Air Compressor Maintenance Boosts Energy Efficiency

The JHFoster Podcast Compressed Air Series - Quincy Featured

Air compressors are hard-working fixtures in most industrial facilities, yet they are often neglected when it comes to routine maintenance. This can be a costly mistake! Not only does regular maintenance improve performance, but it also promotes energy efficiency. While statistics show that power consumption accounts for about 70% of an air compressor’s cost over its lifetime, a well-maintained air compressor can significantly reduce those costs. Here, we suggest six simple maintenance activities that will help increase air compressor performance and improve the energy efficiency of the system and facility.

Find and Fix Existing Leaks

Air leaks can waste up to 30% of the energy used by compressed air systems and reduce the effectiveness of the tools and processes they power, which results in higher-than-needed energy costs. As a matter of fact, costs related to air leaks could reach into the four-to-five-figure range in just one year for a large facility, but finding and fixing leaks can drastically reduce these costs. The most effective way to locate leaks is using an ultrasonic leak detector, which can detect even tiny, faint leaks. Additionally, regular inspection and repair of piping, hoses, and fittings can prevent future leaks as these components tend to wear, crack and erode, eventually leading to wasteful air leakage. Regularly attending to these components can stop costly leaks before they even start.

Check and Change Filters

Filters are essential components in any air compression system. The goal of filtration is to prevent dust, dirt, and debris from entering the system as the debris can cause corrosion, reduce air quality and contaminate sensitive products. While filters do a great job of catching contaminants, the captured dirt, dust, and debris can accumulate on the filters, causing them to clog, which results in a pressure drop. Pressure drops as small as 2 psi can cost about 1% in compressor horsepower efficiency. To avoid wasting energy, filters should be inspected at least monthly and cleaned or replaced as needed to maintain air quality and prevent pressure drop. Typically, inlet air filters should be changed at least twice each year or according to the manufacturer’s suggested interval, but sensitive processes or very dusty environments may mandate more frequent changes.

To be proactive, inlet air pressure can be monitored using a differential pressure gauge. If it is reading above manufacturing specifications, a filter change is likely a good idea as it will boost system performance, ensure air and product quality and eliminate costly pressure drops.

Ensure Traps and Drains Function Properly

Moisture is the enemy of any compressed air system as it can lead to air quality issues and corrosion within the system. Accumulated moisture exits the air compression system through traps, valves, and drains, so it’s important to ensure these components are functioning properly and completely removing water from the system. This not only ensures air quality and prevents corrosion, but it can also stop system air leakage, as valves and traps that become stuck in the open position can allow air to escape from the system, resulting in pressure drops and wasted energy. To avoid this possibility, consider switching from a timer drain to a zero-loss trap that opens only when necessary.

Reduce Operating Pressure

The rule of thumb for air compressors running around 100 psig is that for every 2 psi above or below 100 psig, 1% energy efficiency is either lost or gained. Most facilities run at pressures higher than what is required, resulting in unnecessary energy usage. Optimizing the air pressure by using the lowest operating pressure for your facility’s requirements can save a great deal on the electric bill. To do so, you can continuously adjust the pressure setting to find the lowest possible setting that does not compromise performance. Additionally, a pressure regulator can be installed, which may help save 10 to 15% on energy usage.

Apply Controls and Create a Schedule

The use of controls can help maintain steady system pressure, which promotes peak operating efficiency. Controls can also help automatically schedule the operation of air compressors, ensuring that compressors that are not in use are turned off and eliminating inappropriate usage of compressed air. Extraneous use of compressed air, such as using pneumatic nozzles to clean work areas can add up quickly. Controls can help eliminate these wasteful and unnecessary uses of compressed air, which will likely make a significant impact on the electric bill.

Conduct General Housekeeping and Maintenance Activities

Compressed air systems should be cleaned on a regular schedule as system efficiency can be adversely impacted by the sludge, dust, and dirt that can accumulate on the interior and exterior of an air compressor. To maximize the performance and energy efficiency of the air compression system, regular cleanings and inspections of the interior and exterior of the compressor should be performed. In addition to checking pipes, hoses, connections, and traps, and drains as suggested above, routine inspection of motor fans, drip trays, belts, and lubricant levels can help keep the system running as efficiently as possible.

Regularly performing these simple maintenance tasks can go a long way toward optimizing system performance and energy efficiency, which seems like a win-win situation at a time when all industries are trying to increase productivity and cut costs, while also reducing their carbon footprint. For more tips on air compressor maintenance, please contact an expert at John Henry Foster.