January 20, 2023
Knowing how to find a leak in a compressed air network, as well as how to repair and prevent leaks in the future. Preventing leaks can offer huge benefits for any company that regularly uses an air compression system.
If you hear a telltale hiss coming from a component of your air compressor, you may not realise how much damage it is causing to your compressed air system and your profits. Leaks from the air compressor can be incredibly expensive, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of productivity and efficiency. Compressors consume a lot of energy. With such high demands and power consumption, it is essential to keep your compressed air system running at peak performance.
Leaks from an air compressor can easily compensate for a significant amount of energy wasted in industrial plants and can absorb 20-30% of the power of an air compressor. With a proactive leak detection and repair program, losses can be reduced to less than 10% of compressor power in a facility. Depending on the size of your system and the structure, elimination any air leaks can result in huge savings.
In addition to the financial disadvantages, leaks from the air compressor can affect business operations due to:
The air compressor itself can be damaged by air leaks. Your machine can suffer in several ways. The compressor must operate more frequently and longer than under standard conditions. Usually, structures with high air leaks need to replace their compressed air systems in shorter times because the overall life of the system in this situation is reduced drastically. In addition, longer uptime will increase maintenance times and costs.
One of the easiest ways to check for air leaks in your air compressor is to listen to it. Establish a regular leak detection schedule where someone travels through the plant during a period of production non-activity to listen for leaks that reveal themselves with noticeable sound. Of course, not all leaks will be audible to the human ear, and many plants or production lines do not have regular shutdown periods. For these reasons, it is recommended to use ultrasonic leak detectors.
Ultrasonic leak detectors are sophisticated instruments that accurately detect leaks, regardless of whether they produce noise audible to humans or not, within noisy production environments. A combination of directional microphones, amplifiers and audio filters allow them to identify high-frequency hissing sounds produced by air leaks. In addition, these units have become extremely compact and portable. Investing in one of these tools can help in detecting air compressor leaks. To use an ultrasonic leak detector, an operator will walk through the plant with the unit in hand, the headphones or the display inside the detector will signal to the operator the precise location of the leaks.
Leaks can appear throughout the compressed air system, and some components can also be controlled in other ways:
Check every possible component for wear or any visible breakage of a gasket. Connection devices are particularly vulnerable to leak-causing problems.
Don't forget to prioritise certain losses. After performing an air leak check, you may encounter several leaks of various sizes. Some may cost more than others.
To assess the effect of a leak in a plant, the losses of the plant can be measured. To do this, operate the compressor and record the time it takes to load and unload the compressor. This will charge or discharge according to the air demand generated by leaks in the system. Record these times and compare them with the compressor capacity.
If T1 is the loading time in minutes and T2 is the unloading time in minutes, use this equation to find the total percentage of air capacity wasted on air leaks:
Percentage of total loss = [(T1*100)]/[(T1+T2)}
An efficient plant has a loss rate of less than 10%.
As previously mentioned, leaks can occur throughout the plant: from the source of the compressed air to the distribution pipes and the point of use. Although it is important to pay attention to the whole system, some areas deserve a little extra attention. Some of the most common problem spots for leaks include:
Another common point for losing compressed air is the improper use of the air compressor. If employees use air for a purpose for which it was not intended they create another source of energy loss. Identify these alternative uses and ask employees to use more efficient and appropriate tools for the job. These tools may include engineered nozzles, designed explicity for a specific task to be performed, or cooling units intended for electrical panels or cabinets. They consume less power and can help remove some of the workload from the compressed air system. In addition, make sure that proper maintenance is also carried out on the instruments, so they can effectively use the power of the air.
One area that may be difficult to identify is membranes. Membranes are present within different components of an air compressor system. They may break or wear out and may need to be replaced.
If the air leak is in a place such as an air pipe connection, joint, gasket, or control or shut-off valves, you may be able to repair the leak by tightening the connection.
Of course it is not always that simple. Other times, repairing leaks is more complicated and expensive, expecially if you want to prevent problems in the future.
High-quality parts are expensive, and unfortunately, many companies opt for cheaper parts to save money. We constantly see that investments in higher quality parts, such as fittings, piping, hoses and valves, pay off in the long run. These high-quality parts tend to experience less loss and less downtime. Opting for quality parts can help reduce air leaks and other maintenance issues in the future.
Start by looking at the entire system and see if you can fix any leaks:
Here's how to deal with leaks in different areas of the air compressor system:
Similarly, some old or poorly maintained tools can be a source of losses. They may have weaker connections or be worn out by use, allowing leaks to occur in more places. Replacing them with newer, higher-quality models can offer better performance and lower losses.
Instead of constantly repairing leaks, a better approach would be to take preventive measures. First, taking the time to perform simple maintenance tasks can save you much more time by keeping leaks tracked. They create more machine downtime and can lead to costs associated with new parts or repairs.
By following a rigorous schedule and training employees extensively, you can react more readily to avoid the costs associated with air leaks and compressor maintenance. Here are some of the things you can do to prevent leaks:
Make sure someone regularly does a leak check and then record the data. For example, any leaks detected should be labeled and transcribed into the logs or maintenance information system. Pay special attention to problem areas or components that may wear out.
Some factories schedule leak repairs in line with the maintenance schedule of the air compressor.
A good approach to preventive maintenance should include:
Employee engagement is critical to proactively identifying new leaks and stay on top of air compressor leak repairs. They are constantly working with and around tools that might indicate leaks, so they are one of the best sources for finding problems. Educate employees about the cost of air leaks, so they share the same concern as you when it comes to identifying and repairing such leaks. Develop a sense of responsibility at the team level that makes everyone aware of the losses and problems they cause. Some facilities incorporate lessons on identifying and reporting leaks as part of their shift start activities.
As with any management program, you need to communicate often to engage your team members. Consider incentivising employees to identify and report losses.
Maintaining compressed air system leaks requires continous awareness. Leaks can arise anywhere and anytime, so you and your employees need to be careful of any issues. Developing a consistent leak maintenance procedure can help your facility in many ways. This includes:
In addition to developing a continous leak mainenance program, it is important to choose suitable equipment for the work of your employees, try to recalculate the pressure utilisation and be sure to use only that necessary for their operations. Excessively high pressures can consume components more quickly, so use only what is necessary to extend the life of your compressed air system.
Loss prevention is not a simple task. It requires a continous approach to maintenance that engages employees at every level. However, it is a job worth investing in, if you consider how much these losses can cost you in the long run.
We have mentioned how high-quality parts can facilitate the operation of the compressed air system. They require less maintenance, last longer and offer better performance.