure who does these.. okay, okay! We sell ring mains too.
**EDIT** Alternatively, our engineers offer a surveying service on ring mains to highlight and photograph the leaks so they can be addressed... speak to our engineering team for more info!
Variation in Air Demand:
Some production lines will have a constant level of required air for their pneumatic system, but what about the systems where the demand isn't as routine? If your air demand fluctuates then your air compressor will be working more than it has to; like a leaking ring main, you'll be prematurely wearing out your compressor and incurring unnecessary energy costs.
The jury's out on exact figures and it of course varies from company to company but a sizeable percentage (10-30% roughly) of electricity bill costs are attributed to producing compressed air; that's a considerable portion of the bill to happily waste away with a fixed speed compressor. You may find that a variable speed air compressor will suit the flexibility of your workplace much better...
A variable speed air compressor works by using a variable-frequency drive that inverts the power input to adjust the machine's overall RPM. By controlling the compressor's speed you can be a lot more specific in producing the right amount of air for your requirement and save a considerable amount on your 'leccy bill. You've probably spotted the recurring theme here, but you'll never guess who can supply you a variable speed air compressor? ;)
...These are a few things to consider when installing an air compressor; it can potentially be daunting but don't forget: if you need any help in supplying and installing a pneumatic system, we can help you out!