Practice Tips #119: Compressor Maintenance

The compressor is the life blood of your practice. Back in issue # 34, we discussed routine office maintenance, including the basics of your compressor. We have also discussed compressor trouble-shooting and how to be sure to get the most life out of your compressor (issue #53) — at the top of that list was routine maintenance.

Without a compressor, you are unable to practice dentistry. Not only does the compressor run your handpieces, it provides air for your air/water syringe. If you have water bottles, it pressurizes them to provide water as well. If attached to your municipal water, there are still air activated valves to turn the water on and off to your units.

As with all your equipment, routine maintenance is the first and most important step you can take to avoid issues and downtime. You should ask yourself: is your compressor oil lubricated? If it is, just like your car, you should be doing regular oil changes.

Most compressors in a dental office will need the oil changed annually. American Dental carries many products to help when changing the oil in your compressor. Items that customers find useful are the disposal bags for collecting old oil, so it can be properly disposed of. If your compressor does not have the ability to completely drain the oil and you are just relying on gravity, we carry a syringe pump with tubing and a cap. With the syringe, you can access the corners and bottom of your compressor oil reservoir to extract all of the old oil. The cap allows you to seal the syringe once it’s filled with oil to minimize leaks or spills.

PHOTO: A specialized syringe to completely drain your compressor oil (#CO-29)

Many oil lubricated compressors have built-in purge systems to expel excess moisture and oil. We carry two different kits to help collect and dispose of the fluids expelled by your compressor. We have a kit for both pressurized purge systems and systems that purge using gravity, so you’re covered either way. Both kits include a collection jar, tubing, and a disposal bag. As you can see, there are a number of accessories to make it easier and more convenient to maintain your oil-lubricated compressor.

PHOTO: The pressurized purge system collection kit (#CO-30)

What if your compressor is oil-free? Does that mean you have no maintenance? Absolutely not! All compressors have a number of filters that need to be regularly monitored and changed. Most compressor filters need to be changed annually (at a minimum). You should check your compressor filters every week, to make sure they are in good condition — sometimes they can require replacement sooner than that.

Compressors draw in fresh air (which is what they compress), so they all have air intake filters. These remove impurities and particulate matter from the atmospheric air, as it is drawn into the compressor. There are a wide range of filters used by different brands of compressor, fortunately, we stock most of them.

For example, Midmark compressors use a foam element in a plastic housing for their air intake filter. Midmark requires replacing the entire assembly. This adds plastic to the waste stream and increases the cost of filter replacement. That’s why we stock an intake filter assembly for Midmark that can be opened allowing replacement of just the foam element. This reduces waste and reduces your cost — as you only replace the part you need.

PHOTO: Replace just the foam element with our intake filter assembly for your Midmark compressor (#CO-05)

Air Techniques uses a different intake filter for their compressors. It attaches to the compressor with a pipe thread fitting and comes in a metal housing. The entire assembly needs to be replaced annually, with this type of intake filter.

PHOTO: Air Techniques Intake Filter (#CO-03)

In addition to filtering air as it enters the compressor, compressors also have filters on the output side. These further assure no impurities are in the air that is used throughout your office. All compressors have particulate filters that usually reduce the moisture present. These filters are used in conjunction with an air line dryer of some sort and help the dryer keep the moisture out of your lines.

PHOTO: Drying Tank (#49-72)

A drying tank like the one above uses desiccant beads (activated alumina, molecular sieve, or silica gel) to remove the moisture from the air. This type of dryer is extremely efficient and effective. The desiccant beads also last a very long time. Unlike your filters, which need to be replaced annually (at a minimum), desiccant beads generally last for years. A desiccant tank is designed to be “self-regenerating” and uses the compressed air to purge any excess moisture into the atmosphere. The purging process also dries the desiccant beads, allowing them to regenerate and continue to function for a very long time.

As you can see, we can't stress equipment maintenance enough in these Practice Tips. Along with previously mentioned blog posts, there are a few more you should take a look at. Practice Tips #3 and #73 highlight how many things in your office are powered or activated by air. Your compressor is no exception and is vital to office functionality.