ICFM, SCFM, ACFM, CFM What does it all mean!

A common question we get asked is “What does SCFM mean?” Most people are aware of CFM but the “S” in front seems to be less known about! Well strap on your seat belt, we are about to go into a compressed air worm hole all about volumetric flow rates!

Here at EXAIR we rate all of our products air consumption in SCFM at a given supply pressure. CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute, but one definition will not satisfy the conditions that will be experienced in many applications by a number of variables  (altitude, temperature, pressure, etc.). Air by nature is a compressible fluid. The properties of this fluid are constantly changing due to the ambient conditions of the surrounding environment.

This makes it difficult to describe the volumetric flow rate of the compressed air. Imagine you have a cubic foot of air, at standard conditions (14.696 psia, 60°F, 0% Relative Humidity), right in front of you. Then, you take that same cubic foot, pressurize it to 100 psig and place it inside of a pipe. You still have one cubic foot, but it is taking up significantly less volume. You have probably heard the terms SCFMACFM, and ICFM when used to define the total capacity of a compressor system. Understanding these terms, and using them correctly, will allow you to properly size your system and understand your total compressed air consumption.

SCFM is used as a reference to the standard conditions for flow rate. This term is used to create an “apples to apples” comparison when discussing compressed air volume as the conditions will change. EXAIR publishes the consumption of all products in SCFM for this reason. You will always notice that an inlet pressure is specified as well. This allows us to say that, at standard conditions and at a given inlet pressure, the product will consume a given amount of compressed air. It would be nearly impossible, not to mention impractical, to publish the ACFM of any product due to the wide range of environmental conditions possible.

ACFM stands for Actual Cubic Feet per Minute. If the conditions in the environment are “standard”, then the ACFM and SCFM will be the same. In most cases, however, that is not the case. The formula for converting SCFM to ACFM is as follows:

ACFM = SCFM [Pstd / (Pact – Psat Φ)](Tact / Tstd)

Where:

ACFM = Actual Cubic Feet per Minute
SCFM = Standard Cubic Feet per Minute
Pstd = standard absolute air pressure (psia)
Pact = absolute pressure at the actual level (psia)
Psat = saturation pressure at the actual temperature (psi)
Φ = Actual relative humidity
Tact = Actual ambient air temperature (oR)
Tstd = Standard temperature (oR)

The last term that you’ll see floating around to describe compressed air flow is ICFM (Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute). This term describes the conditions at the inlet of the compressor, in front of the filter, dryer, blower, etc. Because several definitions for Standard Air exist, some compressor manufacturers have adopted this simpler unit of measure when sizing a compressor system. This volume is used to determine the impeller design, nozzle diameter, and casing size for the most efficient compressor system to be used. Because the ICFM is measured before the air has passed through the filter and other components, you must account for a pressure drop.

The inlet pressure is determined by taking the barometric pressure and subtracting a reasonable loss for the inlet air filter and piping. According to the Compressed Air Handbook by the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, a typical value for filter and piping loss is 0.3 psig. The need to determine inlet pressure becomes especially critical when considering applications in high-altitudes. A change in altitude of more than a few hundred feet can greatly reduce the overall capacity of the compressor. Because of this pressure loss, it is important to assess the consumption of your compressor system in ACFM. To convert ICFM to ACFM use the following formula:

ICFM = ACFM (Pact / Pf) (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

P = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (psia)

Tf = Temperature after filter or inlet equipment (°R)

If you’re looking into a new project utilizing EXAIR equipment and need help determining how much compressed air you’ll need, give us a call. An Application Engineer will be able to assess the application, determine the overall consumption, and help recommend a suitably sized air compressor.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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