Beware of bad imitations

Atlas Copco Compressors Australia
By Andre van der Heyde, Atlas Copco Compressors & Generators
Friday, 13 February, 2004

Imagine being four and a half weeks into a tight five-week drilling, sand-blasting or construction contract a thousand kilometres from anywhere. You're being paid per hour and you know you'll be pushing it to finish the job on time. One of your operators has called in sick. It is 45° in the shade. And then your compressor breaks down. Think about the ramifications - lost money, tighter deadlines and the very real possibility of being kicked off-site and loosing the contract - and maybe many more in the future if you don't come through in time. Plus you'll probably have to spend a fortune on emergency repairs or a replacement machine in an effort to catch up on lost time.

At face value the compressor let you down. But why did it fail? Could it have been prevented? What steps would you take to avoid such a situation?

Hindsight can be a painful way to realise the value of routine maintenance. The reality is that the less stringent your routine maintenance standards are, the greater your chances of experiencing machine failure.

Preventative maintenance on compressors and generators is often perceived to be expensive and unnecessary because it is never compared to the cost impact of a breakdown failure. When a breakdown failure occurs, the cost in terms of productivity and downtime are never calculated as the focus is always on getting the machine operational again. If the intention is to save money by not carrying out routine maintenance, it could very well prove false economy to do so.

As with a motor vehicle, compressors and generators need to be maintained at regular intervals regardless of the running hours. Typical maintenance intervals would be 500 hours or 6 months, whichever occurs first. This is due to the fact that certain elements in the machine degrade, like the oxidation of oil, over time regardless of whether the machine is running or not.

Compressors and generators used in applications such as construction, abrasive blasting, concrete pumping, stand-by power, etc don't clock up the same number of hours as similar machines operating in production environments.

It is therefore imperative that preventive maintenance is carried out at the interval that occurs first (either running hours or the recommended period).

It is also important to remember that the service intervals recommended by the manufacturer are based on the product operation under normal working conditions. If your compressor or generator is operated under extreme conditions (high dust or high ambient temperature for example) the manufacturer should be consulted for adjustment of the intervals accordingly.

With many customers in remote locations - such as those involved in drilling and construction, often it is more cost effective to have the operators or fitters perform all the maintenance work on the site's compressors and generators rather than getting it serviced by the manufacturer.

However, not all fitters or operators have been trained specifically by the manufacturer on every piece of equipment on-site. Also, they are often not up to date with the latest technical information on these products and consequently maintenance may be inadvertently carried out incorrectly.

When a company has a large number of service centres in regional areas and has technicians on the road, the cost of on-site maintenance and repairs will be greatly reduced through reduced travel time. The benefit of properly serviced machines will pay dividends for a long time to come.

Parts supplied by anyone other than the OEM may appear to fit but chances are that they are incompatible with the machines they are used on or may be unsuitable for that particular application as the examples clearly show. They may also be of an inferior quality.

Pirate parts are never able to match the performance of genuine parts - they simply weren't made to. For best performance and long life, parts must be made specifically to fit and work with the original equipment.

Apart from the obvious risk of equipment failure and reduced lifespan as a consequence, the use of non-genuine parts may also void any warranty offered by a manufacturer. Furthermore, if injury should result because of product failure through the use of unauthorised parts, there may be legal implications for the directors of the company who did not prevent their use in the first place.

To minimise the risk of being stuck with faulty or poor equipment, purchasing from a reputable manufacturer that will offer after-market support and service for the equipment and a comprehensive warranty if something should go wrong should be seen as standard procedure.

These are fairly easy and commonsense rules to follow. When purchasing equipment, look at what the cost will be over its lifetime - not just the initial purchase price. Take into account routine maintenance - or perhaps the cost of not conducting it. Make sure that the supplier you buy from has a broad network with technicians in your area to reduce the costs of any necessary site work.

With new features being included on compressors all the time, maintenance is getting easier to manage and strictly keeping to genuine parts ensures that the possibility of any potential headaches occurring will be greatly minimised.

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