Knowing Your Symbols Is Key To Understanding Your Drawings

There are all kinds of engineering drawings, used for all kinds of purposes:

  • Pipe fitters and millwrights use Plan & Elevation drawings to make sure fluid system flanges, elbows, tees, etc., line up with each other, and don’t run into anything.
  • Exploded view drawings help maintenance folks identify parts, and, when they need replaced, make sure the new ones go in the same way the old ones came out.
  • Fabrication and machining drawings (usually to scale) are used to ensure the part being made is the right size & shape, that mounting holes are in the right place, and that critical surfaces are as flat & smooth as they need to be.
  • Then there’s the Piping & Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID)…it depicts an overall view of a system, showing the flow (usually fluid or electricity) through that system’s components, giving the viewer an understanding of the operation, and expected results from said operation.  It should not be confused with its simpler cousin, the flow chart that is so dreaded by OTE-types (“Other Than Engineer”…you know who you are,) of which these are my favorite examples:
There’s a lot of “life lesson” in these two graphics.

The big difference between a flow chart and a P&ID is the symbols.  In fact, you can find ISO & ANSI standard symbols for many components you’ll find in fluid & electrical P&ID’s.  Some examples of symbols you might find in a compressed air system are:


The one on the left can be used for any air compressor. The others denote specific types of air compressor (from left:) Centrifugal, Diaphragm, Piston, Rotary, and Screw.

Air preparation & handling:

The symbols on the left denote the EXAIR products on the right: Automatic Drain Filter Separator, Oil Removal Filter, and Pressure Regulator

Instrumentation and control:

The symbols on top denote the EXAIR products below (left to right): Flowmeter, Pressure Gauge, and Solenoid Valve

Occasionally, we’re asked if there are standard ANSI or ISO symbols for any of our  engineered Intelligent Compressed Air Products…and there aren’t.  Perhaps one day they might make the cut, but for now, their standard convention is to choose a shape (user preference…you’re the one it’s gotta make sense to) and call it out by name.  It might look something like this:

From top left, and then down: Automatic Drain Filter Separator, Oil Removal Filter, Pressure Regulator, and Super Air Knife

Oh, and if you’ve ever got any questions about your compressed air system that you think looking at a drawing together could help us solve, you can send that drawing to us at, and one of us will be happy to help.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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