How do I regulate my air compressor?

When you operate an air compressor, the success of your projects is largely determined by the pressure of the air itself. For each application to get the right amount of pressure, you need to make sure that the settings are correct. To make these adjustments and ensure that you do, in fact, have the proper settings, there is a feature known as the air compressor pressure regulator valve. The following article discusses how to identify and adjust a pressure regulator.

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Why Regulate Your Air Compressor?

One of the most important components of an air compressor is the pressure regulator, which controls the flow of air that passes through the system. Without this type of control function, there would be no way to regulate the pressure and intensity of the air that flows from the compressor tank into your pneumatic tools. The regulator protects each tool from being over- or under-powered and, in doing so, helps ensure the quality of your pneumatic applications.

Why you should regulate your air compressor

Air pressure regulators are important because different levels of pressure are needed for different types of pneumatic tools. If you try to power a slow-moving tool with the same amount of pressure needed for a fast-moving operation, you would likely overpower that tool. If you did the opposite, the latter operation would likely yield lackluster results.

When you regulate your air compressor, you can reduce the amount of energy required to run your air-powered operations. Without the functions of a pressure regulator, you could end up consuming high volumes of energy throughout each working day just to meet peak demands, even if only a small fraction of your applications require this much energy. Essentially, the reason to regulate your air compressor is threefold: to properly serve your air tools, streamline applications and save energy.

What Does the Regulator Do on an Air Compressor?

The pressure regulator is essentially a control valve that allows you to increase or decrease the air flow based on your needs with a given application. Visually, the pressure regulator is easy to read and keep tabs on because it features a monitor that shows the exact pressure at each moment.

The settings on a pressure regulator are supposed to be set to the pounds per square inch (PSI) number of a corresponding tool. On each pneumatic tool within your arsenal, there will be a PSI number. You must set the regulator to that same number for the tool to function as intended.

If you oversee a large compressed air system, you will likely have several pressure regulators to monitor during a shift. For example, if you run several different applications simultaneously from the same compressor, you would need a regulator for each air-powered machine or pneumatic tool. It would not work to have all of these tools running at the same PSI because different tools, such as pneumatic cutters and brushes, require different amounts of pressure per revolution. If you try to force them to run at the same PSI, the tools that are not regulated properly could incur costly damage.

Components of an Air Compressor Pressure Regulator

Before you adjust the pressure regulator on your air compressor, it is important to distinguish the various pressure controls of the system. After all, pressurized air has a different effect inside your compressor than it does on other components once it travels through the hoses. Pressure on the inside is controlled differently than pressure on the outside. This begs the question: what is the difference between the regulator and the pressure cut-in switch?

The pressure switch on an air compressor is designed to safeguard the parts that comprise the machine from damage caused by excess surges of air pressure. During instances where the pressurization intensity of the air stored inside the tank reaches a level that exceeds the capacity of the air compressor, the pressure switch will suspend the activity of the compressor pump. Basically, the pressure switch is a defensive mechanism against over-pressurization, and it activates when the compressor hits a preset maximum limit.

The components of an air compressor regulator

The pressure switch will also activate when the pressurization inside the air tank drops below the minimum level required for the application at hand. In situations like these, a signal is sent to the pressure switch, which in turn activates cut-in pressure to salvage the application in progress.

On most air compressors, there is no reason to alter the settings of the pressure switch because it is set to factory specifications. Therefore, the switch will activate if the pressure falls above or below the intended parameters for the machine at hand. Then again, you might opt to adjust the parameter if your applications are light and you want to keep the pressure boundaries low to save on energy.

The pressure switch serves a different function from the pressure regulator. While the switch is designed to protect the compressor from loads that exceed the machine’s capacity, the regulator is designed to protect pneumatic tools from receiving the wrong amount of PSI.

How to Regulate an Air Compressor

How to regulate an air compressorEach time you attach a different pneumatic tool to your air compressor, you might need to alter the pressure to meet the PSI requirements of the tool in question. Therefore, it is crucial to know how to adjust the air compressor pressure regulator before you change out one tool for another. It can all be done with the following steps:

1. Power On the Air Compressor

To make an accurate adjustment of the pressure gauge, you will first need to power on the machine and get it warmed up for a normal operating cycle. Give the tank several minutes to fill up with newly pressurized air. It is important to have a full tank of air for this adjustment routine. The noise emitted from the compressor after you turn on the power should indicate whether the initial air pressurization is successful.

2. Check the Tool for PSI Compatibility

Once you have the activated tank sufficiently full of air, check the PSI on the pneumatic tool that you’ve set aside for this test. If the PSI of the tool exceeds the capacity of the compressor, you will need to reserve that tool for a different air compressor with a higher capacity. If the compressor pressure exceeds the requirements of the tool at hand, you can carry on with the test.

3. Connect the Tool and Air Hose

Attach the pneumatic tool to an air hose and then attach that hose to the air compressor. If you are connecting this tool for the first time, look for the port on the instrument. If you are unable to pinpoint this feature, consult the user’s manual to find the port.

4. Adjust the Pressure Regulator

Once you secure the tool and hose connections, adjust the settings on the pressure regulator to match the PSI requirements specified on the tool. On most compressors, there is a knob located on the right-hand side of the pressure regulator. On certain compressors, however, the knob might be located in a different area of the machine. In the latter case, consult the user’s manual to pinpoint the knob of the pressure regulator.

5. Unlock the Regulator Knob

On most regulator knobs, there will be a locking feature that you will need to release to turn the knob. In most cases, the lock is push-pull activated. To release the knob from its locked position, pull it outward. To re-lock the knob, push it back inward. If this doesn’t do the trick, consult the user’s manual for information on the regulator lock on your compressor.

6. Adjust the Pressure Up or Down

To intensify the pressure inside the air tank of the compressor, turn the regulator knob in a clockwise direction. The increase of pressure should be readily apparent from the sound of the machine and the readings on the monitor. Once you bring the regulator to the desired pressure, push the knob back in to lock that setting in place.

If you need to decrease the pressure, perform the last step in reverse: turn the regulator knob counterclockwise until the pressure is lowered to the desired level, then push the knob back into the locked position.

How to Read a Regulator

For any type of pneumatic tool, the PSI rating is what you use to determine whether the tool is functioning at its intended performance level. If you have a tool that is designed for a specific rate, yet the pressure supply falls significantly below that number, you will not get the necessary performance power from that tool.

The PSI readings on the pressure gauge of an air compressor will generally range from 0 to 250. Figures will vary based on the capacity of the air compressor and the types of pneumatic applications that the system performs. You can tell how much air pressure the compressor will generate per square inch by reading the PSI rating. If your compressor lists a maximum PSI of 150, the highest volume of air pressure that the unit will possibly generate is 150 pounds per square inch.

Aside from the maximum performance capacity of an air compressor, various other issues can negatively impact the machine’s ability to reach a certain PSI rating. If the environmental air is dirty, the impurities could infect the system and render the pressurization less intense. Even if you have a strong set of filters in place, the compressed air that generates from your system could still be compromised if the surrounding work area lacks favorable ambient conditions. The PSI capabilities of your compressor could also diminish if the ambient air is exceedingly humid and full of moisture.

The reason why most systems are equipped with at least two gauges is to tell apart the internal and external air conditions that affect pressure. Generally, if the natural air in your workspace is at or near 14.7, you should have no trouble generating pressurized air at the full PSI as listed on the air compressor.

Common Questions About Air Compressor Regulators (FAQ)

Some of the most frequently asked questions about pressure regulators include the following:

How Many Pressure Regulators Do I Need for an Air Compressor?

If you use several tools simultaneously, you should have a different regulator for each tool. If you only use one tool at a time and connect each to the same hose, you could use the same regulator as long as the tools require the same PSI. Otherwise, you will need to adjust the PSI to the unique requirements of each tool that you connect to the air hose.

Is the Regulator Controlled by the Pressure Switch on the Air Compressor?

No. The pressure switch is programmed to keep the air tank within an accepted range of pressurization based on preset PSI parameters. The pressure regulator is a component that you monitor and adjust to ensure that the corresponding air tool receives proper PSI. Though you might never need to make an air compressor pressure switch adjustment, you probably will need to adjust the pressure regulator if you use an assortment of pneumatic tools.

What Happens if I Don’t Adjust the Pressure Regulator?

Failure to monitor the settings on the pressure regulator could leave your air tools subjected to the wrong PSI. If the air pressure that passes from the machine doesn’t match the PSI rating of the tool at hand, the tool will be rendered less effective and could possibly end up damaged.

The Importance of Air Compressor Maintenance

For many of the same reasons you need to perform periodic maintenance on your air compressor, it is also crucial to actively maintain the pressure regulator. Without proper maintenance, the regulator could gradually dry out and become susceptible to the formation of cracks. Cracking can occur as a result of ongoing downstream activity within the system. If a split does form, air leakage and pressure loss are the inevitable consequences. Once these problems emerge, the corresponding pneumatic tool will lose most of its power.

Even if a pressure regulator does get damaged as you run the system, there is a silver lining to this problem: pressure regulators are relatively inexpensive to replace. Still, now that you know about the types of pressure regulators and how to maintain these components, you can reduce the possibility of problems with your air compressor.

Air Compressor Maintenance and Services From Fluid Aire Dynamics

Though you may enact an effective set of maintenance protocols at your facility, there will likely still be times when you’ll need the professional services of a third party. Here at Fluid Aire Dynamics, our team of service professionals has provided maintenance work on air compressors in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Southern New York for the past three decades.

If you encounter issues with the pressure switch or pressure regulators in your system, call the team at Fluid Aire Dynamics for help. We offer a 24/7 service guarantee for all makes and models of compressors and compressed air equipment. Contact Fluid Aire Dynamics today for a free compressed air system review, equipment service review and estimates.

Air compressor maintenance and services from Fluid Aire Dynamics