As the summer heat continues in September and the colder fall months loom, it’s a good time to talk about hot and cold temperature fluctuations for your portable power equipment (compressors, gen sets and light towers). The result of being unprepared for the weather is downtime, and that’s enough to get any contractor hot around the collar. Excessive heat or cold accelerates wear on machine components and can cause damage if your portable air compressors, generators and light towers are not properly maintained. While you can’t control the weather, you can lower the chance of portable equipment failure caused by temps by following these four best practices.
1. Fully Service Machines
As road construction, lawn care and outdoor events increase the demand for portable power, it’s important to fully service any machine that hasn’t been in use for several months. Rental or seasonal equipment may spend the winter or summer months in storage or tucked away in the rental yard. Generators, air compressors and light towers all require the engine oil to be changed, as well as oil and fuel filters. Check the quality of the engine coolant using a refractometer. Coolant that is more than 24 months old should be replaced regardless of quality. Check fan belts for wear or loose fit and replace or tighten as needed. Check tire tread and pressure.
Test the machine’s battery. While cold winter temperatures are a common culprit of zapping batteries, excessive heat is equally hard, if not harder, on battery life. Heat accelerates internal corrosion of the battery, weakening its capacity and leading to a shorter battery life.
If the machine hasn’t been in use for some time, perform a visual inspection of internal components and wiring to make sure rodents or other small animals haven’t built nests or chewed through wires. Exposed wires not only cause electrical shorts but can pose a serious threat if an operator comes in contact with a live wire.
2. Idle for 3 to 5 Minutes
Before deploying to a jobsite, allow the machine to operate for several minutes to check for fluid leaks or other issues. Air compressors and generators should also idle for three to five minutes before shutting down at the end of the day. Idling allows oil to flow through the oil cooler in order to lower the temperature. Shutting down a machine with hot oil could cause the oil to cook to a thick, sludge-like consistency, which leads to improper lubrication and eventually causes damage to the bushings and bearings.
3. Maintain Adequate Lubrication
Make sure all fluid levels are adequate to maximize cooling and lubrication. Use the correct viscosity of engine oil and compressor oil and an appropriate fuel blend for seasonal temperatures. Adequate lubrication prevents premature wear on components and reduces excess heat that can otherwise impede air compressor performance. Because ambient heat adds stress to machines and can accelerate wear on components, it may be beneficial to shorten the intervals between routine maintenance to ensure sufficient lubrication and cooling. In other words, an oil change may need to be completed at 250 hours instead of waiting until the standard 500-hour mark.
4. Leave Proper Spacing
Proper spacing around an air compressor or generator aids in adequate air circulation to prevent heat buildup. If multiple machines are on-site, leaving a 10-ft radius around each machine is recommended to help disperse exhaust fumes.
Prepare Your Compressor for Winter
There are very few places that don’t get some level of freezing weather. Regardless of whether or not it actually freezes where you live, most winterization service recommendations are also basic, solid maintenance procedures that will help extend the life of your air compressors and other portable power equipment. Again, use a refractometer to test the coolant for the most accurate reading. Coolant mixture recommendations for different air compressors will vary by ambient temperature. If equipped with an engine coolant filter, the filter should be replaced according to manufacturer-recommended service intervals.
If equipped, all 24 VDC heaters should be checked at each component while powered on. If applicable, all 120 VAC heaters — such as a block heater, oil pan heater and battery pad heater — should also be checked by plugging into a 120 VAC supply to confirm all are operational. A heater for the crankcase breather tube may be required and should also be tested. Check non-maintenance-free batteries to ensure specific gravity is correct and inspect all battery terminals for rust, corrosion and secure connections. Battery cables should be inspected for any signs of wear or damage. It’s also a good idea to check with fuel suppliers to make sure they are providing winter blend diesel fuel versus standard No. 2 diesel commonly used in spring and summer.
Different engine oil weights will likely be required for different climates and will vary based on different ambient temperature exposure. Refer to the operator’s manual. Aside from engine oil, it’s also important to use the correct airend lubrication oil for the ambient temperature. Inspect all hoses and belts for wear and cracks, remembering that cold weather is especially hard on rubber. That said, if the air compressor will be operational in cold climates over the winter months, checking hoses and belts should be part of a daily inspection routine. Replace as necessary to alleviate delays, downtime or unnecessary repairs at the jobsite.