Opinion: Compressor care in times of crisis28 April 2020

This opinion article comes from Alexander Pavlov (pictured), general manager at Atlas Copco Compressors UK & Ireland, and discusses the importance of not overlooking industrial compressors during Covid-19.

In these dark days of preoccupation with personal and economic survival it may be judged understandable but unwise to overlook the important issue of production equipment health, a consideration which will be vital in our eventual recovery back to full productivity across the industrial landscape. As stated by The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, manufacturing is a critical part of our economy and manufacturers are contributing to the resilience of our nation by providing essential services and materials.

The essential role of compressed air supply as the fourth utility for industry is well established. No matter whether production or process plant is running at full capacity, on a reduced output programme, or temporarily shutdown during this crisis period, keeping compressor systems in peak condition at all times eliminates the costs of excessive energy consumption and the risk to output and productivity from potential mechanical breakdown.

The best way of ensuring compressed air supply availability is by taking the best care of the compressed air equipment. This means investing in regular preventative maintenance across the board, a precautionary measure which will sustain the efficiencies already gained from new compressor installations and help to improve the performance of older, established units.

As a result, uptime is greatly improved on regularly serviced compressors − it can make a difference of up to 3.5% to a compressor’s availability. Although this gain may not seem much at first, for a compressor running for 6,000 hours per annum, that increase actually equates to an additional 210 production hours over the course of a year.

Knowing the status of compressed air equipment at all times is the surest way for plant managers and maintenance professionals to spot any developing problems. On the positive side, it is also possible to uncover potential energy savings and achieve maximum uptime of both compressors and the production lines they support. These are insights that can be realised through a remote data monitoring system, connectivity that intelligently gathers, compares, and analyses data to help compressed air users increase maintenance and service efficiency.

At this difficult time when essential personnel are more likely to be working from home, remote connectivity with a compressor installation could help them to know the system’s status and be able to react on it from a safe distance. A connectivity set up will transmit the operational data of the compressors to the equipment service company’s remote diagnostics centre, which will constantly monitor the incoming events, allowing them to detect and therefore propose an action plan to prevent any critical situations or downtime in the compressed air supply.

An equally important consideration brought about by the current crisis is to realise that stopping and re-starting air compressors to either reduce output, stop them temporarily for a period of time, or shutdown altogether due to factory closure, is not just a simple matter of flicking a switch. It is essential to follow equipment manufacturers’ specific rules and procedures that apply to a range of compressor types and technologies.

As a general recommendation, if production is to be stopped completely, compressors should be turned off manually, even if they are integrated in a central controller. Some central controllers support remote shutdown of the complete compressed air system, which is an alternative to turning off compressors manually. If this is not done, it is possible that the machine will run at minimal capacity to compensate for small leaks in the compressed air network. This could prove be harmful to the unit, such as creating damaging condensate.

Be assured, the compressed air industry is taking steps to ensure it still provides the best possible service to customers, despite the challenges presented by the current situation. Compressor manufacturers’ production and distribution teams are working hard to continue availability of products and spare parts, and some have taken extraordinary measures to ensure supply to hospitals and crucial sectors, like food and pharmaceutical production, water and wastewater plants and power generation. Service engineers are working in new ways to maximise safety and, during a service site visit, they will follow plant site rules, and government rules, stringently.

Together they can keep everyone safe and compressed air equipment health maintained for optimum performance both now and, hopefully, in a much brighter future.

Alexander Pavlov, general manager at Atlas Copco Compressors UK & Ireland

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