Keep Your Compressor Ticking Over

Portable air compressors are typically used in dusty and harsh conditions. That makes it important to establish a regular maintenance plan, says Wim Thijs

Since portable compressors typically do not require an enormous amount of upkeep, contractors and fleet managers occasionally overlook the importance of a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual maintenance plan. A well-maintained air compressor can be a contractor’s best friend, offering portable power to a number of different tools that are required on site. However, a compressor that has not been properly cared for can quickly turn a profitable project into a nightmare.

For comparison, think of the portable air compressor as the heart of the project and the pneumatic tools as the arms and legs. If the heart isn’t working properly, then neither is the body. Conversely, a healthy compressor means that the rest of the tools are operating at optimum performance. An unserviceable compressor means the job is at a standstill until the unit is repaired or replaced. Again, the time it takes to repair or replace the compressor translates into lost income for the contractor. Equipment down-time can have a significant impact on a healthy bottom line, so wise contractors will always take the time to perform regular scheduled checks on their portable air compressors.

Before maintenance even comes into play however, the biggest favour a contractor can do to help themselves is ensure they use the proper equipment for the application. Once a contractor knows what tools he will need on a job site, it is a lot easier to select the portable air compressor that will work best for them.

Not only does the contractor need to have a good idea of the volume of air required for the specific application, it is also important to consider where the work is being done. For instance, if the work to be performed takes place a considerable distance away, the pressure on the compressor may need to be adjusted, or a larger hose may be needed to reduce pressure loss.

Once a contractor has determined the right power source for the application, and the work begins on the job site, there are a few simple maintenance steps to follow to ensure the longevity of the machine.

Once a day you should:

• Take a quick walk around the compressor to check for leaks, and ensure there are no fluids pooled underneath the machine;

• Power up the compressor, and check the indicators to make sure it is ready to go before every use;

• Fill up the tank with enough fuel to continue working through the day. (Any time the fuel tank is opened, there is an opportunity for dirt and debris to enter the system – it is best to minimise that risk); and

• Check the tyres before moving the unit.

Once a week you should:

• Take a good look at hoses – any cracked or leaky hoses need to be replaced right away;

• Check oil levels, and keep in mind that a drastic change in levels from the week before could indicate other issues; and

• Check the air filters (although, depending on usage, the air filter restriction indicators should probably be checked daily).

Once a month you should:

• Take a moment to test the automatic shutdown system to ensure it is fully functional;

• Perform a visual check of the engine to make sure there is no evident wear to the components and replace parts if needed; and

• Check the coolers and clean them when necessary with a soft brush and water hose. Clean coolers can help increase compressor performance and avoid overheating.

Finally, once a year you should:

• Change the separator element (the part of the compressor that filters oil from compressed air);

• Clean the fuel tank; and

• Replace the engine oil and compressor oil, as well as the oil filter and air filter in both the compressor and engine. Clean filters ensure a better performance as old oil oxidises and increases the possibility of failures.

Spending a small amount of time maintaining your portable air compressor on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis ensures a long and productive life for the equipment. In addition to keeping the compressor running longer, a comprehensive maintenance plan will also keep equipment running at peak performance, which can improve the bottom line in a significant way.

Wim Thijs is product manager for air at Chicago Pneumatic

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