Low-tech Air Compressor No Bargain

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Settling for low-tech air compressors with higher operating costs will turn a bargain model into an expensive one.

With prospects of yet higher energy costs as well as the need for a reliable air supply, industrial users of air compressor systems are rethinking purchasing strategies in favor of design efficiencies rather than bargain acquisition price.

The introduction of the direct-drive compressor into the popular 5-60 HP range is creating new standards for industrial applications, leading purchasers to consider overall cost of ownership, including energy and compressor parts as well as warranty coverage and even lead times for system delivery.

Optimize your outlook

When comparing today’s direct-drive rotary air compressors with traditional gear- and belt-driven models, it is important to consider the overall cost-benefit picture. By eliminating moving parts such as belts, gears and pulleys, direct-drive rotary compressors such as those from Sullivan-Palatek have fewer moving parts. Hence, they are less likely to fail or require service or replacement parts. Fewer moving parts also means added efficiency, which translates into energy savings and added horsepower output.

Without considering the overall picture, buyers of bargain-priced gear- or pulley-driven compressors can be locked into continual purchasing expensive consumables. They may also be forced into a high-priced, single source of replacement parts for the life of the product. Because these compressors are likely to require more maintenance than direct-drive models, they also incur more downtime, which can mean lowered production. Higher utility costs also plague those who choose old-style air compressors with lower purchase price but also lower efficiency.

Figuring payback

Air compressors with fewer moving parts are more efficient. For instance, gears generally sustain a 3-5% loss in efficiency, while belts lose from 4-8%. On the other hand, the direct-drive systems employed a Sullivan-Palatek rotary screw air compressor has less drive-line friction and requires less energy to do the same work.

For example, an efficient direct-drive compressor requires 100 HP to supply a given air pressure and flow rate. A less efficient gear- or belt-drivel model may require up to 112 HPP to do the same job. The resulting savings in electrical costs can quickly yield a positive cost-benefit ratio in favor of the more efficient machine. Using an average cost of $.08 cents per kWh, the 12 HP difference in this example would reduce electricity costs by approximately $4200 per year – more than compensating for any additional cost of the equipment at purchase.

One of the design advantages offered by the Sullivan-Palatek system results from the use of larger airend assemblies, which results in slower turning rotors, hence even greater operating efficiency.

Warranty and lead times

Some equipment manufacturers only honor warranty claims if the purchaser adheres to strict guidelines such as purchasing only “genuine” replacement parts from the OEM. Unfortunately, some OEM’s also overcharge for these replacement parts, driving up the overall cost of the equipment and padding their revenue. Warranties are basically insurance policies. If a warranty contains this type of restriction, look for a reputable air compressor manufacturer that has reasonably priced replacement parts before you buy. Also, when purchasing a new compressor system, get the delivery date fixed in writing. A low price on a compressor does little good if delivery is delayed to the point of slowing production deadlines.

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Steve Van Loan
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