The last place we want to have fireworks going off is in your compressor room. Anything that goes boom with a bright flash is not a good thing in your plant.
Has this really happened? The answer is absolutely, and it has some minimal or disastrous consequences. If proper maintenance is not done on your compressor or blower equipment. What has happened in the past can happen again. Let’s look at some history.
Several years ago, I received a phone call at 5:30 in the evening. Something happened in the compressor room of a large manufacturing plant. I had to get there as quick as possible.
When we arrived, we saw that approximately 80 feet of the compressor room building wall was on the street. There was no real evidence of fire, but there were a few burn marks on the 300 hp Rotary screw.
Evaluation – A compressor hose with a pinhole leak created vapor that filled the room. When an electrical contact energized the vapor, it exploded. Luckily the personnel left the room before there were any injuries.
A few years ago, we inspected a system with a piston machine. It had all the indications of a line fire which affected the wet receiver/filter/refrigerated dryer. The paint was charred on the exterior of the piping. The filter element was burnt while the dryer was heavily damaged.
Evaluation – Some material had built up in the discharge valve of the 2nd stage of the compressor. It ignited dislodging going downline to catch on the filter element which started burning. The rest of the lubricant in the line reached flashpoint and the rest, as they say, was history.
More recently a good customer asked about the fire in his vacuum pump and how it could have happened. The vacuum pump discharge filter ignited, charring the housing and destroying the element.
Evaluation – While the final verdict is not in, all indications point to a cooling issue. This allowed the vacuum pump temperatures to rise. It rose to the point of igniting the oil in the downline discharge filter.
What’s the common thread with all these events? The maintenance of the machine components (or the cooling system) combined with the low flashpoint of the lubricants. Here are some key points to look at make sure you have surprises in your compressor room.
- Maintain your equipment on a schedule as recommended by the manufacturer
- Check temperatures on your equipment. Make sure they are with the manufacturer’s recommendations, especially during the summer. This is very important for air-cooled machines. If the paint is burning off, it’s too hot
- Immediately repair any air leak that especially one that has a high oil content
- Use synthetic lubricant which has a high flash point