Five Common Issues Found in Compressed Air Systems
Compressed air systems are an essential part of many industrial and commercial settings. They provide the power to run tools, equipment, and machines. According to the United States Department of Energy, compressed air systems alone consume about 10% of industrial electricity.
However, these systems can be plagued by several common issues. If left ignored, these issues could lead to potential downtimes. Unplanned downtimes can affect up to 82% of the business. Average downtimes can last approximately four hours per incident and often cause decreased productivity, increased energy costs, and even safety hazards.
In this article, we will explore five of the most common compressed air system issues that companies need to take seriously.
Leaks are one of the leading issues plaguing compressed air systems. Leaks can occur at several points in your system, from the compressor to the storage tanks.
Leaks lead to a loss of pressure, which means using more energy than necessary to keep your system running. Compressed air is expensive to generate, and it’s in companies’ best interest to find ways to be energy efficient.
Leaks often lead to a wide variety of system operating issues like:
- The shorter service life of the equipment is due to increased run time and unnecessary cycling.
- Higher costs due to the creation of excess compressor air demand.
- Inefficient performance of air-operated equipment due to the presence of fluctuating system pressure.
Some of the symptoms you need to watch out for include:
- Drops in pressure throughout the system
- Decreased flow rates
- Increased compressor noise and vibration, especially during start-up
- Increased energy consumption
Once a leak has been detected, it needs to be repaired as quickly and efficiently as possible to avoid further issues.
2. Lack of Maintenance
Many companies don’t have a regular maintenance schedule for their compressed air system. Constantly deferring proper maintenance can cause more significant issues down the road and may even lead to unexpected system shutdowns.
Some of the common problems caused by ignoring maintenance include:
- Reduced system performance and increased energy consumption
- Increased chance of system failure and unplanned downtime
- Higher contamination levels
- Compression inefficiency
- Compromised moisture control
A lack of maintenance can also cause your system’s parts to degrade much faster. This can cause damage to equipment and shorten its lifespan.
For optimal performance, maintenance should be performed at the correct time and using the correct parts. Incorrect maintenance service could increase energy costs by more than 10%. On the other hand, properly maintained compressors have, on average, 16 additional days of uptime per year.
3. Pipe Sizing and Storage Issues
The distribution network is critical to efficient compressed air system operation. Correctly sized and designed piping can help reduce energy costs, while restrictive piping will negatively affect system performance.
Incorrect pipe sizing is generally caused by:
- Failure to account for system pressure requirements
- Ignoring air demand and flow rates
- Incorrect system layout
- Improperly sized equipment
Correctly sizing your compressed air system’s piping, storage tanks, and equipment is crucial to its performance. If there are inadequate or oversized components in the system, it can lead to:
- Increased energy consumption
- System pressure loss
- Decreased air quality
- Premature failure of equipment
- Temperature fluctuations and other issues
To avoid pipe sizing issues, it’s important to understand your system’s pressure and flow requirements. Once you know these parameters, you can select the right piping, storage, and equipment for optimal performance.
4. Pressure Settings
The pressure settings in your compressed air system play a crucial role in its overall performance. Too much pressure will increase leak losses and energy consumption, while too little pressure will cause production problems. Exceeding pressure limits is not only a safety hazard but can damage your equipment, leading to more significant and costly downtime.
For example, airends are considered the heart of every compressor since it’s the part of the machine where actual compression happens. An unexpected airend failure could be catastrophic to your business. These breakdowns can cost industries an average of $260,000 an hour if no backup is available.
Some of the most common compressed air system pressure-related issues include:
- Exceeding or dropping below the manufacturer’s recommended pressure limits
- Pressure fluctuations due to leaks and other system issues
- Unbalanced system pressure
- Improperly adjusted controls and safety valves
To avoid these problems, it’s important to clearly understand your system’s pressure requirements. Always consult the manufacturer’s recommended settings and test your system periodically to ensure optimal performance.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to address these pressure-related issues:
- Reducing pressure whenever possible and running at required pressures can help stabilize the system and help you save energy.
- Addressing leaks and clogged filters should help prevent most pressure-related issues.
- Allowing your two or more systems to share a load instead of overloading one unit can lower pressures and energy costs.
5. Controls/Variable Speed Drives (VSD)
Another factor affecting your compressed air system’s performance is its controls. Many systems are equipped with variable speed drives (VSD), which help to regulate airflow and pressure.
VSDs are designed to optimize energy use by reducing the power needed to run the system. However, if the settings aren’t right, you may experience reduced system efficiency and increased energy costs.
VSDs can adjust the drive motor speed to match varying demand requirements. This can help extend the compressor’s life and enable the machine to use energy more efficiently.
The Compressor and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) have also developed other types of controls like:
- Start/Stop System: This system is used only when the compressor is running and for processes that have low duty cycles.
- Load/Unload Systems: Enables a compressor to run at a constant speed, even while unloaded, provided an appropriate amount of compressed air storage is available.
To achieve optimal performance from your compressed air system, it’s important to have the right controls. These controls should be regularly maintained and serviced to ensure they’re working properly.
If you’re looking for ways to improve the performance of your compressed air system, it’s well worth keeping an eye on the issues described above. Identifying and addressing them early can help you save energy, reduce maintenance costs, and extend the life of your system.
John Henry Foster is an expert in industrial equipment maintenance and repair. If you need to have your automation systems, robotics, and air compressors checked by our experts, visit our website to request a service.