Preventive Maintenance Keeps Air Compressors Running Smoothly
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Preventive Maintenance Keeps Air Compressors Running Smoothly

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Few pieces of shop equipment are used as regularly as air compressors. However, when is the last time you performed any type of maintenance on this vital piece of equipment? If your answer isn’t “within the past 24 hours,” take a moment and think about what life would be like without the compressor to power your shop tools.

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Shop efficiency would drop dramatically if technicians had to rely on using a tire iron to remove lug nuts. Does your shop even have a tire iron tucked away in the back room? Either way, it’s time to set up a schedule for performing daily maintenance.

In order to ensure that your air compressor continues to run smoothly day after day, technicians need to know how to properly maintain this vital piece of equipment. When an air compressor is initially brought into the shop, it should be placed in a clean, well-ventilated area. Some service facilities will even place their compressor in a (clean, well-ventilated) room that’s apart from the general shop area. This special room may also include an external intake for clean air for the compressor.

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It’s important to keep the entire air compressor clean as dirt acts as an insulator and will cause the unit to run hotter than necessary. Under normal use, temperatures inside an air compressor can exceed 450° F. Anything you can do keep this temperature from climbing even higher, will help your air compressor last longer.

DAILY MAINTENANCE
For proper maintenance, the main air tank on the compressor should be drained on a daily basis. This can be done manually or there are automatic devices available that open the bottom drain for a specified period of time each day.

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In addition, daily maintenance, at least during the warmer months (at least once a week during cooler months) should include draining the moisture traps and opening the air valve on the drain legs to remove the liquid water that’s already trapped. Compressed air creates condensation and condensation is water.

IN-LINE FILTER, REGULATOR, LUBRICATOR & GAUGE
As a safety precaution to protect your equipment that is run off the air compressor, it’s wise to install a filter, regulator, lubricator and/or gauge in the air line. These units come in various combinations so be sure to ask the manufacturer or supplier what they would recommend based on your compressor, climate and what equipment you will be running off the air compressor. These units should be attached to the line no less than 10 to 12 feet from the air compressor. This distance allows the air to semi-cool before going through the filter, allowing the filter to better do its job. A lot of the machines you run off your air compressor are high-dollar pieces of equipment and you don’t want any water to get through and create rust or contamination in the system. The filter will also eliminate any solid particles that may be in the air line. Having a pressure gauge is essential for maintaining pressure that falls within manufacturers’ calculated and recommended levels. Incorrect levels can cause safety hazards and impair tool performance. The pressure gauge can also help detect any leaks that may be in the lines. If there are any leaks, your shop is wasting money in electricity to replenish the air supply. Designed to be used between the filter and machine being run by the air compressor, lubricators (also referred to as oilers) feeds oil directly into the air line. This provides constant lubrication for your air tools, which can significantly extend their lifespan.

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CHANGING THE OIL
It’s important to change the oil in an air compressor on a regular basis. A low oil level can cause the pump to work harder and run hotter. The oil should be changed at least every year. The owner’s manual that came with the air compressor will include service interval guidelines as well as recommend a specific weight of oil to use. Simply changing the oil at regular intervals helps keep the internal parts well lubricated. As an additional safeguard, you may also want to consider using a “compressor cool” additive to keep the oil at a cooler temperature and minimize condensation in the pump.

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If you just purchased your compressor, remember that compressors are shipped without oil in the crankcase. Be sure to check with the manufacturer or supplier regarding any start-up/lube kit requirements. Many manufacturers now offer extended warranties on their compressors if you purchase a specific lubricant.

INSPECT THE DRIVE BELTS
While performing a safety inspection on your shop’s air compressor, check the drive belts for any signs of wear. If you find damage to either belt, always replace both belts at the same time. Replacing the belts as a matched set will maintain balanced tension from the drive to the pulley. While checking the belts, also check the belt guard to make sure it is doing its job. If it’s loose, take the time to properly attach it to the machine.

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AIR DRYERS
Air dryers, or extractors, are often used to help cool the compressed air after it leaves the compressor on its way to your power tools. This cooling of the air lowers the dew point, which turns any water vapor in the air into liquid. The moisture is then removed from the air line as it passes through the dryer/extractor. There are a few different types of dryers/extractors on the market today, so be sure to discuss with your supplier which one best fits your shop’s needs based on what you will be using the compressed air for on a daily basis. For example, any shop that also performs body work will require ultra-clean and dry compressed air for its spray booth.

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On a final note, when it comes to prolonging the life of your air tools, we have talked about getting any unnecessary water and dirt out of your shop’s compressed air lines. As an additional precautionary measure, when the air tools are not connected to the air lines, there are little caps that are available in the aftermarket that you can use to cover the nipple of the air tools. Using these caps will prevent unwanted debris from getting inside the tools.

A few minutes of preventive maintenance can go far to extend the life of your air compressor.

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