Things to consider while designing your new compressor system

When you design your compressor system, there are a few things to go over before getting started.  Some of this list is variable depending on the type of compressor you’ve chosen and the way you’ve chosen to drive or power it.

Compressor Type – as discussed in this article, there are generally 3 types of compressors to consider for you mobile application.

Drive System – This article goes through the various methods of driving your compressor.

  • Alignment – whether choosing a belt drive or a direct shaft drive using a coupler, drive alignment is critical for your compressor. For a belt drive, premature wear and noise are common signs of an alignment issue and in extreme cases it can result in the belt coming off the pulley.  A system powered by misaligned shafts or couplers can result in noise, vibration, power loss, and premature wear of couplers, gears and bearings
  • Power – Ensure that the power and torque available from your power source are up to the task of the compressor you’ve chosen. Choosing a source with too little power and torque will mean your compressor won’t run to its capacity (or at all), while over-spec’ing may result in increased fuel costs as well as initial investment cost.  Read more about power requirements here.

Vibration analysis – Where and how you mount your compressor is as important as the environment it will be working in. Is the platform your compressor mounted on subject to vibration, bouncing or intense movement? What is the recommended maximum vibration your components can reliably endure? Understanding this will help decide how best to mount and secure your compressor.

Cooling – You not only need to consider the compressor, but you’ll have to ensure your engine and other components are suitable to operate in the environment you’ll be working in.

  • Max operating temperature – Adding components to an engine generally requires the engine manufacturer to approve the application. Ensure that your system passes an air-to-boil test for the desired operating temperature.
  • Hydraulic oil – If you are using hydraulic power to drive your compressor, it is also important to ensure the hydraulic system can keep up with cooling. Ideally, you want to test the entire system with the hydraulic power running everything it can at once.
  • Compressor – Are you liquid or air cooling your compressor? Are you tying into the engine coolant or adding an independent system?  Once you are up and running, ensure that the cooling can keep the compressor cool at its expected duty cycle.  Testing for the environment is also critical.  Is your equipment being used in extreme hot or cold temperatures?  If so, cooling requirements will be different than more temperate climates.
  • Air temperature at the application end – Compressing air makes the air increase in temperature. Depending on the cooling of the compressor and the after treatment, the air being delivered to your tool or equipment can be very hot.  Ensure that the equipment can handle those temperatures.  If not, there are various accessories for reducing the temperature.

CFM – When you went through your requirements to determine the amount of air needed, you chose a suitable compressor based on the manufacturers specifications. Once you are running you’ll have to ensure your particular air system meets your needs.  Changes in air temperature, altitude, hose size and length all contribute to the overall system performance.

  • Ways to calculate – A simple orifice style test tool is the easiest way to determine your CFM. More complicated tools are available that meet standards like ASME.  The true answer will be discovered when you run your equipment and tools like they’ll be used in the field.

Safety Systems – When designing your compressor system it is important to consider the features to keep your system and operators safe.

  • Automatic blow-down valves – These protect your compressor from starting against system back pressure and help ensure the system is depressurized and safe to carry out maintenance.
  • Pressure relief – Protects your components from operating at above their designed pressure.
  • Temperature monitoring – If something has failed or isn’t working properly, quite often it shows up as a temperature problem. Temperature switches and sensors protect your system from damage and help keep the operators safe.

Control System – How is your air compressor system going to be controlled? From simple on/off switches to complex digital systems, air compressors are controlled by a variety of means.  These work in conjunction with safety systems and other equipment found on your machine.  When designing more complex control systems, consider how much complexity you need. Do you want to include error tracking or service reminders? How about live telemetry so you can monitor your equipment and schedule maintenance before a breakdown occurs?

Ease of access for service items – Ongoing maintenance of your air compressor system is vital for its longevity and performance. When designing and installing components, some thought into the maintenance goes a long way.  The list below are many of the wearing and serviceable parts you should have relatively easy access to.

  • Switches, sensors, and control systems
  • Oil drain and fill
  • Oil level checking
  • Oil filters
  • Air filters
  • Coalescing filters
  • Moisture traps and drains
  • Belts or other wearable drive train items
  • Ball valves

Accessory Products – Does your application require you to add on some sort of after treatment? Do you have a reciprocating compressor that requires an air receiver tank?  If so, planning for the location and potential electrical power requirements for some of these accessories is important before you complete your design.  Below is a short list of some accessories to think about.

Failure modes and effects analysis – A great definition from ASQ (American Society for Quality): “Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, a manufacturing or assembly process, or a product or service.”

When designing a compressor system, performing a FMEA can be a great way to catch and rectify issues before they happen.  Taking each component, operation, or design and evaluating against potential issues may highlight areas of weakness.  By designing these potential failures out of the system before manufacturing, your system should enjoy a longer lifespan and better performance.

Designing a compressor system from scratch can be a large undertaking.  Ensuring you have a well-planned design process, a clear understanding of your environment and what work you need the air to accomplish are some of the first steps in a successful project.

If you have any questions about this article or anything mobile compressor related, please contact us.