5 Signs An Industrial Air Compressor Needs Maintenance or Service

Man repairing

It is important for compressed air users to be familiar with their industrial air compressor maintenance needs.  Knowledge of machine performance, operating characteristics and service requirements enables the user to recognize when a specific machine requires attention. An air compressor that is operating below its design capabilities can be inefficient, costly and even dangerous.  Fortunately, most potential or impending issues show early warning signs that are easy to spot by a knowledgeable compressed air user. Air compressor operators should be on the lookout for any of the following potential warning signs, and be ready to take immediate action to limit potential failures, downtime and repair costs:

  1. High Operating Temperature

All air compressors fight a constant battle against heat.  The physical act of compressing air molecules produces huge amounts of it (known as the “heat of compression”), and effective dissipation of this heat is critical for safe and reliable compressor operation.  A sudden or unexplained rise in compressor operating temperature is a strong indicator that a problem is imminent.  Regular cleaning of a compressor’s coolers should be incorporated into any maintenance program.  Additionally, the condition of a compressor’s lubricant can greatly affect the machine’s ability to operate at a safe temperature.  Closely monitoring lubricant condition through a formal oil sampling program is a good strategy for preventing compressor failure and downtime.

  1. Increased Noise

Many industrial air compressors – especially older models – emit high operating noise.  While improving technology has enabled many compressor OEMs to reduce the overall operating noise of newer models, end users of compressed air should be familiar with the typical operating noise of their compressors during normal conditions.  Any change in operating noise should be investigated immediately.  Bearing noise should always be addressed right away, and any unexplained clicks, rattles or rumbles can forewarn a larger problem on the horizon.  If a specific noise cannot be identified or corrected, call a professional service company for troubleshooting and repair.

A vibration analysis program is highly recommended from the start on all equipment as this sets the base line vibration, then you can trend from there. This service improves the early detection of irregular vibration due to misalignment, or failing bearings etc. Also, you can check vibration on the motor same as the air end, detects early vibration issues, misalignments, soft foot, etc. worth the investment. ~ George Saez, Service Manager Sullair of Houston

  1. Motor overload or tripped breakers

Most industrial air compressors are equipped with a safety shutdown that will stop the unit automatically in the event motor amperage exceeds the acceptable range.  If a compressor shuts down due to this fault, the root cause should be investigated immediately.  Sometimes the issue can be resolved quickly with a minor adjustment by an authorized professional.  However, a motor overload or tripped breaker can often be indicative of more serious problems – such as deficiencies in a facilities’ electrical system or increased mechanical friction in the air compressor.  Regardless of the potential cause, an electrical overload should always be taken seriously and addressed immediately for the sake of safety.

  1. Low Flow or Pressure

A properly designed compressed air system should supply sufficient air flow and pressure to support the needs of the application.  If a compressed air system suddenly or inexplicably is unable to maintain adequate pressure, the results can be catastrophic to a company’s bottom line.  Poor product quality, facility downtime, and reduced safety can all eat into a company’s profits.  For these reasons, users of compressed air should be constantly aware of system performance to minimize the impact of insufficient compressed air supply.

The potential causes of reduced pressure or flow are varied – and can manifest in both the compressor room or in a facility’s air piping.  Leaking pipes, open valves and stuck drains can all cause pressure to fall.  However, sometimes the control system of the air compressor can be the culprit.  If the cause of sudden pressure loss cannot be identified immediately, call a trusted compressed air technician for assistance.

You are always going to look at your gauges or your indicators and ask ‘Are your temperatures within range? Is amperage correct? What kind of differential pressure over the separator do I have?’ Then you are going to know something is wrong and you troubleshoot it from there. ~Brad Bonnecaze, VP/COO, Sullair of Houston

  1. Increased or Excess Moisture

All compressed air systems produce liquid condensation.  This natural byproduct of the compression process is simply a fact of life for users of compressed air.  However, the presence of liquid water in a facility’s compressed air supply can be detrimental to quality, productivity and reliability.  For this reason, most end users utilize air treatment equipment such as dryers, filters and mist eliminators to remove condensation from their air systems.  If the amount of condensation in a compressed air system suddenly increases, an air treatment issue is often to blame.

“When troubleshooting this problem, start at the source and move forward.  Is the compressor’s aftercooler clean and functioning properly?  Is the compressor’s moisture separator draining?  These components are often overlooked as potential root causes, while dryers and filters get most of the attention.  However, if a dryer is being fed hot air and liquid water at its inlet, it doesn’t stand a chance.”  – Steve Mahaffey, Sullair of Houston   

Bottom Line

Over the course of time, you can expect your air compressor to experience the normal wear and tear of an industrial setting. In order to keep your system functioning effectively, having the knowledge to identify issues and perform routine maintenance can go a long way in prolonging the life of your compressor. If you notice any of these warning signs or a combination of these symptoms, have a technician evaluate your compressor as soon as possible. Prompt inspection and repair can save you money in the long run, since it prevents more costly problems and ensures that a faulty air compressor won’t slow your business down.