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In the 70s, US car filter manufacturer, FRAM, aired a memorable ad campaign featuring a mechanic in grease-stained overalls standing next to a car with a burned out engine.
As a prospective customer approaches, the mechanic begins to talk about the considerable expense involved in replacing the engine. He ends his spiel by holding up a small, 10 dollar filter.
The extensive work required to replace the engine could have been avoided if the car’s owner would have only replaced the oil filter regularly.
The commercial closes with the mechanic looking into the camera and saying “You can pay me now, or pay me later”.
The message of the commercial is obvious—you can pay a small price to fix something early on or you can pay a big price for it later.
The old adage that prevention is better than cure appears to also be relevant when considering the topic of air compressor maintenance and service. Air compressors are, in many ways, not so different to cars. Built from cylinders, a crankshaft, valves, pistons and moving parts, an air compressor contains similar components to an automobile engine. Like any engine, a compressor relies on regular low-cost maintenance and—if recommended maintenance is faithfully performed—an air compressor will operate for decades.
Like any engine, a compressor relies on regular low-cost maintenance and—if recommended maintenance is faithfully performed—an air compressor will operate for decades.
It is not uncommon, however, for owners of air compressors to take preventative servicing/maintenance for granted. Many business owners think that one area to save money is to reduce the servicing of air compressors or to extend the periods between services. After all, they figure, compressors do not actually make anything and add to the running costs of the operation. This can prove to be a very costly oversight. Neglecting scheduled compressor maintenance often leads to premature wear, unnecessary running costs, unscheduled downtime and—ultimately—a shortened
Neglecting scheduled compressor maintenance often leads to premature wear, unnecessary running costs, unscheduled downtime and—ultimately—a shortened lifespan for the compressor.
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With electricity prices skyrocketing in recent years, reducing associated costs is a very pertinent issue for business owners. There are a number of key components in an air compressor that require routine maintenance or replacing to avoid unnecessary increased power consumption.
Inlet filters and the separator element both require replacing at pressure drops of 2 to 3 kPa and 7 psi / 50 kPa respectively.
Failure to replace inlet filters can lead to a reduction in compressor capacity of typically around seven percent and higher which, for 100 cfm / 18.5 kW air compressors, can cost an extra $272 every 1,000 running hours. Avoiding replacement of the separator element is an even more costly decision. Any increased pressure drop (resistance) greater than 7 psi / 50 kPa will result in unnecessary increased power consumption for the same output and operating pressure. It is not uncommon to find separator elements with pressure differentials of 15 psi / 103kPa above this point, resulting in 8 percent extra in power costs. In a 100cfm / 18.5 kW compressor, this can cost upwards of $311 extra every 1000 running hours.
All components in an air compressor have a design life, which is dramatically reduced as temperatures rise. In Australia, where temperatures can reach 40 to 50 degrees Celsius, it is not unusual for compressors to run hot. When a compressor runs hot, all of the components run hot and this can result in significant component damage. Prolonged elevated temperature will reduce the life of the compressor significantly.
High running temperatures also result in excess oil consumption and high oil carry-over from the oil vapour produced by these high temperatures. In addition to high oil consumption, high operating temperatures cause considerable damage to products and equipment relying on compressed air. Taking all of these factors into account, the cost is prohibitive—potentially thousands of dollars each year.
Proper temperature can be controlled by having a compressor’s cooling system periodically inspected and cleaned by a service technician. Technicians can also assist by setting high-temperature cut-out switches.
Dirt, moisture and oil are everywhere—but no one wants them in their compressed air supply. Naturally, as a compressor sucks in air it also pulls in dust and other particles. For this reason, compressors are fitted with air vents and filters that work to clean the air as it passes through the unit. Over time, these vents and filters become clogged with debris and failure to clean or replace them result in contaminated air.
Contaminated compressed air in a compressor’s system can create problems ranging from mere annoyance to extensive damage to equipment and end products. It can also contribute to a number of other issues, including:
• premature wearing and scoring of surfaces
• rust and corrosion in tools, piping and equipment
• spoiled paint surfaces
• increased scrap rate
• an unsafe or unpleasant work environment
It is vital that consumables such as oil, air intake filters, oil filters and airend bearings are monitored and changed by a service technician when required. Failure to do so can damage components beyond repair and cost thousands each to replace. It can also pose a very real fire danger threat—when the airend is starved of oil or the bearings fail, the compression temperature is increased and may result in an internal fire.
Air compressors play an integral part in the day-to-day operations of many industries. Consequently, failure of an air compressor unit on a worksite can potentially bring business to a complete standstill. When compressors are serviced regularly, the user will know when the unit will be stopped and can plan accordingly. However, if compressors are serviced on the “fix it when it breaks” principle, not only are the actual costs higher than preventative maintenance—the user will also have to face the consequences associated with an unplanned stoppage. These can include:
• costly downtime (typically around $10,000 per day in turnover for a small factory and $600,000 per day for a large factory)
• hire equipment fees
• disruption to staff and other projects
• loss of control over costs
It is apparent that servicing an air compressor makes good financial sense—however, there is still the question of how often a unit should be serviced.
Considering a car should be serviced every 10,000km (approximately 125 hours of continuous driving at an average speed of 80km/hr), it is fortunate that an air compressor only requires servicing every 1000-2000 operating hours, or the equivalent of 80,000-160,000km, depending on site conditions.
To take the guesswork out of the equation, compressors generally come with a comprehensive preventative maintenance plan that is specifically tailored to the requirements of the unit. There are also service technicians available around the clock to assist with any urgent compressor servicing needs.
Paolo Lazzari, CAPS Rotary Screw Manager emphasised the importance of compressor maintenance. “Choosing not to service your air compressor for the sake of saving money in the short-term is a textbook case of false economy,” he said. “Air compressor maintenance is not expensive and, considering the costs it is likely to save in the long run, it more than pays for itself.”
“At CAPS, the needs of our customers are always our number one priority. Our nationwide network of service technicians is available 24/7 to respond to any service needs,” Lazzari said.
If you are an air compressor owner and considering skipping or delaying a service, it might pay to keep the image of FRAMS’ fictional mechanic in mind. Owning a compressor does not need to be cost prohibitive; with proper planning and regular services, expensive faults can be minimised or avoided altogether.
Give your compressor the lifespan it was designed to enjoy and—remember—you can pay for it now or really pay for it later.
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