For manufacturers and engineers across the UK, compressed air is just as important as gas and electricity, and yet, this utility doesn’t always receive the same level of attention, explains Andy Jones.
Compressors and associated air treatment equipment must be properly serviced, maintained and inspected in order to guarantee both safety and performance.
Regarded as industry’s fourth utility, compressed air is vital for many manufacturing processes. Much like any other piece of industrial equipment, compressors need to be properly maintained to ensure they perform correctly and efficiently.
In more extreme cases, a poorly maintained compressor might even catch fire or explode. And, as well as being potentially hazardous, it won’t perform properly or efficiently, increasing running costs and carbon emissions. Plus, if a machine fails, the downtime can be disastrous for a company’s bottom line.
Consequently, it’s imperative to have a maintenance strategy in place as specified by the manufacturer, and not just for the compressor, but the compressed air system as a whole. Regular maintenance will extend the life of the system and will include checking the pipework for rust, corrosion and leaks.
Guidelines and timescales for legally required inspections will be provided in a Written Scheme of Examination, which specifies the parts of the system that need to be assessed, the nature of the examination required, the preparatory work required, and the maximum interval allowed between checks.
By opting for a vane air compressor such as Mattei’s over a screw compressor from the get-go, maintenance costs can be reduced from the start. For example, the absence of roller bearings in a vane compressor means lower maintenance costs and a reduced risk of component failure. In fact, some vane compressors have been known to run for over 200,000 hours without the need to replace the white-metal bushes used in this type of compressor. This poses a serious contrast with roller bearings, which are typically required to be changed at every 30,000-40,000 hours.
Many leakage issues are also accounted for when it comes to choosing vane over screw. ‘Blowholes’, where air under high pressure can be driven to areas of low pressure, is inherent in screw compressors. To compensate for these leakage paths, they need to run at high speeds. The design of rotary vane compressors eliminates blowholes, which means they can operate at low speeds from a direct drive coupling. This in turn improves energy efficiency and reduces power consumption. Due to the integrated nature of the airend, most vane compressors have fewer hydraulic hoses, further minimising the risk of leakage and breakdowns.
Ultimately, it is vital for businesses to keep a preventative approach to preserve its compressed air systems. Adhering to this good practice from the outset reduces problems in the future and helps to ensure that the compressed air system can be relied upon.
Mattei offers a variety of service and maintenance packages for most makes of compressors and can offer assistance if a Written Scheme of Examination is required. As a member of BCAS with a SafeContractor accreditation, Mattei is committed to improving health and safety practices in the compressed air industry.