Festo’s Business Development Manager Russell Schwulst looks at the costly mistakes companies make when it comes to air preparation and how they can prevent contaminating their systems.

“Are your machines not working as efficiently as they should? Do they keep breaking down and racking up the costs in lost revenue? The culprit could be your air preparation system,” Schwulst syas.

“Mechanics, petrolheads and anyone else who works extensively with cars know the importance of oil, air and petrol filters. Failing to regularly replace your petrol filters leaves your fuel systems vulnerable to dirt and residue, drastically impacting the life of your car.”

“Your factory machines are no different. Your maintenance plan could be thorough, but overlooking your air preparation filters could lead to big trouble down the line. Unfortunately, our experience is that many people are oblivious to the state of air that goes through their systems’ air lines.

There are several big risks when it comes to air preparation. The first is that many factories use galvanised pipe installations, which deteriorate over time. If your air preparation isn’t up to scratch, corrosion and rust from the pipe can get into your important components like valves and valve terminals. This has a long-term impact on your device,” Schwulst explains.

Even brand new installations are vulnerable. If newly installed air lines haven’t been cleaned or flushed, it’s going to get contaminants like oil, filings, thread tape and pickling liquor residue coming through. This small debris is a major contaminant of pneumatic drives.

The second major source of contamination could be the oil compressor. Failing to filter out the oil from the compressor can break down the lubrication of pre-lubricated machines and cause severe build-up. This affects operational speed.

Another danger is condensation, the severity which differs depending on a multitude of conditions. Finally, devices are often located in a dusty environment, which can result in dust getting sucked into air lines from the outside via the valves.

“The vulnerability of your machine to contaminants will therefore depend on your unique environment and applications. Many companies don’t consider their environments’ air requirements, choosing to rely on standard service units (also known as FRLs in the industry). Service units have their place but what’s often forgotten is that the most commonly used only has a 40 micron filter element that not suitable for all pneumatic devices, particularly valve terminals. Additionally, a service unit usually includes a lubricator, which is not recommend for new installations where the products have been pre-lubricated,” Schwulst said.

Another common mistake that are made is that of over- or under-sizing air preparation units. Not only is air preparation less effective when this happens, but it is also an unnecessary cost to install a larger unit when a smaller unit will suffice. Some companies, when lubricators are required in the air line, make the mistake of setting the oil flow of the lubricator too high, in essence supplying too much oil to the pneumatics airline.

“Drainage is another potential problem. Many factories are fitted with manual drains that require physical drainage, but this process is often forgotten. For this reason, we advise our customer to put in automatic drains that do not require this step.”

“Just like your car, the most effective measure you can take in your air preparation is checking your filters on a regular basis. There are a few ways of doing so. One is a visual check of the state of the cartridge to check for build-up, Schwulst says.

“An ongoing method is to fit pressure sensors into your system to check for pressure drops that indicate possible problems. Some factories go so far as to integrate the pressure sensor inputs into the PLC so that constant feedback about the state of the air preparation is provided and the appropriate maintenance can be carried out. You can do a lot of preventative maintenance if you feed your diagnostic supply from the sensor back to your PLC.”

“At Festo, we have products that you can retrofit into your air preparation systems that give you a 360 degree view of what’s going on inside at all times. The modularity of our MS range allows you to put in greater monitoring functionality while simplifying your ability to do safe, regular maintenance through features like safety lockout valves.”

“Air preparation doesn’t need to put a kink in the efficiency of your machines. Through regular monitoring, servicing and maintenance, you can ensure that your pneumatic devices are performing at their very best,” Schwulst concludes.