don't get fooled by non-oem parts

Compressor Service Parts: Some thoughts before choosing non-OEM parts

We’ve all been there. I would wager we’ve all done it. When it comes time to get an oil change or replace our windshield wipers and we are presented with choices, we pick the less expensive option. How much different can it be, right? And if it's inferior, I can tell when the blade stops working well and replace it. And as for oil, I’m changing it every few thousand hours anyway. I’m not an automotive expert, so I’m not going to debate the merits of saving a few bucks on windshield wipers or motor oil. But if you are considering non-OEM (original equipment manufacturer) service parts for your air compressor, there’s a bit more on the line. 

Unlike the wiper blade you cannot directly see how well an inlet filter, oil filter or separator cartridge is performing. And though compressor fluids are costly, you run them far longer than you run engine oil. Once upon a time, engine oil changes were recommended at 3000 miles, which works out to 50-100 hours. These days 5000 or 7500 miles are the norm. Even 15,000 miles may be recommended, especially for full synthetic fluids and highway driving. But these intervals are all still in the low hundreds of hours of operation. Compressor fluid intervals are commonly 4000 or 8000 hours (that’s a round trip to the moon at 60 mph). But I digress. The point is that those running hours are tied to production, so the quality and performance of the parts count. 

There is usually a significant price difference between the OEM and non-OEM parts, yet the makers of will-fit parts for multiple brands are producing those parts on a smaller scale. Making parts on a smaller scale and selling them cheaper requires some compromises somewhere. It is unlikely these providers are selling equal quality parts at lower margins for the good of humanity. 

Some of the specific issues we see in the field include differences in inlet and oil filter efficiency which decrease protection for the airend and reduce oil life. With separators and inlet filters, we may see higher pressure differentials that affect energy efficiency or alternatively more oil carry-over, which decreases air quality and requires more frequent monitoring of oil levels. Or worse, a separator failure that allows a slug of oil to pass out of the compressor. With the cheapest of parts, you may cross thread an oil filter and not get a proper seal. 

Yes, OEM parts are usually more expensive, but they come with the security that they are known to work well on the machine (proper fit and function) and meet the quality standards the compressor company will stand behind. Manufacturers have more on the line, and stand behind the quality of their parts. This is why many compressor manufacturers look at whether their machine has been maintained on schedule and with their parts when evaluating warranty claims. To put a finer point on it, even when our technicians service another brand, we use the OEM parts from our competitor rather than put non-OEM parts in their machine. 

A recent article in Plant Services magazine by Joe Kuhn, CMRP, about creating stronger cultures of reliability in plants touched on several relevant points. He was not writing about compressed air systems but the principles apply. Proactively maintained units need less repair. Planned maintenance (vs reactive servicing) extends mean time between failure, maintains higher run rates (uptime), and ensures product quality and reduced scrap. This is where we plug the value of having factory trained technicians do your service, at least occasionally. Even if you choose to buy OEM parts and do the work yourself, having a trained pair of eyes looking at your system periodically can avoid downtime and identify opportunities to improve system performance (such as better air quality or pressure stability). 

Obviously, we and other manufacturers want you to buy our parts, but our incentive goes beyond short term profit. Proactive maintenance is proven to extend product life and reduce the likelihood of untimely repairs that interrupt your production and cost you real money. Quality parts with the right fit are part of a good preventive maintenance program, and this ensures a longer life and better experience with our product. It’s a win-win. 

By the way, I didn’t really save any money by getting the cheaper windshield wipers. They lasted maybe four months. The factory replacement wipers that are now on my car have lasted more than a year and they only cost a few dollars more. They also work better.

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