Intelligent Compressed Air: Refrigerant Dryers and How They Work

We’ve seen in recent blogs that Compressed Air Dryers are an important part of a compressed air system, to remove water and moisture to prevent condensation further downstream in the system.  Moisture laden compressed air can cause issues such as increased wear of moving parts due to lubrication removal, formation of rust in piping and equipment, quality defects in painting processes, and frozen pipes in colder climates.  The three main types of dryers are – Refrigerant, Desiccant, and Membrane. For this blog, we will review the basics of the Refrigerant type of dryer.

All atmospheric air that a compressed air system takes in contains water vapor, which is naturally present in the air.  At 75°F and 75% relative humidity, 20 gallons of water will enter a typical 25 hp compressor in a 24 hour period of operation.  When the the air is compressed, the water becomes concentrated and because the air is heated due to the compression, the water remains in vapor form.  Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, and generally an increase in temperature of 20°F results in a doubling of amount of moisture the air can hold. The problem is that further downstream in the system, the air cools, and the vapor begins to condense into water droplets. To avoid this issue, a dryer is used.

Refrigerated Dryer

Fundamental Schematic of Refrigerant-Type Dryer

Refrigerant Type dryers cool the air to remove the condensed moisture and then the air is reheated and discharged.  When the air leaves the compressor aftercooler and moisture separator (which removes the initial condensed moisture) the air is typically saturated, meaning it cannot hold anymore water vapor.  Any further cooling of the air will cause the moisture to condense and drop out.  The Refrigerant drying process is to cool the air to 35-40°F and then remove the condensed moisture.  The air is then reheated via an air to air heat exchanger (which utilizes the heat of the incoming compressed air) and then discharged.  The dewpoint of the air is 35-40°F which is sufficient for most general industrial plant air applications.  As long as the compressed air stays above the 35-40°F temperature, no further condensation will occur.

The typical advantages of Refrigerated Dryers are-

  1.  – Low initial capital cost
  2.  – Relatively low operating cost
  3.  – Low maintenance costs

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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Types Of Compressed Air System Dryers

Many times, when discussing product selection with a customer, we commonly reference supplying as clean and dry air as possible to promote peak performance. In iron piping systems for example, when moisture is present, rust can develop which can reduce the performance of end use compressed air operated devices like air tools or cause issues on the exhaust side as you could exhaust unwanted mist onto a surface, like in a painting operation.

Example of a desiccant dryer

Typically, an efficient and properly installed industrial compressed air system will include some type of dryer to remove any moisture that may be present in the supply.

Let’s take a look at the various types of dryers available.

Refrigerant and desiccant dryers are two of the more commonly used types of dryers.

Refrigerant based systems have several stages. The compressed air first passes through an air to air heat exchanger  which initially cools the air. The air is then delivered to an air to refrigerant exchanger where an external source of liquid refrigerant further cools the air and sends it to a separator, where the water vapors condensate and are removed through a drain trap. Now that the air is dry, it is then cycled back to the air to air exchanger where it is heated back to ambient temperature and exits the system.

Desiccant dryers typically incorporate 2 tanks containing a porous desiccant which causes the moisture to sort of “cling” to the surface. In these systems, compressed air flows through one tank, while, using it’s own regeneration cycle, heated or unheated air is blown through the desiccant in the other tank to remove the moisture and dry the air.

Membrane Dryers are typically used at the end use product. These types of systems utilize membranes to dissipate water vapor as it passes through the material, while allowing a small amount of the dry air to travel the length of the membrane to sort of “wipe” the condensate and remove it from the system.

Deliquescent Dryers use a drying agent which absorbs any moisture in the air. As the vapors react with the desiccant, like salt, the desiccant liquefies and is able to be drained at the bottom of a tank. These are the least expensive dryers to purchase and maintain because they have no moving parts and require no power to run.

When a dryer is being considered for a particular setup, there are 3 common reference points used when determining the dryers rating – an inlet air temperature of 100°F, supply pressure of 100 PSIG and an ambient air temperature of 100°F. Changes in supply pressure or temperature could change the performance of a particular dryer. You want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when dealing with variances as they will typically provide some type of conversion.

For help with this or any other topics relating to the efficient use of compressed air, please give us a call, we’d be happy to help.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

 

Heated Desiccant Dryers image courtesy of Compressor1 via creative commons license

About Double Acting Reciprocating Air Compressors

My colleague, Lee Evans, wrote a blog “About Single Acting Reciprocating Compressors”, and I wanted to extend that conversation to a more efficient relative, the double acting reciprocating compressor.   As you see in the chart below, this type of compressor falls within the same family under the category of positive displacement compressors.

Compressor Types

Positive displacement compressors increase air pressure by reducing air volume within a confined space.  The reciprocating type of air compressor uses a motor that turns a crank which pushes a piston inside a cylinder; like the engine in your car.  In a basic cycle, an intake valve opens to allow the ambient air into the cylinder, the gas gets trapped, and once it is compressed by the piston, the exhaust valve opens to discharge the compressed volume into a tank.  This method of compression happens for both the single and double acting reciprocating compressors.  With a single acting compressor, the air is compressed only on the up-stroke of the piston inside the cylinder.  The double acting compressor compresses the air on both the up-stroke and the down-stroke of the piston, doubling the capacity of a given cylinder size.  This “double” compression cycle is what makes this type of air compressor very efficient.  A single acting compressor will have an operating efficiency between 22 – 24 kW/100 cfm of air while the double acting compressor has an operating efficiency between 15 – 16 kW/100 cfm.  Therefore, electricity cost is less with a double-acting reciprocating air compressor to make the same amount of compressed air.

To explore the internals a bit closer, the mechanical linkage used to move the piston is slightly different as well as the additional intake and exhaust valves.   Instead of the connecting rod being attached directly to the piston as seen inside a single acting compressor, a crosshead is added between the compression piston and the connecting rod (view picture below).  The rod that connects the crosshead to the compression piston can be sealed to keep the cylinder completely encapsulated.  For every rotation of the electric motor, the air is being compressed twice.  With the added heat of compression, the double acting compressors are generally water-cooled.  Also, with the added mechanism between the crank and the piston, the rotational speeds are typically less.  Because of the larger size, water jackets, and added parts, the initial cost is more expensive than the single acting compressor, but the efficiency is much higher.

Double Acting Reciprocating Air Compressor

Double acting compressors are generally designed for rugged 100% continuous operations.  Dubbed the work horse of the compressor family, they are also known for their long service life.  They are commonly used in high pressure services in multistage styles and can come in lubricated and non-lubricated configurations.   With the dual compression, slow speed and inter-cooling, it makes this type of air compressor very proficient in making compressed air.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

Photos:  used from Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

Proper Supply Lines are Key to Air Knife Performance

A few weeks back I chatted with a customer on an Air Knife application where they were using our 48″ aluminum Super Air Knife to remove leftover dough from a baking pan. The knife was working somewhat, but they were seeing some residual dough being left in certain areas on the pans due to what they perceived as “weak” airflow. After reading through our catalog and installation guide, they noticed that there were available shim sets that would allow them to increase the gap setting to get more force and flow out of the knife.

Available in lengths from 3″ to 108″ in aluminum, 303ss or 316ss construction

Our aluminum Super Air Knives are shipped from stock with a .002″ shim installed. The optional shim set includes a .001″, .003″ and .004″ shim that would allow you to decrease or increase the performance. By operating the Super Air Knife with the .003″ shim installed, this would increase the force and flow by 1.5 times and using the .004″ shim would double the performance. Sometimes achieving greater force and flow may be required but with the customer saying they were seeing weak airflow, it seemed there may be a restriction on the supply side.

Super Air Knife with Shim Set

I asked the customer how the knife was plumbed and what size supply lines he was using. He advised that they were plumbing air to all 3 inlets on the bottom of the knife but they were using 3/4″ hose with a run of about 30′. I advised the customer that plumbing air to all 3 inlets is required for a 48″ Super Air Knife but we actually recommend 3/4″ Schedule 40 Pipe up to 10′ or 1″ pipe up to 50′. If using hose, he would need to go up a size to maintain a large enough ID to carry the volume required for the unit. In his case, since the length of the supply is close to 30′, he would need to use 1-1/4″ ID hose.

Improper plumbing line size is a common issue we deal with here at EXAIR. Using undersized supply lines can cause excessive pressure drops because they aren’t able to carry the volume of air necessary to properly supply the compressed air device. In this particular application, if the customer were to install either the .003″ or .004″ shim, while keeping his current plumbing size, the performance would actually be worse as now the lines are even more undersized due to the increased air volume requirement from the larger Super Air Knife gap.

If you are looking to change the performance with one of our Air Knives or if you would like to discuss a particular application or product, please contact one of our application engineers for assistance at 800-903-9247.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

Proper Supply Line Size And Fittings Provide Peak Performance

Many times when we provide the air consumption of an EXAIR product, we get a response like…. “I’ve got plenty of pressure, we run at around 100 PSIG”. While having the correct pressure available is important, it doesn’t make up for the volume requirement or SCFM (Standard Cubic Feet per Minute) needed to maintain that pressure. We commonly reference trying to supply water to a fire hose with a garden hose, it is the same principle, in regards to compressed air.

When looking to maintain an efficient compressed air system, it’s important that you use properly sized supply lines and fittings to  support the air demand (SCFM) of the point-of-use device. The smaller the ID and the longer the length of run, it becomes more difficult for the air to travel through the system. Undersized supply lines or piping can sometimes be the biggest culprit in a compressed air system as they can lead to severe pressure drops or the loss of pressure from the compressor to the end use product.

Take for example our 18″ Super Air Knife. A 18″ Super Air Knife will consume 52.2 SCFM at 80 PSIG. We recommend using 1/2″ Schedule 40 pipe up to 10′ or 3/4″ pipe up to 50′. The reason you need to increase the pipe size after 10′ of run is that 1/2″ pipe can flow close to 100 SCFM up to 10′ but for a 50′ length it can only flow 42 SCFM. On the other hand, 3/4″ pipe is able to flow 100 SCFM up to 50′ so this will allow you to carry the volume needed to the inlet of the knife, without losing pressure through the line.

Pipe size chart for the Super Air Knife

We also explain how performance can be negatively affected by improper plumbing in the following short video:

 

Another problem area is using restrictive fittings, like quick disconnects. While this may be useful with common everyday pneumatic tools, like an impact wrench or nail gun, they can severely limit the volumetric flow to a device requiring more air , like a longer length air knife.

1/4″ Quick Connect

For example, looking at the above 1/4″ quick disconnect, the ID of the fitting is much smaller than the NPT connection size. In this case, it is measuring close to .192″. If you were using a device like our Super Air Knife that features 1/4″ FNPT inlets, even though you are providing the correct thread size, the small inside diameter of the quick disconnect causes too much of a restriction for the volume (SCFM) required to properly support the knife, resulting in a pressure drop through the line, reducing the overall performance.

If you have any questions about compressed air applications or supply lines, please contact one of our application engineers for assistance.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

The Importance Of Air Compressor System Maintenance

 

It should go without saying, but proper operation of anything that has moving parts will depend on how well it’s maintained.  Compressed air systems are certainly no exception; in fact; they’re a critical example of the importance of proper maintenance, for two big reasons:

*Cost: compressed air, “the fourth utility,” is expensive to generate.  And it’s more expensive if it’s generated by a system that’s not operating as efficiently as it could.

*Reliability: Many industrial processes rely on clean or clean & dry air, at the right pressure, being readily available:

  • When a CNC machine trips offline in the middle of making a part because it loses air pressure, it has to be reset.  That means time that tight schedules may not afford, and maybe a wasted part.
  • The speed of pneumatic cylinders and tools are proportional to supply pressure.  Lower pressure means processes take longer.  Loss of pressure means they stop.
  • Dirt & debris in the supply lines will clog tight passages in air operated products.  It’ll foul and scratch cylinder bores.  And if you’re blowing off products to clean them, anything in your air flow is going to get on your products too.

Good news is, the preventive maintenance necessary to ensure optimal performance isn’t all that hard to perform.  If you drive a car, you’re already familiar with most of the basics:

*Filtration: air compressors don’t “make” compressed air, they compress air that already exists…this is called the atmosphere, and, technically, your air compressor is drawing from the very bottom of the “ocean” of air that blankets the planet.  Scientifically speaking, it’s filthy down here.  That’s why your compressor has an inlet/intake filter, and this is your first line of defense. If it’s dirty, your compressor is running harder, and costs you more to operate it.  If it’s damaged, you’re not only letting dirt into your system; you’re letting it foul & damage your compressor.  Just like a car’s intake air filter (which I replace every other time I change the oil,) you need to clean or replace your compressor’s intake air filter on a regular basis as well.

*Moisture removal: another common “impurity” here on the floor of the atmospheric “ocean” is water vapor, or humidity.  This causes rust in iron pipe supply lines (which is why we preach the importance of point-of-use filtration) and will also impact the operation of your compressed air tools & products.

  • Most industrial compressed air systems have a dryer to address this…refrigerated and desiccant are the two most popular types.  Refrigerant systems have coils & filters that need to be kept clean, and leaks are bad news not only for the dryer’s operation, but for the environment.  Desiccant systems almost always have some sort of regeneration cycle, but it’ll have to be replaced sooner or later.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on these.
  • Drain traps in your system collect trace amounts of moisture that even the best dryer systems miss.  These are typically float-operated, and work just fine until one sticks open (which…good news…you can usually hear quite well) or sticks closed (which…bad news…won’t make a sound.)  Check these regularly and, in conjunction with your dryers, will keep your air supply dry.

*Lubrication: the number one cause of rotating equipment failure is loss of lubrication.  Don’t let this happen to you:

  • A lot of today’s electric motors have sealed bearings.  If yours has grease fittings, though, use them per the manufacturer’s directions.  Either way, the first symptom of impending bearing failure is heat.  This is a GREAT way to use an infrared heat gun.  You’re still going to have to fix it, but if you know it’s coming, you at least get to say when.
  • Oil-free compressors have been around for years, and are very popular in industries where oil contamination is an unacceptable risk (paint makers, I’m looking at you.)  In oiled compressors, though, the oil not only lubricates the moving parts; it also serves as a seal, and heat removal medium for the compression cycle.  Change the oil as directed, with the exact type of oil the manufacturer calls out.  This is not only key to proper operation, but the validity of your warranty as well.

*Cooling:  the larger the system, the more likely there’s a cooler installed.  For systems with water-cooled heat exchangers, the water quality…and chemistry…is critical.  pH and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) should be checked regularly to determine if chemical additives, or flushing, are necessary.

*Belts & couplings: these transmit the power of the motor to the compressor, and you will not have compressed air without them, period.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  Keeping spares on hand isn’t a bad idea either.

Optimal performance of your compressed air products literally starts with your compressor system.  Proper preventive maintenance is key to maximizing it.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to shut down any system to replace a moving (or wear) part.  With a sound preventive maintenance plan in place, you have a good chance of getting to say when.

If you’d like to talk about other ways to optimize the performance of your compressed air system,  give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Image courtesy of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet, Creative Commons License 

Reversible Drum Vac Empties Sumps For Demolition Company

A demolition company was looking for a way to remove the liquid from sumps and tanks in the industrial buildings they were contracted to provide their service upon. The liquids in question were mainly coolant and oil that had been left behind when the machinery was removed…anything that could be re-used was already gone; this was the “bitter dregs,” as it were.  Since these buildings are about to be demolished, electricity is rarely available.

They had a pumping system that ran off a diesel engine that they COULD take with them, but they ALWAYS had a large mobile air compressor for the pneumatic tools used in other processes in the demolition of the building. Since they had steel drums in abundance, the Reversible Drum Vac Systems sounded very attractive to them, so they got a Model 6295 Deluxe High Lift Reversible Drum Vac System for 55 Gallon Drum to try out.

The High Lift Reversible Drum Vac System converts a drum and dolly into a mobile pumping system.

Now, instead of committing an additional truck (and driver) to getting the diesel engine driven pumping system to the site, they simply move the Reversible Drum Vac pump unit from 55 gallon drum to 55 gallon drum as they’re filled. Once the drums are returned to their facility, they switch the the Reversible Drum Vac to the “empty drum” configuration, and use it to pump the liquid out into their recycling tanks, where they await collection and processing by their waste handling service.  Even when they have to use a number of drums, the High Lift Reversible Drum Vac Systems still streamline the process over the use of the diesel engine pumping system.

If you’d like to find out more about our Industrial Vacuums, or any of our compressed air operated products, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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