Four Reasons We Send our Industrial Air Compressors to an Early Grave

Industrial air compressors are among the hardest working assets found in a modern factory. They must work tirelessly, day-in and day-out, to meet the compressed air demands necessary for production. Industry uses compressed air for a magnitude of applications. It is so commonly used that most factories require multiple industrial air compressors to meet demand. What is often overlooked is that on top of the compressed air that is demanded for production, there is also a large artificial demand of this resource. An artificial, invisible demand that taxes resources, destroys production efficiency and plant sustainability, while encroaches upon company profits.

As much as 30-40% of the compressed air is utterly and completely wasted. When a compressed air system falls victim to leaks, it’s the compressors that are forced to pick up the slack. When an industrial air compressor has to work overtime to cover the artificial demand caused by air leaks, it is subject to more wear and tear – leading to unplanned breakdowns, which puts an undue burden on maintenance teams.

The constant over usage of an industrial air compressor will have a compounding effect on the deterioration of its reliability. While this can be offset with regular compressor maintenance (oftentimes a maintenance team’s first or only course of action), routine compressed air leak surveys performed with an ultrasonic leak detector are far more effective at lowering an air compressor’s workload and therefore lengthening its lifespan.

Simply from reading above, it can be derived that the number one reason an industrial air compressor is worked into an early grave is due to the burden put on them by a leaky compressed air system. SDT has seen neglected, leaky compressed air systems time and time again – which points to several glaring cultural and ideological issues, common in manufacturing all over the world. The following list summarizes four reasons a compressed air system will fall into disarray, forcing its industrial air compressor to suffer the consequences and make the ultimate sacrifice.

  1. The industrial air compressor is not highly ranked in a facilities strategic asset management plan (SAMP).

Industrial air compressors sometimes end up being disassociated with production. Whether this is because they reside in the compressor room – away from the production line, or some other reason… But as a result, compressors find themselves far down the maintenance teams list of priorities, and in some cases the task of maintaining an industrial air compressor is outsourced to a third party.

Industrial air compressor manufacturers like Ingersoll Rand, Atlas Copco, or any number of manufacturers can take on the burden of maintaining compressors in factories. In this relationship, when the maintenance and reliability of an asset is outsourced, a factory’s maintenance team can become disassociated from that asset. Falling out of the rankings of a maintenance team’s SAMP results in the asset and its components being forgotten, which can spread to the compressed air lines, pipe fittings, and so on.

Even when the responsibility of maintaining an industrial air compressor falls to a third party, the maintenance and reliability team should not forget other components that make up their compressed air system when strategizing their asset management plan.

2. Lack of Understanding Surrounding the Sustainable and Fiscal Bottom Lines of an Inefficient Compressed Air System

At its point of use, the cost associated with manufacturing compressed air is often overlooked, which can lead to some pretty frivolous uses of this expensive resource. By the time air is compressed, cooled and dried, then regulated and transported to its point of use significant costs have occurred. Only about 15% of the electricity consumed by the compressor results in compressed air delivered to its point of use. The other 85% is lost to the heat of compressing the air. This astonishing number of electricity consumed for this resource becomes even more staggering when the amount lost to leaks is factored in. And considering that even with a leaky compressed air system, most factories can carry on production relatively unscathed, it’s no wonder that the costs from compressing air can account for over 30% of a manufacturer’s electricity bill.   

A company culture tolerates this astonishing waste does so out of misunderstanding, not malice. A misunderstanding of its costs, its detriments to the environment, or that the system is even leaking in the first place. This propagates misuse of the resource and even more so… it downplays the importance of maintaining a healthy compressed air system. Company culture and culture of the maintenance and reliability team must seek to maximize the reliability of each asset, while boosting efficiency and sustainability wherever possible. And there isn’t any fruit that hangs lower in this regard than the compressed air system.

3. Compressed Air Systems give little indication that they are leaking and struggling to meet demand.

When a compressed air system is leaking, there aren’t always tell-tale signs. They are, in the true sense of the word, a hidden cost. Sure, standing in the middle of a plant floor during a maintenance shutdown would reveal hundreds of hissing compressed air leaks… And with a big enough time commitment, a portion of them could even be located and repaired. But that’s not a luxury many maintenance teams can afford. What happens when the machines are roaring, and production is booming? Compressed air leaks can’t be heard or seen under these circumstances. They don’t make a mess on the floor or emit any odor. They don’t pose a risk to the health and safety of factory workers. And their only real threat to production is the looming failure of an overworked industrial air compressor.

4. Compressed Air Leak Surveys take Time, Effort, and Create More Work

Performing a compressed air leak survey in a large manufacturing facility can be long, tedious work. In any given facility there are hundreds of meters (if not more) of compressed air lines, rubber pipes, and dozens (if not more) of other components that make up a compressed air system. All of these components can leak, which detracts from system pressure, plant sustainability, and bottom-line profits.

Monitoring all of this may seem like a daunting task. However, with the help of an ultrasonic leak detector, or an acoustic imaging camera, finding, tagging, and fixing leaks becomes much simpler. Ultrasound harnesses the power of superhuman hearing to locate leaks that would otherwise be impossible to detect in a noisy factory. An acoustic imaging camera like SonaVu™ takes it a step further by using its ultrasound detection capabilities coupled with its camera to detect leaks and visualize them on its display screen. SonaVu™ can tag leaks by taking a picture or leak spots during the survey, making locating, documenting, and repairing leaks easier than ever.

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