Oil vs. Oil Free Air Compressors

For any company, an air compressor is a big investment — and a necessary one. In most manufacturing facilities, if your air compressors are down, you’re not working. Purchasing the right air compressor is a big decision and one that can require a bit of research.

If you’re new to the air compressor purchasing process, one of the biggest distinctions you’ll come across in the industry is oil vs. oil-free air compressors. In this article, we’re going to break down the differences between the two and help you decide which option is right for your application.

Oil vs. Oil-Free Air Compressors: What’s the Difference?

The difference between oil and oil-free air compressors is the lubrication method used to keep an air compressor’s air-end moving smoothly. Most industrial air compressors use oil-injected compressors because they are less expensive and tend to last longer than their oil-free counterparts. An oil-free air compressor is just what it sounds like — an air compressor that does not use oil to lubricate components in the compression chamber. Although they require a larger monetary commitment, an oil-free air compressor may offer your facility priceless benefits.

Why Would You Use an Oil-Free Air Compressor?

If they’re more expensive to purchase and maintain, why would a manufacturing facility choose an oil-free air compressor over an oil-lubricated air compressor? It has to do with the air compressor’s application.

An oil-injected compressor is very effective at delivering compressed air quickly and consistently. The oil lubrication can help extend the life of the compressor, but the drawback is that during the compression process, oil particles or oil mist can get into the air that’s being compressed. This can lead to oil contamination in the compressed air you’re getting out of your system.

For many parts manufacturing workshops and industrial applications, a bit of oil contamination isn’t a problem. For sensitive applications, however, oil contamination is unacceptable. In these situations, an oil-free air compressor is necessary. Since these air compressors don’t use oil in the compression chamber at all, they can deliver a cleaner, oil-contaminant free compressed air end-product.

What Applications Can Benefit from an Oil-Free Air Compressor?

Since most applications do use an oil-lubricated air compressor, it’s easier to define the industries that do not. The following industries require a certain standard of air purity that means an oil-free air compressor is necessary:

    • Pharmaceutical applications
    • Food and beverage manufacturing
    • Electronics
    • High-tech manufacturing
    • Textile manufacturing
    • Robotics development
    • Paint applications
    • Some automotive manufacturing applications

The easy answer to the oil vs oil-free air compressor question is this: if air quality matters to you, you need an oil-free air compressor.

Understanding Air Purity Requirements for Oil vs. Oil-Free Air Compressors

If you’re not quite sure if air quality is important enough to your application to warrant an oil-free air compressor, check your ISO Class requirements. Compressed air has its own set of ISO standards, ranking air purity from ISO Class 0-5. If your application requires an air purity standard of either Class 1 or Class 0, you’ll need an oil-free air compressor. These two standards are often misunderstood, so we’ll break them down a bit further.

ISO Class 1 – Mostly Oil-Free Air

Compressors that meet a Class 1 ISO are considered to produce “mostly clean air”. That’s to say, an air compressor that provides air that meets Class 1 ISO standards must have an oil concentration of 0/01 mg/m3 at 1 bar(a) 14.5psia and 20° C (68°  F). It’s important to know that this standard doesn’t mean the resulting compressed air is totally oil-free.

ISO Class 0 – Oil-Free Air

If you’re looking for totally oil-free air, choose an oil-free air compressor that delivers air according to ISO Class 0 standards. These compressors can guarantee 100 percent oil-free air, a claim that ISO Class 1 compressors cannot make. With an ISO Class 0 compressor, you can be absolutely certain that no contamination will reach your resulting product or end consumer.

In Conclusion: Oil vs. Oil-Free Air Compressors

Choosing an oil vs oil-free air compressor comes down to your application. If you need clean, oil-free air, an oil-free air compressor is right for you. If the air quality doesn’t matter as much for your application, an oil-lubricated air compressor is a durable, high-performance option that will deliver the air you need at a more affordable investment level.

Whether an oil or oil-free air compressor is right for your application, TMI has the brand and model you’re looking for. As air compressor experts, we can design the system that’s best for your facility, and install and service your new air compressor. With reasonable rates and convenient maintenance programs, never worry about your air compressor again. Give our team a call at 800-875-955 or contact us online today for a personalized quote.

How to Stop Air Compressor Leaks

Air leaks are one of the most common operating concerns for air compressors. On average, about 10-20% of all plant electricity goes to the air compressor room. If your compressed air system is leaking, you’re spending a lot of energy on air you’ll never use.

While air compressor leaks can feel like an inevitable problem that just comes with the equipment, it’s good to know that there are ways to prevent and stop air compressor leaks. The team here at TMI always advises system optimization and preventative maintenance, but if your system has already sprung a few leaks, there are ways to fix them. Some of these fixes take just minutes to complete, and can contribute to significant savings for your plant. Here are a few key ways to stop air compressor leaks.

How to Stop Air Compressor Leaks

The best way to find air compressor leaks is to listen for them. A quick walk around your plant while your compressor system is on should reveal some of your biggest problem areas. If you hear a hissing sound as you go past hoses or connection points, you’ve got an air leak. Here’s what to do about them:

#1 Tighten Connections

Anything that can loosen is a prime spot for an air leak. It’s worthwhile to go around your compressed air system and tighten any connection points regularly. If you see or feel any loose components, tighten those as well. The more secure your system, the less compressed air you’ll lose.

#2 Repair or Replace Parts

Old, replaceable parts are another key spot where you’re likely to find a few air compressor leaks. Old filters, lubricators, regulators, flanges and leaking drains are common air compressor leak points. If you can, repair or replace those old parts as soon as possible. Even a small repair, like changing the filter, can go a long way to ensuring your air compressor is running as efficiently as possible.

#3 Swap Out Hose and Tube Sections

Air hoses and tubes are another common spot for air compressor leaks. These leaks might be a little harder to identify, but if you hear a leak, and can’t quite place it, apply a bit of soap to the area where you suspect a leak. When your compressor comes on, you’ll see bubbles popping up around the air leak. Swap out that leaking section of hose or tube for a new one, and your air compressor will be in good shape.

#4 Replace O-Rings and Valve Seals

Any rubber part on your air compressor is likely to harden and crack over time. Heat and pressure take a toll, especially on parts like O-rings and valve seals. Even though these are small components of your compressed air system, as they wear out and harden, they’re unable to maintain a good seal, and will start to leak air. Replace these parts regularly, and you should be able to stop a number of air compressor leaks.

#5 Tighten Fasteners

While this last method to stop air compressor leaks might take a bit more time, it’s still a worthwhile fix that will help increase the lifespan of your compressor as a whole. Internally, air compressor motors can destabilize if screws and fasteners in internal components begin to shake loose. If you notice any shaky components or extra noises coming from the motor, tightening those internal screws and fasteners can help fix the problem, and stop air leaks while you’re at it.

Proper, Regular Maintenance is the Best Way to Prevent Air Compressor Leaks

Air compressor leaks lead to costly inefficiencies. While many can be stopped or fixed, the best way to avoid air compressor leaks altogether is to schedule and complete regular maintenance. Air compressors are big-budget equipment. The better you take care of them, the longer they’ll last and the less they’ll cost over time. Here are a few ways you can keep up on air compressor maintenance to stop air leaks from happening in the first place.

Establish a Maintenance Schedule

Air compressors should be serviced regularly. Just like you’d change the oil in your car, an air compressor needs regular oil changes and maintenance. The easiest way to stay on top of maintenance and prevent air compressor leaks is to set up a regular maintenance plan or service schedule with your air compressor supplier. That way, their service technicians just come out to your plant and complete any necessary maintenance. This is a set-it-and-forget-it option that ensures your air compressor gets the service it needs, without adding much hassle to your schedule.

Regularly Inspect Compressors

In addition to a regular service schedule, it’s also a good idea to have one of your own maintenance or facilities staff inspecting your compressors regularly. Even a simple weekly walk around your compressed air system can go a long way to identifying air leaks early on. And the faster you stop air compressor leaks, the more you save.

Complete a System Audit

Smart, energy-efficient compressed air systems are the best way to keep your plant running efficiently and at peak productivity. System audits can help you get there. If you suspect your system has air leaks, or might not be running efficiently, a compressed air system audit can help you get to the bottom of it. TMI’s technicians use kW and pressure loggers to accurately and comprehensively measure your system and benchmark it against industry averages. From there, we can identify any problems, and provide recommendations to help you get your system running at peak efficiency.

Air leaks are a big concern for any plant with a compressed air system, but they can be prevented and stopped. With a bit of regular maintenance, and few simple repairs and replacements, you can minimize or stop air compressor leaks, helping your plant to function at peak efficiency.

Have a leaking air compressor, or a compressed air system with leaks? Either way, TMI can help you out. We are compressed air system experts, and we would be happy to help you troubleshoot your leaking system. From air system audits to emergency maintenance, we can fix your compressed air leak, now. Give our experts a call today at 800-875-9555 or contact us online for more information.