When You Can Use Compressed Air…And When You Can’t

So, what can you use compressed air for? As a manufacturer of engineered compressed air products, we’d be very happy if the answer was “everything.” Thing is, like everything else, there can be certain limitations to its use. Some are safety-related: OSHA says you shouldn’t use blowoffs for personal cleaning, for instance. Our Line Vacs and Industrial Vacuums are not to be used with anything that could create an explosive mixture. Don’t use our Static Eliminators around flammable materials or gases.

Other times, the concern is practical: Neal Raker contrasted two conveying applications in a recent blog, one is a “textbook” situation for a Line Vac; the other was outside of our capabilities. That said, please don’t hesitate to call us if you think your application is beyond our products’ range – we take note of these, and present them at bi-weekly meetings. You never know where our next Product of the Year Award is going to come from.

My favorite all-time use for compressed air comes from my time as a submariner. If we absolutely, positively, had to get to the surface, like right NOW, we did an emergency blow. We stored massive amounts of high-pressure compressed air, which, via the flip of a couple of levers in the Control Room, would be instantly discharged into the ballast tanks, and…well, watch THIS:

“Put her on the roof, Chief…” said no Diving Officer, ever, except in the movies. 

Back in 2005, USS San Francisco (SSN-711) hit an underwater mountain, at flank speed and 525 feet down, some 350 miles from their home port of Guam. Many crew members were injured, and one was killed. He was a 24-year old Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, and he was from Ohio. For the record, I was once a 24-year old Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, and I’m from Ohio, so I still swallow hard when I think of that young man, because there, but for the grace of God, went I.

As you can see from this photo, the boat suffered extensive damage to the bow, which included breaching the forward ballast tanks:

There was no way their high pressure air compressors could keep up with that.  Since they were surfaced, they didn’t need pressure – they needed volume.  So they rigged a low-pressure blower to blow as much air as possible into the compromised ballast tanks, and it worked well enough to get them home…again, about 350 miles. This is a photo taken as they returned to Guam.  Note how low the bow is riding:

Here’s another photo, showing another boat of the same class – you can compare how much of the bow you can see here, and how little you can see above:

I know your application probably isn’t as drastic, but if you want to talk about whether or not compressed air is the solution, we’d love to hear from you.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
(513)671-3322 local
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Web: http://www.exair.com
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