THE ENEMY OF ROTARY SCREW COMPRESSORS
Rotary Screw air compressors are excellent scrubbers of their environment. By design, they continuously ingest high volumes of airborne contaminants and force them into the oil. This makes the compressor’s lubricant extremely vulnerable to acidic and oxidizing gases ingested from the atmosphere. As these contaminants accumulate and concentrate in the oil, they chemically react to produce harmful acidic byproducts and degrade the oil’s ability to lubricate, cool and protect compressor internals against corrosion. Even the slightest concentration (parts per billion) of the wrong pollutants or chemical vapors can destroy compressor fluids and internals, and negatively impact compressor reliability and maintenance costs.
Many “oil-related” problems are not the oil’s fault at all, but often can be traced back to contamination ingested from the air. Ingested Contaminants are equally destructive to both petroleum and synthetic base stocks alike. Knowing how to detect, avoid, and control these contaminants gives compressor users the ability to eliminate, or at least minimize, the harmful impact these contaminants can have on their compressor fluid.
Detecting harmful contaminants and identifying their source can sometimes be tricky. However, with routine oil analysis and simple observations of the compressor’s operating conditions and environment, compressor users can gain important clues to detect the presence of harmful vapor contaminants. Below are some of the symptoms and effects which may indicate you have a problem with ingested contaminants:
|Fluid Symptoms||Short Term Effects||Long Term Effects|
|High TAN||Short Fluid Life Corrosion||High Oil & Filter Usage High Maintenance Costs|
|Low pH||Corrosion Bearing Wear Short Fluid Life||Air-end Failure Corrosion of Bearings, Coolers and Condensate Drains|
|High Viscosity||High Temperatures High Amp Draw||Oil Degradation, Leaks, Loss of Performance|
|Varnish / Deposits||Wear & Fouling High Temperatures High Amp Draw||Air-end FailurePlugged Coolers and Separators, High Oil Carryover|
Many of the harmful contaminants, like those listed to the left, are commonly found in many types of industries. These contaminants should be avoided at all costs. Some of the industries specifically known to have problems with airborne contaminants include:
Power Plants, Fertilizer Plants, Plastics and PVC Manufacturing, Pulp & Paper Mills, Oil Refineries, Petrochemical Plants, Ceramics Manufacturing, Carpet & Textile Extrusion Plants, Waste Water & Sewage Treatment, Aluminum Manufacturing, Steel Mills, Foundrys, Salt Mining and Refining, Automotive Paints and Coatings Plants, Sulfuric Acid Plants, Mining & Aggregate Plants, Dairy Processing Plants, and more…
Residual Oil Contamination left behind from a previous oil fill can also be destructive to compressor fluids and severely impact fluid life. During a typical compressor oil change, as much as 20% of the old acidic fluid is unavoidably left behind to contaminate and reduce the life of the new oil. Compressor fluids with a history of high TAN, low pH or those that have varnished, if not thoroughly drained can have a dramatic impact on the service life of the new fluid. Even when a flush is performed after draining the old fluid, varnish and other baked-on acidic deposits will slowly dissolve into the new fluid, increase its acid level, and reduce its useful life.
The best strategy for dealing with compressor fluid contaminants is to eliminate them at the source by supplying the compressor with the cleanest, driest and coolest air available. Specific care should be taken to locate compressors as far away from the equipment and areas listed below, that are known sources of problem contaminants:
Cooling Towers, Water Softeners, Boilers, Thermal Oxidizers, Smelters, Loading Docks, Busy Highways, Chemical Storage Areas, Kilns, Welding Areas, Maintenance Shops, Parts Cleaners, and Paint Booths
Sometimes it is not practical to eliminate contaminants from being ingested by the compressor. In situations like this, controlling the accumulation and concentration of contaminants in the oil is the only strategy available to limit their impact on fluid performance and life. Since fluid contamination manifests itself primarily as an acid problem, controlling fluid acid levels can be an extremely effective course of action to minimize the impact of atmospheric contaminants. Fluid Metrics’ Compressor Oil Purifier (COP) with ion exchange acid removal technology is proven to control fluid acid levels, improve fluid performance, and increase useful service life. There are many documented cases where fluids suffering short fluid life from ingested contaminants have realized more than a 5 fold increase in service life after employing a COP.