Design for Reliability, Availability and Maintenance
Whatever the technology used, maintenance costs can be significantly reduced by designing systems, processes and technologies which take maintenance and future use, adaptation and expansion into consideration.
Should a system, process or technology only be considered and evaluated based on initial capital outlay, significant cost will be incurred in the long-term, due to later extensions and additions unknown at the time of purchase.
The most important part of a compressed air system is the distribution system. It should be borne in mind that compressors and applications can always be added to a system but only if the distribution system is adequately designed and installed.
Using more small compressors, rather than few large compressors, is more beneficial as compressors can then be started as and when required. It is beneficial to run multiple compressor installations so that hours run can be kept similar for all compressors. This, will allow service to be effected at the same time, thus reducing costs. Multiple compressors imply that production is never 100% off line.
Ring main distribution systems are advisable, as isolation valves may be fitted at strategic points to allow for isolation of selected sections for repairs or new extensions minimising production losses. The largest cost in a factory is generally the production loss incurred and not the repairs and spares.
The largest cost of a compressed air system itself is the long term running cost and not the initial capital outlay.
The ideal is to have a non-limiting system that can grow as the company grows, and to minimise future downtime and maintenance.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Smaller operators are generally more innovative than larger organisations, largely due to cash constraints.
Design of compressed air technology should be awarded to specialist companies or professionals and not to ad hoc general engineering consultants or plumbers.
Scheduled inspections and maintenance should be instituted since compressed air systems are the immediate enabler of the production process and deserve the same type of care and upkeep as the core process technology of a company.
Total Cost of Ownership estimations that include capital outlay, unavailability of equipment, production down time, energy consumption during operations, and maintenance and spares costs, should be undertaken before decisions are made about the purchase of compressed air technology.
Because maintenance of compressed air systems is seldom part of a company’s core technology, it is advisable to consider outsourcing of scheduled inspections, maintenance and repairs. This allows better budgeting of the TCO portion, and an increase in the reliability of its operations, especially if there is a strong sense of business partnership between the service- receiving and service-supplying companies involved.
Should an economical and adaptable enabling technology be required on the same world class standard then it is imperative that engineers design for accessibility and maintenance.