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4 signs you've got a leak in your compressed air system

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If you can find an ultrasonic acoustic detector to detect a compressed air leak, use it. But there are other ways of tracking down leaks in your compressed air system so that you can tag them for repair.

Leaks are a problem for all compressed air systems, says expert

Spot it, tag it, fix it is the tagline for our new leak tag kits. The kits, introduced in February 2016, encourage industrial businesses in B.C. to adopt a simple, clear system for identifying and fixing leaks in their compressed air systems.

The concept is simple: using a centralized leak tag board and a set of uniquely-numbered leak tags, an employee can identify, mark and report leaks when they notice them. The leak tags are attached near the leak with a zip tie, and a tear-off portion of the tag is returned back to the board to be picked up by the individual (or team) that is responsible for repairs.

The hardest part? Spotting the leak(s).

Aside from a few subtle cues, compressed air leaks are almost impossible to see. One of the more sophisticated ways of detecting a compressed air leak is to use an ultrasonic acoustic detector, which can recognize the high frequency hissing sound associated with air leaks. Few small industrial operations in B.C. have regular access to an ultrasonic acoustic detector – unless, of course, your Alliance member has invested in one.

If you can't get your hands on an ultrasonic acoustic detector, all is not lost. Tony Ceh, an industrial specialist at BC Hydro, has compiled a list of visual cues that can help you spot leaks your compressed air system.

Most leaks occur in the "dirty thirty" (aka within 30 feet of end use)

According to Ceh, the vast majority of leaks occur within 30-feet of end use because of the prevalence of joints, hoses, flanges, connections and pressure reducing valves. In an industrial setting, vibrations happen when compressed air is in use, and it's those vibrations that create leaks. Examples of vibration sources include when compressed air is used for stamping or firing an air tool.

Listen closely, a compressed air leak will "hiss"

Though compressed air leaks are almost impossible to see, you can hear them. Granted, hearing a "hissing" sound may be tough in a noisy industrial setting. Nevertheless, if you think you hear a hiss, run your hand over the joint, hose, flange or connection. If there's a leak, you'll feel air escaping.

Look for damp connections and dust

Compressed air has moisture in it, so if you've got a leak there's a good chance there will be a wet or damp connection, Ceh explains.

But don't expect to see a puddle or a pool of water on the floor under a leak. The cues are much more subtle. For example, dust is attracted to moisture; so investigate joints, hoses, flanges and connections where you see a build-up of dust.

Try a soap and water solution

Ceh says another way to detect a leak is to brush on a soap and water solution to suspect areas. "If there are no bubbles, there are no troubles," Ceh says. If bubbles develop, you've detected a leak and should mark it with a leak tag.

Spotting, tagging and fixing leaks in compressed air systems is a lot of work, says Ceh sympathetically. Detection can be messy and time consuming, but in the end adopting a regular leak detection program (Ceh recommends checking for leaks every few months) will cost you far less than if you ignore the issue.

To see the annual cost of a compressed air leak, read: Leak tag kits help industrial companies crack down on waste – and costs. The numbers may surprise you.