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Can I import my Own Air Dryer and Compressor?

There are many companies marketing air dryers, compressors, filters and even air receivers to South Africa. On average I receive at least 3 emails a week offering great deals in any of these products. Some I give a few minutes to have a quick overview. Most are dumped to file 13.

These are a few of the reasons why caution should be exercised. In many cases the equipment contains a pressure vessel. For example, the air/oil reclaimer in a rotary screw compressor is a pressure vessel. It should conform to local SANS 347 standards. A chemical heatless or heated air dryer and simple air receivers are also pressure vessels.

The vessel plates should be in English, the maximum and minimum operating temperatures, as well as the maximum rated working pressure, and the date of the test. The test pressure must also be stated. It must state the manufacturers name and date and country of manufacture.

The Health and Standard code must be displayed e.g. ASME or RSA codes. The SANS 347 hazard category must be shown. The AIA (Authorised Inspection Authority) number must also appear on the plate, along with the AIA unique stamp.

In our case, any pressure vessel that is imported is inspected by the local AIA and a conformance certificate is issued to the client. This is signed by the AIA, as well as the importer, in other words me, the CEO.

If this is not compiled with the seller / importer and the purchaser could face criminal charges if a vessel fails (explodes). To my knowledge, even the installer can be held liable for criminal prosecution in the event of a vessel failing in service.

An air oil separator that fails under pressure is lethal. Oil at 100°C along with flying steel is a very bad combination. A pressure or vacuum vessel that fails under pressure is equally lethal, whole buildings have been destroyed with lives lost in the process, all in recent memory. Refrigeration air dryers may also fall into the category. Depending on the design of the unit.

These codes and regulations means that a machine built to an international standard, will often be more expensive. The inspection time spent here in RSA when the goods arrive also adds to the landed cost. But, if, and when something goes wrong, I and my clients have taken due care and having stayed within the regulations it is unlikely that we would face criminal proceedings.

In the last two months, I have witnessed clients “saving” money by purchasing large capacity air dryers and receivers offshore. Sure, it’s cheaper. It is cheaper because it does not conform to the standards that SANS 347 recognise and it does not have a local agent to support it of suffering the cost of stocking equipment. In a recent case, we had to decline to install a large chemical air dryer as it failed to comply with local codes.

When three 6 m³ air receivers fail, people will die, production lines will be cobliterated. Engineers will lface culpable homicide charges. There is a good reason why it takes importers months of research and investigation before they say yes to a new range of equipment and allow it to be imported and sold in South Africa. Please believe me, we see many cases of unscrupulous importers blatantly ignoring the codes. It does go on, and it will lead to deaths, sooner or later.

As the lawyers say let the buyer beware, “Caveat Emptor”. The term is actually part of a longer statement: Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit (“Let a purchaser beware, for he oought not be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”) or in simple terms Goedkoop is Duurckoop. Pressure regulations should not be ignored, they are there to protect us from our own foolishness.

Watch this, it’s scary.




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