There was a time when compressed air systems could be more or less taken for granted. How times have changed!

By switching to a pair of rotary-vane air compressors to power its production equipment, Magor Mold reduced it compressed-air costs and increased reliability.

There was a time when compressed air systems could be more or less taken for granted. Compressor technology was somewhat rudimentary; energy costs were low; processes were less sophisticated; and just-in-time production was merely a twinkle in some supply-chain theorist’s eye. How times have changed!

Today, electric power is expensive, and compressor systems are often required to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An inefficient, inadequate, unreliable or failed compressed-air system not only wastes money and time, it can also put customer relationships at risk if it means a manufacturer is unable to deliver on its commitments.

“Any equipment failure we experience usually occurs because of compressed air problems,” says Hans Hermann, purchasing manager at Magor Mold (San Dimas, CA), which manufactures precision injection molds for the medical industry. Hermann adds that second-shift breakdowns can be especially problematic due to his company’s aggressive production schedules.

“We may have been planning on running the equipment lights-out overnight. But [if there’s a breakdown], when one of the technicians comes in to set up a new job, he has to restart and finish the job from the night before,” he says. “So we’re already behind by as much as a day, and that is a big expense.”

To ensure that compressed air wouldn’t be a problem, the company switched to a pair of 30-horsepower rotary-vane air compressors from Mattei Compressors Inc. (Randallstown, MD). In contrast to traditional piston-style systems, which pressurize a tank to a certain pressure, shut off, let the tank go down, and then charge it back up again, rotary-vane compressors run at a constant air pressure-in the case of Magor Mold’s application, at 125 psi. This results in more efficient energy use and foregoes the need for a separate pressure regulator.

Initially, Magor Mold used just one compressor. However, the company purchased a second unit from Mattei distributor Lans Co. (Glendora, CA) so that it could perform routine maintenance without interrupting production.

Although the compressors have very little oil carryover, Hermann says his company installed an oil removal filter and air dryer in its air lines, just to be on the safe side. “The pneumatics of [our production equipment] would foul and deteriorate pretty quickly if we didn’t use preventive measures,” he says.

Magor Mold also monitors the entire system for leaks to ensure it isn’t running the system any harder than it has to. An 1/8-inch hole in a hose, for example, could create an air loss equivalent to the output of a 10-horsepower compressor.

“We had a customer with a 50-horsepower [unit], and the manager said he needed another one,” says Lans CEO, Stuart Silverman. “I knew the operation and just couldn’t believe it was necessary. So, I went to the shop and found that there were leaks everywhere that had been fixed with tape and sometimes not fixed at all…. I went in there with a spool of hose, and for about $2,000 I eliminated probably 75 percent of the leaks. After that, the compressor was usually running at 60 to 70 percent.”

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