If your industrial, construction or automotive facility relies on air compressors to perform essential tasks and maintain production, then you need to know how to troubleshoot a problem in these complex systems quickly and accurately -- because when they stop working, so does your business. Here are three smart questions to ask yourself when you're trying to get to the bottom of an air compressor malfunction.
1. "Am I Seeing Fluid Instead of Air?"
It should go without saying that you want your compressor pushing air (and only air) through its lines. If you're getting something more like a windy spray of fluid, you've obviously got a problem. The good news is that this particular type of problem can be narrowed down to a few specific trouble spots, depending on what kind of fluid you're getting:
- Oil - If oil is turning up in the line, your problem is probably related to oil pressure. Check to see whether the air intake system or crankcase breather needs to be cleaned. Give the pistons and piston rings a once-over as well; you may find that the rings need replacing or even that someone installed them improperly during the last replacement. If all these components look all right, try changing the oil.
- Water - Water in the line may indicate that some part of your compressed air dryer has failed. This component is supposed to remove excess moisture from the air, diverting that moisture to a drain valve. A faulty drain valve may simply send the moisture on down the line, so have this piece of equipment checked out. If your system uses a refrigerated dryer, check the refrigerant level and top it off if necessary.
2. "Where Is the Pressure Dropping?"
If you're experiencing low air pressure levels, you need to pinpoint where the pressure is being lost. Your air compressor might be failing to generate the necessary pressure, or the pressure may be failing at the point of use. If your system isn't producing sufficient pressure in the first place, then the air capacity system or air pressure switch might be out of adjustment. Your product's documentation should include information on how to re-calibrate these items. Examine all the compressor valves for signs of wear or breakage that might be causing the loss of pressure.
If the system is clearly generating the right level of pressure but that pressure isn't getting all the way to its destination, then it's time to suspect a valve or filter element failure, a heat exchanger malfunction or a leaky line. The solution to your crisis may as simple as cleaning, replacing or repairing any of these individual items.
3. "Is the Electrical System Malfunctioning?"
An air compressor that can't stay powered up may be suffering from electrical problems. Did your area suffer a recent electrical storm? If so, then you might just need to replace the fuse or reset the surge protector assigned to the compressor system. But if it's happening over and over again even during sunny days, then you're looking at a more complex problem.
The first logical step is to examine the other major electrical components in your facility to determine whether they're functioning without a hitch, thus eliminating the possibility of a facility-wide issue that would call for an electrician. If the power failure is limited to the air compressor, use a volt meter to check the voltage and current levels against your manufacturer's recommendations. If the voltage is on the low side, then that could be the cause of the failure. If the compressor is drawing too much current, you may need to replace the compressor motor's electrical windings, start relay or capacitor.
Knowing what a specific symptom indicates can save you valuable downtime in your efforts to get your air compressor up and running properly again -- and repairing or maintaining those specific points is certainly a lot more cost effective than replacing the entire system. So the next time your air compressor stops compressing, ask the right questions and you'll get the answers you need to get back in business ASAP. For more information and advice, contact a company like Compressed Air Systems.