BANDAIDS: Good for fingers, not for Compressed Air Systems 

Hindsight is said to be 20/20 vision. While I reflect back to my previous career as a proprietor of a metal fabrication company, I remember in great detail the errors of my way. Normally, I was the individual that remained at work after hours and through the weekend to finish up the incomplete tasks of the week. One of my dreaded “chores” of the evening was to shut down the compressor system that my shop personnel forgot to address. And then it happens.

I open the door to the shop, not wanting to turn on the dreaded metal halide lights which take a lifetime to warm up. I struggle to find a path to the air compressor, utilizing only the light emitted from the overhead security lamp. I find the switch to the air compressor, turn off the unit, and then the realization of other issues. Hoses and equipment hissing throughout the shop like a brood of vipers awaiting the victim to which I am about to become. I weave my way throughout the shop with the intentions of stopping all these unwanted leaks, only to be greeted by the worst cases of repair known to mankind.

First case, the air hose with a quick disconnect to a grinder that was anything but quick. In order to remove it from the male fitting, I literally had to smack it numerous times with a hammer for it to disconnect. Isn’t this the same fitting I requested the supervisor to replace months ago? Onward to the second case, the air hose spliced with hose clamps so long that the ends could have been wrapped numerous times around the hose. This snake, with extended fangs, could have easily ripped open an ankle if one had not noticed it while walking through the pathway. Third case was delaminating rubber hose that resembles a large sized bratwurst at a German Oktoberfest festival. Does it have to explode like the Hindenburg before we address the air leakage and safety issue it poses? I also reflect upon on how often I have seen an open-ended air hose whipping throughout the shop floor like a cobra spitting it’s venum. The entrainment of shop air with the metal laden duct particles covering the shop floor is an eye injury waiting to happen. And what about the beaten down air hose with tire marks that the employees drove over with a fork truck? It reminds me of the full-service gas stations of yesteryear, where the attendant bell rang when a customer drove their vehicle driving over the rubber hose nearest the gas pump. Have you ever noticed a shop air hose with at least a full roll of electrical tape wrapped around it? The intention was to repair a small cut in the lining. If you cut your finger, you cover it with a bandaid. After a couple of days, you can remove the bandaid and the wound is healed. Are we expecting the same result with this air hose? How long will it take before the electrical tape starts to unravel, leak, or degrade? In finality, the cut in the lining still remains, and you need to replace the hose.

I can give numerous examples of these types of quick repairs of shop abused air system components. I concentrated only on one of the simplest and most commonly abused components, the air hose. One could only speculate as to the costs in parts, energy and injury. Why do we allow these temporary “fixes” to become a permanent repair? As a manager, it was my job to point out these deficiencies to my personnel. Once given notice, insure they remedy these situations for the long term. Now, I digress:

  1. How much did it cost in lost energy over the 20-year period of ownership? I can easily project it cost tens of thousands of dollars, even for mid-sized shop. Even at a conservative estimate of $.50/hour x 2000 hours/year…it would equate to $1000.00 per year!
  2. How many injuries were a result of these unsafe conditions? One can only imagine the twisted ankles, cut hands or fingers, or more common eye injuries caused by airborne particles. What was the medical cost of the injury? The increased workman compensation experience cost? Lost time cost of the employee?
  3. How negligible is the cost of a new hose, or new fitting? For less than an hourly shop rate, I could have purchased a new hose with fittings.
  4. What could I have done to change the mentality of the employees as to a proper repair verses the temporary fixes that are never resolved?

I find it ironic that now, as I visit other manufacturing facilities, I can easily point out these costly temporary fixes. I point out the costs I incurred as a business owner, hoping they will heed my advice. I sometimes feel like that ex-smoker who is now the biggest critic of others that smoke. I only wish I had the wisdom and foresight in my younger years……or that 20/20 vision.

This article subject pointed out deficiencies with repairs to air supply hoses and fittings. What other “bandaids” in your facility are in need of immediate attention to reduce cost and potential injury?