How to Winterize Your Air Compressor System

Posted on: September 29, 2015

With each passing year, regions across the United States are experiencing more extreme patterns of weather. In many parts of the country, this past summer has been one of the hottest on record. As fall approaches, it’s time to brace for colder weather; very cold, if recent patterns are an indicator. In preparation for temperatures of a polar extreme, the time is right to inspect your air compressor to ensure that it will be in tip-top shape for the months of winter.

With the following air compressor maintenance tips, your air system will be better equipped to fill your facility with desired temperatures, regardless of the weather outside.

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Servicing Your Air Compressor System

Semiannual compressor maintenance is crucial for maintaining a facility air system that functions with maximum efficiency throughout the year. In order to keep the system working consistently and to lower the possibility of downtime, three basic steps should be performed at least twice each year:

  • Inspect the system drains – The drains in your air system should be thoroughly checked for any obstructions. Does the passage of air seem to be working properly? Also, check related parts of the system – filters, dryers, receivers – for flow and efficiency.
  • Isolate and rectify leaks in the air system – Regardless of whether a leak is large or small, it can be a huge burden on your facilities energy supply. The sooner you spot and repair such leaks, the more money you’ll save with an energy-efficient system.
  • Clear out the filters – When clogs build up in the air filters, the system just won’t work as it should. Clogs can lead to contamination and recurrent pressure drops, which makes it crucial to clear out the air filters on a regular basis.

Air Compressor Maintenance to Keep Your System Weatherized

In the parlance of maintenance, winterization means keeping your facilities tuned up and ready for the cold months of winter. Air compressor servicing experts recommend biannual system maintenance in preparation for the more extreme times of year; one occurring on the brink of summer, and another as fall gives way to winter. Of course, people often forget to do this kind of maintenance, since it’s a rare chore that can seem a little daunting to the inexperienced. Therefore, it’s wise to mark the calendar to remind yourself in late spring and late fall that it’s time for another round of maintenance on your system.

Whatever your protocol might be, make sure that the following steps are performed on your air compressor twice each year:

  • Inspect the weather stripping – If signs of wear and tear are visible on the stripping, replace it immediately.
  • Inspect the insulation – Another sign of trouble is when heat leaks from the system.
  • Inspect the drains and openings of the air intake – To ensure maximum protection from snow and rain, the drains and openings must be in optimal shape.

Consider Air Compressor System Upgrades for Heat Recovery

Imagine being able to slash your hot water and heating bills by making the airflow and waterflow work more efficiently between different areas of your facility. Through a process known as heat recovery, the heat derivatives of the air compressor are recycled within the facility, all of which makes the compressor room far more optimal. In the best-case scenarios, business owners can recover up to nine-tenths of the heat generated through an air compressor system. Considering the rising cost of energy in various parts of the U.S., any type of air compressor maintenance that could lower your monthly bills would be well worth the effort.

  • Check the tanks for condensation – Throughout the months of winter, an unchecked tank can potentially accumulate moisture inside, which could ultimately freeze if temperatures get icy cold. Therefore, it’s important to inspect your tanks several times each week during winter – as well as throughout the other months of the year – to ensure that condensation buildup doesn’t occur. If even the slightest amount of moisture does accumulate, drain it immediately. Whenever an abundance of moisture appears within the span of a couple days, it could be a sign of something much worse within your system.

In order to get the condensation removed as thoroughly as possible, place the drain on the receiver tank at the lowest possible angle. Some systems that drain automatically are also equipped with tester buttons that allow you to see whether the function has worked according to plan.

  • Winterize the condensate drains and bowls outside – A common mistake that business owners make is to neglect their outdoor drains in the months of winter. If temperatures in your area are expected to drop to freezing levels, apply heat trace tape over any exposed parts of your drain lines; this will stop them from freezing.

On the other hand, if you don’t even plan to use your equipment in the wintertime, or intend to shut off your plant during the holiday season, there won’t be a need for heat tape because it won’t even receive energy without the system running. In that case, drain all water from the lines to ensure that they don’t freeze in the coldest of weather.

  • Make adjustments to the louvers – Various applications are now being employed that make it possible to salvage the heat that escapes from an air compressor. The methods for doing this vary, but the easiest consists of ducting the heat so that it can recirculate. In the hotter months, you can duct the hot air in a direction opposite the compressor room to keep temperatures at a modest level. When winter comes along, heat can be directed toward the compressor to prevent it from cooling down too much; or the heat can be ducted toward nearby rooms to save on heating bills. However, if the louvers on your compressor aren’t controlled via thermostat, they need to be adjusted by hand in order to meet the right levels of temperature.
  • Try a cabinet or ambient heater – On some compressors, the lubricant can be preheated with the use of cabinet heaters. If your unit cannot be equipped in such a way, there’s also the option of ambient heaters. This way, you can keep the lubricant at an above-minimum temperature, which will safeguard the compressor from wear on the motor and lower the possibility of system failure. If you currently have either one of these heater types installed on your premises, inspect its functionality and see whether it’s set for the lowest temperature allowed by the manufacturer.

Why Drying Is Needed on Industrial Air Compressor Systems

Along with electricity, gas and water, compressed air is one of the most important utilities for buildings and facilities. At certain times of the year, however, a compressed air system needs to be dried. The reason for this is due to the presence of water vapor in all atmospheric air. When the temperature of compressed air or gas lowers to a certain level of coldness – generally referred to as the dew point – where it can no longer hold vapor, the vapor turns to liquid, which in turn causes condensation on a compressor system. Among air compressor servicing specialists, the dew point is studied to figure out how much drying is needed on a unit.

Air Compressor Servicing Neglect: Damage Caused by Moisture

In manufacturing plants, compressed air with moisture has been responsible for all kinds of problems in machine operation and production. For decades, the issue regarding compressed air moisture was treated as an inevitable factor of industrialization, despite the long list of consequences. Moisture:

  • Rusts machinery and erodes the joints of moving parts by rinsing off lubrication.
  • Diminishes the brilliance, adhesion and texture of paint.
  • Causes pneumatic controls to malfunction due to scale and rust in various parts, all of which can lead to product damage and factory shutdowns.
  • Corrodes instruments that are operated with air or gas, which can cause processes to shut down due to misreadings.

When water deposits form on industrial machinery, the dispersion of corrosive particles can shorten the lifespan of equipment by causing a range of damaging effects, from clogged valves and fittings to ice formation within various components. Compressed air moisture contains various elements – dirt, oil, water – that cause untold damage to everything from pipes and paint layers to joints and fittings. In every function, machines perform with far greater efficiency for much longer stretches of time when operations are conducted in surroundings of dry and clean compressed air.

  • On cylinders and valves – The seals and bearings on pneumatic cylinders require a lot more upkeep as soon as watery, oily air begins depositing on these components. Dirty moisture eats away at the essential oils of various parts of an air cylinder, such as the head and rod. In the valves, dirty moisture can lead to stiffening and cracks of the rubber diaphragms. Moisturized air will also cause surface corrosion and hinder the functionality of such parts, leaving things less efficient and productive. Furthermore, moisturized air can hinder spools and pistons, and lead to stuck cylinders during high-speed operations. In certain worst-case scenarios, the damage caused by bad air will bring everything to a full stop. All of these problems can be avoided, however, with a steady supply of clean, dry air.
  • Instrument air – Clean, dry air is essential for maximum, efficient operation of pneumatic controllers and instruments in all industrial settings, from textile mills to chemical, power, sewage and manufacturing plants. Every part of the machinery – including relays, recorders, gauges, indicators, converters, transmitters and integrators – must be supplied with compressed air that’s free of oil, water and dirt in order to stay in optimal working condition. Even when just a tiny amount of liquid seeps into an orifice of the machinery, it can lead to a malfunction that triggers a chain reaction. The presence of moisture can also leave corrosive particles that clog supply lines and eat away at instruments. Clean, moisture-free air is further required in the thermostats that trigger the heating and cooling functions in buildings of all sizes.
  • Product protection – Air should also be dry and dirt-free whenever it’s used to operate machinery or for cleaning or mixing purposes. A knitting machine that runs on compressed air, for instance, could get its needles stuck in the latches if oil or moisture condenses from the air. Likewise, when compressed air is used to clean lint off newly woven fabrics, dirt within the air could ultimately ruin the sheets.

Dirty, moisture-ridden air can also cause contamination in jarred and bottled products where the containers are blown clean in advance of packaging. When compressed air is used in control line productions, the presence of dirt, oil or water in said air could offset the mixes in liquors, the ingredients in baked goods, the balances in cleaning products and the blends in paints.

In printing where air is utilized to put paper into place, any trace of moisture could damage the paper and inhibit the application of inks. Compressed air must also remain water-free during the pneumatic conveying of numerous other products, including cement, paper towels, and disposable plates and cups.

  • Determine the needs of compressed air functions – When selecting an air compressor system, it’s crucial to be familiar with the specific needs of every possible use. For example, a compressor shouldn’t be operated without explicit knowledge of how much moisture can be permitted versus how much moisture must be eliminated for a given application. Compressed air that might seem sufficiently dry for one function could end up causing moisture damage elsewhere; it all varies. After all, even the hottest and driest spots on the planet have moisture in the air. No matter what applications it’s intended to handle, a compressed air system always contains some level of moisture.

When it comes to air compression, the most practical way to determine dryness is to specify a needed dew point. The level that would be suitable for your work could be much different from what the next building needs; that is why so many dryers are being made with different dew-point setting levels. No one, however, should ever set a dew point level at a lower degree than what is specified for a given function. Not only is that representative of poor engineering, it could also lead to expensive repairs and soaring operational costs.

  • Familiarize yourself with the temperatures – In order to find out whether sufficient levels of dryness will be maintained with compressed air, it’s important to know where the air is going and the temperature at which it functions. For instance, in an industrial setting with an average temperature of 70 degrees or more, the dew point could possibly be as low as 20 degrees and still pass muster.

Winter Versus Summer Dew Point Requirements

In contrast to summertime, when dew point levels don’t need to be very low, winter months require a lower dew point. With the coldest months of the year come different requirements for the cooling medium, which in some settings could be a determining factor in the size of the system required, since the compressor would need to handle and adjust to temperatures of both extremes. Furthermore, a compressor that works sufficiently during daytime temperatures might prove insufficient after dusk.

At refineries and industrial plants that process chemicals, air is sent from one point to another with lines that go both inside and outside of the facility. In these kinds of plants, the system handles two differing temperatures simultaneously with the same equipment.

Generally, a compressed air system should have its dew point set at least 20 degrees below the lowest expected temperature.

The Main Reasons to Winterize

The performance of an air compressor can be heavily impacted by its position within a surrounding environment. Depending on the weather patterns of a given area, actions need to be taken on either a quarterly or biannual basis. After all, the functionality of an air compressor is ultimately affected by the rise and fall of heat levels.

 

  • Frozen water

    – Of all the issues that tend to arise when temperatures drop below freezing, one of the most troubling has to do with water. Therefore, it is essential to do timely assessments of each and every spot where liquid could be isolated, and to identify any possible areas where leaks might occur.

  • Icy oil

    – Another crucial aspect of air compressor maintenance is oil temperature, which needs to be monitored and regulated. Otherwise, the oil could drop to a coldness level that renders it unable to lubricate or seal the machinery. Icy oil can also cause a compressor to malfunction or stop working altogether. For maximum reliability, oil must be kept within a temperature range that never veers toward hot or cold extremes. Trouble is, oil temperatures are tough to correctly regulate on air compressors with low duty cycles, which are often vulnerable to numerous problems, such as oil and water getting into the wrong places.

With a working knowledge of the key steps involved in managing temperatures, you could likely handle many of the basic tasks of servicing your air compressor system. The thing to bear in mind is that air compressors differ in their maintenance and repair needs, and you’re unlikely to find all the answers for your system in some generalized, one-two-three instruction manual. By following advice that was initially given with another model in mind, you could actually end up causing more damage to your machine, which makes it crucial to understand the specifics of your model before you attempt air compressor repairs or system upgrades.

As you set about the process of winterizing your air compressor, consider the following questions. What are the issues that concern you most as a system owner or operator? Are there things pertaining to your system’s exterior that need to be taken into consideration? How many hours per day is your unit in operation? The answers that you give to these questions will help you better understand your needs when it comes to air compressor servicing, repairs and maintenance. For instance, you might not have as many issues if you run your system around the clock, seven days a week; whereas operating the system only on weekdays could lead to problems on a given Monday if climate issues arise.

The Benefits of Air Compressor Optimization

In the world of mass production, it’s crucial for manufacturers to maximize efficiency at every level. With all the money that goes into product assembly, advertising, overhead costs, and the training and payroll of talent, every dollar must be spent wisely to ensure that the highest possible profits are made for all the parties involved.

Mass production is a complicated business with many different costs involved, some of which can get overlooked at times among the bigger picture. Chief among them are the costs that tend to arise from poorly maintained air compressor systems. As it stands, the costs associated with compressed air account for nearly half – 40 percent – of a factory’s power expenses. At the same time, energy usage accounts for roughly four-fifths – 80 percent – of the costs associated with the installation of air compressors.

When air compressor systems are optimized, companies reap the following benefits:

  • Savings on energy bills
  • Reduced likelihood of moisture damage on products
  • Reduced overhead and repair costs
  • Improved profit margins
  • Reduced CO2 emissions
  • Facilities that are more environmentally friendly

In winter as well as summer, the financial and environmental benefits are numerous when more consideration is given to compressed air optimization.

Time to Upgrade Your Air Compressor System?

In some cases, winterizing an air compressor could be as simple as setting a heater next to the oil tank each day. Often times, however, the issue is more complicated and difficult to pin down, and an owner might end up sinking tons of money without even getting to the root of the problem. In cases like these, the task of air compressor servicing is best done with sound advice from experts.

As a trusted name in the air compressor market for more than a century, Quincy sells a vast range of products and offers day-and-night support that meets the unique needs of each customer. From homeowners to factory operators, millions of customers have reaped huge savings thanks to Quincy’s unparalleled products and unbeatable service. Throughout the world, companies in the oil and gas industries – as well as manufacturers of automobiles, foods and household products – have all achieved maximum efficiency with our vacuums and compressed air machines.

With Quincy, you get top-quality products with maximum reliability for the most demanding of applications. As a Quincy customer, servicing your air compressor system is easy, because all customers receive 24/7 support through our authorized partners. Furthermore, Quincy offers warranty protection on compressor products, and extended warranties on reciprocating and rotary products.

To learn more about Quincy’s air compressors, products and services, visit our website today and download some of our whitepapers for further information.