In the world of utility construction, it’s amazing what a little air can do. Thanks to portable air compressors, contractors can perform a plethora of tasks — from clearing underground lines to powering a variety of tools. The possibilities are many, and selecting the right unit for your operations is a must. Brent Sexton, product manager of portable compressors at Chicago Pneumatic Construction Equipment, points out exactly why an air compressor is ideal for utility applications.
“Air excavation has become the preferred method for digging on various types of utility jobs,” he says. “The advantages of compressed air tools over conventional tools — such as picks, shovels and backhoes — include speed, comfort, ease of use and safety. Digging with compressed air, for example, can be two to three times faster than hand excavation, leading to less worker fatigue. Compressed air tools also eliminate the danger of sharp metal edges [as featured on picks and digging blades], make excavation of rocky soils easier and effortlessly break soil into small particles — all while being powered by common, tow-behind air compressors.”
When in the market for an air compressor, here are three main considerations:
- The overall size of the compressor. Utility contractors tend to gravitate toward mid-size portable models, with 185-cfm units being the most popular. Companies such as Chicago Pneumatic, Doosan Portable Power and Atlas Copco all have models to choose from in that range.
- Operator-friendly controls. Finding an air compressor that’s easy to use and understand is key to a productive operator.
- The accessibility of serviceable items. Although air compressors don’t require too much maintenance, parts should be easily accessible for when the time comes. Sexton points out that an air compressor’s maintenance schedule is every six months or 500 hours and annually or every 1,000 hours.
Finding the Right Fit
Thanks to various offerings from manufacturers, utility contractors have options when looking for the right air compressor. Here’s a sample of what’s out in the market today:
- Chicago Pneumatic recently introduced its new 8 Series, 110-cfm portable compressor. Sexton explains that the new model offers simple operating controls, a lower cost of maintenance and easy access to service parts — reducing service time to under one hour. The 8 Series also boasts a 15 percent smaller footprint, which lowers storage and transport cost, as well as a lower cost of ownership with a 10 percent ROI.
- Doosan Portable Power offers its C185 gasoline-powered portable air compressor. The unit produces 185 cfm at 100 psi and offers the power and portability needed to meet a variety of applications. The C185G offers contractors the cost savings of a gas-powered model with the durability of a diesel-powered unit, says the company. Thanks to a 2.5-liter, fully-electronic, fuel-injected Kubota engine, the C185G defies the common conception that a gas-powered unit is less fuel-efficient than diesel, offering a comparable runtime of eight hours at full load.
- Atlas Copco’s XAS 185 air compressor is a compact, efficient and econo——mical model that features a 49-hp Kubota diesel engine that complies with Tier 4 Final emissions standards. According to the company, the XAS 185 features a fully automatic regulator that constantly varies the engine speed according to air demand, which minimizes fuel consumption. The 20-gal fuel tank allows contractors to use the portable compressor for a full eight-hour shift without needing to refuel.
Pam Kleineke is managing editor of Utility Contractor.