It’s easy to overlook the compressor on your workshop floor, as long as it’s doing its job, there’s nothing to worry about. Right?

Compressors are integral to production from conveyors to spray booth equipment. And like anything unglamorous, we often forget they’re there until there’s a problem.

There are simple changes you can make to avoid loss of production and finger-pointing. Ongoing management of the compressed air system can prevent most issues. You can improve production, reduce energy, and keep the money-men happy at the same time.


1. Design of your compressed air system

When you design a compressed air system its key to get the specification right first time.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will this design work for the application?
  • Have we incorporated enough space for maintenance?
  • If we increase production, will we be able to scale up or adjust the plant work?

First thing to consider is your air inlet. You can have the best compressor on the market but remember the air that goes into the compressor is the air used. So, ensure it’s not placed somewhere dusty or high in pollutants. For example, near a loading bay is not a good idea as contaminants from fumes could enter the airlines.

Remember to not only focus on the compressor itself. How many filters will you need? How big will the air receiver need to be? Do you need a dryer? All system elements have maintenance requirements and costs.

2. Ambient conditions

Did you know a 5°C increase in air inlet temperature will lead to a 2% reduction in your compressor’s performance?

You may be rolling your eyes for us worrying about scorching temperatures in the UK. But during the heatwave of 2018, many manufacturers struggled with breakdowns due to the hot weather.

A compressor’s performance is more efficient if the air going into it isn’t too hot. During planning include ventilation which can be later adjusted throughout the year. When discussing your compressor house requirements, ask suppliers how they prevent temperature-related breakdowns.

3. Maintenance of compressor plant

Servicing your compressor will have a positive impact on its performance. Like with any machine, ignoring the recommended maintenance will have the opposite effect.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you service system elements such as filters or condensate drains?
  • Do you use genuine spares?
  • Do you use the correct grade of oil?

Managing the entirety of the compressed air system keeps it running like it did when it was new. Imagine avoiding the capital cost of replacing plant by looking after it.


4. Energy recovery

You should start viewing your compressor as an untapped energy resource. It could be the answer sat right in front of you.

One example to consider is the heat generated by your compressed air system.  90% of electrical input gets lost as heat, creating opportunities to convert this energy for heating systems or to generate hot water.

Before heat recovery, Telford Yarns struggled to maintain efficient production during winter months. A rise of six degrees has been achieved as predicted, alongside savings of £7,000 per year.

The solution doesn’t always mean buying new either! Convert an existing compressor to variable speed to remove offload power consumption.

5. Air distribution

It’s all very well and good getting the air right at the source but it still needs to reach the application. It’s vital to use pipework which is the correct size for the airflow, pressure and distance from compressor.

When designing a new system, consider the construction of the pipework and fittings. Aluminium is smoother compared to steel pipework, which can lead to pressure drops. And when a drop-in pressure of 25 millibars can result in a 2% efficiency loss, you’ll want to get it right first time.

6. Internet of Things

Connectivity isn’t only for smartphones and cars, it’s entering the manufacturing world. The easiest way to manage your compressed air system is to use real-time reporting. The technology allows for remote monitoring of compressor performance. Notifications include about load cycles, high temperature, service condition and other predictive factors.

It can also track energy consumption and suggest ways to improve performance. It maximises efficiency while reducing the risk of downtime.

As part of a service contract, Direct Air installed remote telemetry at all UK Royal Mail sites. Since 2015, Royal Mail have only lost production once due to failure of a component fitted before. This is because we know about a problem before the customer with remote monitoring.

When compressed air systems are correctly managed, they shouldn’t cause any concern.

Many businesses use a supplier to maintain and support their compressed air plant. The experts can focus on what they’re trained to do which benefits your business performance.

If you’d like to read more about managing your own system, you can learn how to identify a leak in your system.