When compressed air is used in a system or machine, there is a potential for air leakage. This can happen a number of ways and is not always attributed to installation flaws or work incidents. Of course the most obvious way that a leak might happen is if the tubing carrying the air is punctured in some way, say a work incident where a tool is dropped and cracks/slices it. On average, about 25-30% of all the compressed air produced by the air compressors never makes it to the end user. This number can be higher if there is no monitoring system in place.
Other, more covert ways that leaks can occur are through mechanical vibrations and other elemental factors. For example, a machine using compressed air might generate vibrations due to the nature of its work. These vibrations can cause the fittings within that machine to start to loosen over time. Think of a phone set on vibrate on the edge of a table. When it starts to ring for too long, it can eventually vibrate right off the table. This scenario has been grossly over simplified, but the principle remains. When the machine vibrates, fittings can migrate out of place or loosen.
The last variable mentioned is the elemental impact. This involves temperature, moisture, even high winds. Materials are easily affected by temperature. If the tubing is metal, it will expand in the heat and contract in the cold. Even plastics can warp in the heat and potentially crack in other circumstances. For facilities that are not climate controlled, this can cause a real problem. Temperature can also be part of the manufacturing process, not just an environmental factor. Any process that involves heat molding or a regulated cooling system will have to take these factors into consideration.
Most facilities will have pressure sensors to alert workers of a change in pressure and regulators to correct pressure to operational levels. This is fantastic and will keep machines running. Unfortunately, it does not address the root of the problem - why did the pressure change?
This is usually caused by an air leak somewhere in the system that is likely a result of one of the previously mentioned variables. Until this issue is fixed, the affected system will be overcompensating for the pressure loss. This overexerts the machines, costing more in utilities, and could potentially lead to periods of downtime if left too long. These leaks gone unfixed can cause larger problems that will be more expensive in dollars and downtime in the long run.
To be clear, in order to do maintenance on any leaks will require downtime, but the cost of a little downtime to fix these issues is small in comparison to having to shut down after a system failure.
This can be avoided by identifying the root cause of the problem and addressing it before it progresses. The best way to be proactive about this is to do an annual Air Leak Detection Audit.
An Air Leak Detection Audit is a service performed by a highly trained pneumatic specialist that is versed in root cause analysis. They will use advanced technology to run diagnostics on a facilities compressed air systems to identify if there are any leaks in the air system. Once they have identified any leaks, they will determine the best course of action. In some cases this can be as simple as replacing a fitting, in others it may be as severe as replacing tubing materials. These experts will be able to quickly identify replacement parts and advise best practices to mitigate issues going forward and keep utilities costs efficient.
After this audit is performed, a report will be generated by a pneumatic specialist detailing the location of each leak, including the root cause of it. This report will also include the estimated cost of each leak in additional energy usage if the leak is not addressed. Following will be the corrective actions required to repair each leak. The pneumatic specialist that performed the audit will meet to review the finding and answer any questions that might arise.
SMC Tool: Dustin Cathcart
Dustin is a Pneumatic expert employed with SMC managing projects, performing services, and providing professional support and guidance to customers. He has a vast background in fluid power, working in the industry for over 11 years in positions such as process engineer, and design engineering.
For more information about Air Leak Detection Audits click HERE - or contact SMC below to schedule.