Cost effective options for compressed air in classified areas
By: Michael Camber
A few posts back, we wrote about removing compressors from a bad environment for their health (away from excess heat, dust, etc.). This time we’ll talk about moving them for the safety of people. Specifically, we are talking about hazardous areas where the presence of flammable gases or liquids, combustible dusts or easily ignited fibers exist in sufficient concentrations to cause a fire or explosion, given a source of ignition (such as electricity running through a compressor).
Obviously, this might apply to parts of (or entire) chemical, oil or gas processing plants. But it could also apply in other industries we don’t think of as handling hazardous materials. Fine powders or fibers from grains, wood, etc. can create fire hazards. We’re not trying to raise the fear factor. This is not a common concern, and if it does apply in your plant, you are probably are already well aware.
In the oil & gas and petrochemical markets, there are suppliers who specialize in engineering and modifying air compressor systems and other motor-driven equipment to be “explosion proof.” This gets very expensive, very fast. It also takes time for these systems to be designed, built, installed, and certified to operate. This is specialized work and these suppliers (rightfully) charge a premium for it.
In the case of a compressed air system, however, there may be an easy cost-saving alternative: Move it. Move it to another part of the plant that is not in the “classified area” and pipe the compressed air in. Usually, the air is not the source of risk. It’s the motor, starter and electrics. Sometimes it just takes a little out-of- the-box thinking to find another spot for the compressed air source. But sometimes there simply isn’t a safe place or enough space for the compressors somewhere else in the plant. In these cases, compressor system enclosures set outside at a safe distance are viable options.
This solution presents the increased costs of packaging the air system up and of piping the air longer distances. But they may compare favorably to the engineered explosion-proof system. Further, they usually offer faster design, build, install, and commissioning. Not to mention lower maintenance costs by using standard compressed air equipment and less downtime when service is due (think about procedures to get outside personnel into restricted areas).