How to Get Your Compressed Air System Ready for Winter?

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Focusing on maintenance and ensuring proper operations is a standard practice most facilities follow, this is especially true when it comes to preparation for the upcoming winter months. Anyone running compressed air equipment when the ambient temperature drops near or below freezing should be aware of some simple checks to make sure your production is protected and to avoid expensive and unnecessary repair bills.

1. What to consider when the temperature plummets?

get your compressor ready for winter
Cooling water or condensate from the compressed air itself could potentially be a problem area. Regardless of the type of system you are running it is paramount to make sure your cooling system has been treated, much the same as your car to prevent the cooling water freezing in low temperatures. Make sure that any drains, piping system, etc. that are exposed (running outside of the building for example) are insulated, much as you would with your own water system at home. This can avoid not only split pipes but also prevent condensate from entering the air supply. In extreme cases it could be beneficial to also add some trace heating (a heating element that runs along the outside of the pipework or drain). This is particularly true if you are using a refrigerated dryer where exposed pipe could drop to a lower temperature than the dew point on the dryer, resulting in condensate being present after the dryer. In wet weather, be sure to check air intake openings to ensure there is adequate protection from increased rain (or snow) blowing in from outside, as this could potentially saturate the air filter or form ice on the air intake.  Useful tip: If a compressor, dryer or oil-water separator is standing and not being used, it is wise to remove any free standing condensate or cooling water that is not treated, as this can lead to cracked pipes or coolers.

2. Have you considered a heat recovery system?

Air compressors are mainly utilized to provide the so called fourth utility, or compressed air, but while doing so, the air compressors also generate great amounts of heat, which can be recovered and used in various processes within a plant or facility. In optimal conditions, as much as 90 percent of the heat produced by compressing air can be recovered. A heat recovery system can offset the cost of producing hot water for washrooms and equipment cleaning and act as a heating source for a workspace, warehouse, loading dock or entryway. Look for rebates or grants from the local utility providers to help offset the cost of investment in a new, more efficient equipment with energy recovery capabilities. Some utility providers offer grants to promote sustainable energy, which is used towards heat recovery systems, and for replacing a fixed speed compressor with a variable speed driven model. Please contact your local utility provider or a compressed air sales professional for more information on these special offerings. Useful tip: If winter-proofing your compressed air system feels too daunting, invest in an ongoing maintenance plan from your air compressor provider. Well-maintained plants are often the most energy efficient and suffer from less downtime as compared to the plants that avoid making maintenance a top priority.

3. Check drains for malfunctions

Condensate drains might be one of the most ignored or forgotten about components when it comes to compressed air systems. Oftentimes these drains either do not exist, or are installed and kept out of sight, out of mind, which in either case can lead to potential problems. The main job of a condensate drain is to release the unwanted water out of specific equipment, whether air compressor, air receiver, dryer and or filter. These drains play an important role, as oftentimes its existence eliminates the need for manual drainage of equipment. The two main types of drains found in today’s compressed air systems are timer and zero loss electronic drain valve. Time drains are a very popular option, as they are cost effective and easy to install, while being quite reliable. The problem with timer drains is that the intervals between drain cycles have to be adjusted depending on the season and or application need, as improper timing can cause condensate retention, while keeping it open too long wastes unnecessary compressed air. No waste electronic drains are becoming more popular nowadays, as they do not waste any compressed air during the release of condensation and can be easily maintained with a simple rebuilt kit. Considering the small orifice on these drains, it is important to check and test the drains to ensure the opening is clear of any obstructions to allow for proper operations. As a rule of thumb, drains should be rebuilt and or replaced at least one a year and considering the inexpensive nature of this product, it is usually the memory that causes us to forget about them rather than the actual expense. Add drains to your routine maintenance checklist to ensure their effectiveness.

4. Maintain air filters

Similar to drains, filters are oftentimes an afterthought when it comes to compressed air systems. However, filters play an important role in ensuring proper air purity needed for a given application. Blocked and or oversaturated filters will not have the same capability to remove dust, particles, oil and or liquid out of compressed air, therefore leading to possible contamination. In addition, clogged filters result in system wide pressure drops, which can affect production and equipment shut downs or cause the compressed air system to work harder and increase energy consumption over time. It is advised and preferred to perform scheduled checks and maintenance on air filters to ensure proper air purity and seamless operations. An annual replacement of the filter element is recommended to avoid any risks.

5. Locate and repair leaks

It is oftentimes difficult to locate or hear an air leak within the compressed air piping system, but that does not mean that air leaks do not exist. On the contrary, depending on the age of piping system and its configuration, air leaks can account for 25% or more of compressed air usage within a given plant. Air leaks can be classified as artificial air demand, as they exist to only waste compressed air and do not serve any purpose other than causing your compressed air system to run inefficiently. Some larger leaks can be heard and can easily be catered to, but it is the smaller ones that should require the most attention before they become a bigger problem and cause potential pressure drops and interruption in the production process. Smaller leaks are difficult to detect, therefore it is advised to invest in a compressed air audit in order to recognize and repair the existing leaks, which will lead to higher productivity and efficiency from your compressed air system.

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