Accessorizing Your Air Compressor to Improve Efficiency

Industrial Air Compressor System in boiler room

Air compressors may come with all the essential accessories, or…they may not. In other cases, an air compressor may not be working the way it should be because an accessory is in disrepair, in need of a replacement or was never added to the system. Either way, your compressed air system should be supported by a few basic add-ons to ensure that it provides the highest quality air in the most energy efficient way.

Here we present key accessories that will benefit your compressed air system and make certain that it delivers the right amount of clean, dry air at the right pressure to the application. But first, please note that when shopping for any air compressor accessories, it is important to ensure that any selected fitments are safe and compatible with your compressor.

The Importance of Filters

While filters are generally included with the air compressor, it’s important to have some spares on hand. Like the filter in your air conditioner at home, air compressor filters can clog and negatively impact the operation and efficiency of your air compression system, as well as the quality of the air it provides.

However, it is critical to have the right filter for the application. Some air compressors require oil-removing filters, others will need dust filters or pre-filters and some air compression systems may call for more than one type of filtration. The type of filter needed will depend on the type of air compressor in question, the required purity of air for the application and the contaminant being filtered out. The most common types of replacement filters include:

  • Dry-particulate filters: These filters remove dry particulate from the airstream by trapping particles in the media and holding them via electrostatic attraction.
  • Coalescing filters: A coalescing filter traps mist and aerosols in layers of fine mesh. An oil-coalescing filter will remove both oil mists and dry particulates.
  • Adsorption filters: These filters trap vapors, gases and odors and are often required in high-purity applications that mandate removal of trace gases, vapors and sub-micron particles.
  • Oil filters for oil-lubricated industrial air compressors: Used for oil-lubricated industrial air compressors, these filters remove dirt and other contaminants from liquid oil as it circulates within the compressor.

Increase Efficiency with Heat Exchangers

As heat is often the byproduct of generating compressed air, a heat exchanger can be used to recover and recycle this air, increasing the efficiency of the compressed air system. While most people associate heat exchangers with fluid applications, the compressed air that powers air tools and air-operated equipment is actually considered a fluid and can be captured and recycled. The two types of heat exchangers for compressed air applications include:

  • Water-cooled heat exchangers: These heat recovery accessories exchange heat between two mediums – cool water and compressed air. The fluids are separated by the metal pipe of the air line. The cool water will flow around the air pipe, drawing heat from the hot compressed air contained within the pipe and the heat exchange will occur.
  • Air-cooled heat exchangers: The majority of air compressor applications involve air-cooled heat exchangers, which work by using ambient air to cool the hot compressed air. The compressed air travels through the coils of the heat exchanger as cooler, ambient air is directed over the cooler via a fan to remove the heat.

Aftercoolers and Air Dryers Deliver Cool, Dry Air

Air compressors often produce hot air that contains water vapor. Aftercoolers, which are a type of heat exchanger, are employed to cool down the generated compressed air while also condensing the contained water vapor. Aftercoolers rely on temperature control to remove water content.

Air dryers can be used to reduce moisture from compressed air before it reaches the application. Desiccant-type dryers, which typically use silica gel, activated alumina or molecular sieves to de-vaporize the air, are often used in compressed air applications.

Either accessory will help ensure cleaner, higher quality air as heat and water content left in compressed air can cause contamination throughout the system, as well as in the finished product.

ZEKS Heatsink True-Cycling Refrigerated Compressed Air Dryers range from 150 – 2,400 SCFM

Avoid Component Repairs with Air Regulators

If your compressor operates at a higher pressure than is necessary, it wastes energy and puts excess pressure on components such as hoses and fittings, as well as the tools and equipment it powers. Air regulators can be used to adjust the amount of air pressure to the appropriate level for the tool or machine on the receiving end. Since almost every tool will have different pressure ratings, air regulators are an important add-on that will eventually save money on component repairs or replacement that might result from applying excessive pressure.

Prevent Contamination with Condensate Drains

Often overlooked, condensate drains are an integral accessory and should not be forgotten if you want to prevent contamination and unnecessary system maintenance. Although compressed air condensate is typically condensed water, it likely contains traces of oil, particulates and other contaminants that need to be removed from the system along with the condensate via a drain. Without a condensate drain, the collected condensate, oil and particulates will remain in the system, reducing efficiency and causing maintenance and air quality issues.

Drains can be placed on the aftercooler, filters, air dryer or at the point of use and a variety of drains are available, including:

  • Mechanically actuated drain traps: This type of drain discharges oil and moisture from a system and can be used with aftercoolers and other components.
  • Automatic-magnetic drains: These energy efficient zero air loss drains offer a large capacity, are corrosion resistant and do not need electricity to run.
  • Timer-operated drains: Operating on user-programmed time intervals, these drains are very low maintenance and easy to install.

Meet EPA Regulations with Oil/Water Separators

While oil/water separators are considered an add-on to compressed air systems, the reality is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires them because condensate often contains trace amounts of oil that must be separated from the condensate before disposal. In addition to reducing the chances of being fined by regulatory agencies, using an oil/water separator on your compressed air system will prevent a lot of maintenance woes down the road as the build up of condensate and oil can wreak havoc on system components.

While tricking out your air compressor may not be as glamorous as accessorizing your wardrobe, it will help ensure higher efficiency and productivity, while reducing the chances of contamination and downtime. John Henry Foster offers air compressor add-ons to meet every need, so please contact a specialist today.