How to Calculate SCFM (Volume) When Operating at Any Pressure

If you need to operate at a different pressure because you require less or more force or simply operate at a different line pressure, this formula will allow you to determine the volume of air being consumed by any device.

Volume Formula

Using the EXAIR 1100 Super Air Nozzle as our example:

1100

Lets first consider the volume of the 1100 Super Air Nozzle at a higher than published pressure.  As shown in the formula and calculations it is simply the ratio of gauge pressure + atmospheric divided by the published pressure + atmospheric and then multiply the dividend by the published volume.  So as we do the math we solve for 17.69 SCFM @ 105 PSIG from a device that was  shown consume 14 SCFM @ 80 PSIG.

higher

Now lets consider the volume at a lower than published pressure.  As shown it is simply the ratio of gauge pressure + atmospheric divided by the published pressure + atmospheric and then multiply the dividend by the published volume.  So as we do the math we solve for 11.04 SCFM @ 60 PSIG from a device that was shown to consume 14 SCFM @ 80 PSIG.

lower

When you are looking for expert advice on safe, quiet and efficient point of use compressed air products give us a call.  Experience the EXAIR difference first hand and receive the great customer service, products and attention you deserve!  We would enjoy hearing from you.

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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CFM, ICFM, ACFM, SCFM: Why so many volumetric flow rates?

Air Compressor

Flow rate is the quantity of material that is moved per unit of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are in units of pounds per minute or kilograms per hour.  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute or liters per hour.  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used for a compressible gas.  In this blog, I will go over the various acronyms and the reasons behind them.

What acronyms will be covered?

CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute

The volumetric component of the flow rate is CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute.  This term is commonly used for rating air compressors.  From history of air compressors, they could calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of cylinder.  With the volume of the compression chamber and the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric air flows.  As conditions change like altitude, temperature, and relative humidity, the value of CFM changes.  To better clarify these conditions, compressor manufacturers decided to add terms with definition.  (For your information, air compressors still use CFM as a unit of air flow, but now this is defined at standard temperature and pressure).

The first letter in front of CFM above now defines the conditions in which the volumetric air flow is being measured.  This is important for comparing pneumatic components or for properly sizing pneumatic systems. Volume is measured with three areas: temperature, pressure, and relative humidity.  We can see this in the Ideal Gas Law: P * V = n * R * T or Equation 1:

V = n * R * T / P

V – Volume

n – Number of molecules of gas

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

P – Absolute Pressure

The volume of air can change in reference to pressure, temperature, and the number of molecules.  Where is the relative humidity?  This would be referenced in the “n” term.  The more water vapor, or higher RH value, the less molecules of air is in a given volume.

SCFM is the most commonly used term, and it can be the most confusing.  The idea of this volumetric air flow is to set a reference point for comparisons.  So, no matter the pressure, temperature, or relative humidity, the volumetric air flows can be compared to each other at that reference point.  There have been many debates about an appropriate standard temperature and pressure, or STP.  But as long as you use the same reference point, then you can still compare the results.  In this blog, I will be using the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, CAGI, reference where the “Standard” condition is at 14.5 PSIA, 68 deg. F, and 0% RH.  Since we have a reference point, we still need to know the actual conditions for comparison.  It is like having a location of a restaurant as a reference, but if you do not know your current location, you cannot reach it.   Similarly, we are “moving” the air from its actual condition to a reference or “Standard” condition.  We will need to know where the air began in order to reach that reference point.  We will talk more about this later in this blog.

ACFM is the volumetric air flow under actual conditions.  This is actually the “true” flow rate.  Even though this term is hardly used, there are reasons why we will need to know this value.  We can size an air compressor that is not at “Standard” conditions, and we can use this value to calculate velocity and pressure drop in a system.  We can correlate between SCFM and ACFM with Equation 2:

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)

ICFM is one of the newest terms in the history of air compressors.  This is where devices are added to the inlet of an air compressor, affecting the flow conditions.  If you have a blower on the inlet of an air compressor, the volumetric flow rate changes as the pressure and temperature rises at the “Inlet”.  If a filter is used, then the pressure drop will decrease the incoming pressure at the “Inlet”.  These devices that affect the volumetric flow rate for an air compressor should be considered.  The equation to relate the ACFM to ICFM is with Equation 3:

ICFM = ACFM * (Pact / Pf) * (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

Pf  = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (PSIA)

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

Examples of these different types of flow rates can be found here in this EXAIR blog by Tyler Daniel.

To expand on my explanation above about SCFM and ACFM, a technical question comes up about the pressure when using SCFM.  The reference point of 14.5 PSIA is in the definition of SCFM.  Remember, this is only a reference point.  The starting location is actually required.  This would be the ACFM value where the air values are true and actual.  As an example, two air nozzles are rated for 60 SCFM.  An EXAIR Super Air Nozzle, model 1106, is cataloged at 80 PSIG, and a competitor is cataloged at 60 PSIG.  By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but actually they do not.  To simplify Equation 2, we can compare the two nozzles at the same temperature and RH at 68 Deg. F and 0% RH respectively.  This equation can be reduced to Equation 4:

ACFM = SCFM * 14.5 / (P + 14.5)

@60 PSIG Competitor:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA/ (60 PSIG + 14.5 PSIA)

= 11.7 ACFM

@80 PSIG EXAIR Super Air Nozzle:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA / (80 PSIG + 14.5PSIA)

= 9.2 ACFM

Even though the SCFM is the same amount, you are actually using 21% more air with the competitive nozzle that was reported at 60 PSIG.  So, when it comes to rating compressed air products or air compressors, always ask the conditions of pressure, temperature and RH.  The more you know about volumetric flow rates, the better decision that you can make.  If you need help, you can always contact our application engineers at EXAIR.

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

 

Advantages of Thermal Mass or Thermal Dispersion Flow Measurement

EXAIR’s Digital Flow Meter offers an easy way to measure, monitor and record compressed air consumption. The Digital display shows the current amount of compressed air flow, allowing for tracking to identify costly leaks and/or inefficient air users.

dfm

How exactly does the Digital Flow Meter work?  The unit falls under the category of Thermal Mass or Thermal Dispersion type flow meters.  Below shows the backside of a unit.

IMG_7387

Thermal mass flow meters have the advantage of using a simple method of measuring flow without causing a significant pressure drop. The EXAIR units have (2) probes that are inserted through the pipe wall and into the air flow.  Each of the probes has a resistance temperature detector (RTD.) One of the probes measures the temperature of the air flow.  The other probe is heated to maintain a preset temperature difference from the temperature measured by the first probe.  The faster the air flow, the more heat that is required to keep the second probe at the prescribed temperature.  From Heat Transfer principles, the heat energy input required to maintain the preset temperature is based on the mass velocity of the air.  Using basic physical properties for compressed air, the volumetric rate can be determined (SCFM), and displayed.

It is important to note that the compressed air should be filtered to remove oils, and dried to remove water, as these liquids have different physical properties from air, and will cause erroneous readings.

Advantages

  • Easy to install – No cutting or welding required
  • Summing Remote Display and Data Logger available
  • Sensitive at low flows
  • Rugged, reliable and no moving parts
  • No calibration or set-up required
  • Models from 1/2″ to 4″ schedule 40 iron pipe in stock
  • Short lead time for sizes up to 6″ Schedule 40 iron pipe
  • Available for size 3/4″ to 4″ copper pipe
  • New Wireless Capability

If you have any questions about the Digital Flow Meter or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, 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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Twitter: @EXAIR_BB

Intelligent Compressed Air: SCFM, ACFM, ICFM, CFM – What do these terms mean?

3791199712_0e936e421a_o
An old Ingersoll-Rand air compressor

Air compressors have come a long way over the years. When sizing a new system, a few terms are commonly used: CFM, SCFM, ACFM, and ICFM. The term CFM, simply put, stands for Cubic Feet per Minute. This term can often be confusing and impossible to define for just one condition. One definition will not satisfy the conditions that will be experienced in many of your applications due to 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 SCFM, ACFM, 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)

Let’s run through an example of a compressor operating at a “non-standard” condition:

Elevation – 5000 ft.

Temperature – 80°F (80+460=540) – 540°R

Saturation Pressure – .5069psia

Relative humidity – 80%

demand – 100 SCFM

ACFM = (100 SCFM) [(14.7 psia)/((12.23psia) – (0.5069 psia)(80/100))] ((540°R)/(520°R))

=129.1 ACFM

In this example, the actual flow is greater. To determine the total ACFM consumption of any of our products with your system, take the published total consumption of the product and plug in the values for your compressed air system along with the standard variables.

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

Pf  = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (psia)

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

For this example, let’s say that we’re in Denver, Colorado. The barometric pressure, as of today, is 14.85 psi with current ambient temperature at 71°F. The compressor system in this example does not have any blower or device installed before the inlet, so there will be no temperature differential after filter or inlet equipment. The ICFM rating for the system is 1,000 ICFM.

ACFM = 1,000 (14.85/14.55)(530.67/530.67)

ACFM = 1,020

In order to maintain the 1,000 ICFM rating of the system, the ACFM is 1,020, about a 2% increase.

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.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer

E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

 

Compressor photo courtesy of David Pearcy via Creative Commons license.

EXAIR Blogs This Week Are Almost As Cool As Shark Week

Yes, ALMOST. This week, the EXAIR Blog has featured some excellent explanations of the science behind the operation of compressed air products. On Tuesday, John Ball posted the best explanation of SCFM vs ACFM that I’ve come across, and I’ve been explaining this to callers for almost four years now. I’m using his blog to perfect my “elevator pitch” on this topic. It will still likely require a building with more than ten floors, but I think that’s OK.

Also on “Two Blog Tuesday,” (this week only; I’m not trying to start anything) Dave Woerner’s gem of a blog detailed the terminology associated with pressure measurement, and why we use “psig” (g = gauged) – in a nutshell, the compressed air inside the pipe doesn’t care what the pressure outside the pipe is. And, since he mentioned it, I might add that most of agree that we care even less about how a certain NFL team’s footballs were (or were not) properly inflated.

Brian Farno’s “One Blog Wednesday” entry was a quite useful (if not alphabetical…OK; now I AM trying to start something) list of some common terms and expressions we use on a regular basis while discussing the operation and performance of EXAIR compressed air products. If you liked his photo demonstration of the Coanda effect with the foam ball & Super Air Amplifier, I encourage you to experience the Coanda effect for yourself, if you have access to a leaf blower and a volleyball:

I mention these earlier blogs to get to the point of MY blog today…a bit of theory-to-practice, if you will. Once you’ve gotten a decent understanding of these principles (or have the above links bookmarked for quick reference,) we can apply it to what’s needed for the proper operation of a compressed air product itself.

With a working knowledge of air flow (SCFM) and compressed air supply pressure (psig,) we can more easily understand why certain pipe sizes are specified for use with particular products. For instance, the longer the Super Air Knife and/or the longer the run of piping to it, the larger the pipe that’s needed to supply it:

This table comes directly from the Installation & Operation Instructions for the Super Air Knife.
This table comes directly from the Installation & Operation Instructions for the Super Air Knife.

The reasons for this are two-fold: First, the pipe…longer runs of pipe will experience more line loss (a continuous reduction in pressure, due to friction with the pipe wall…and itself) – so, larger diameter pipe is needed for longer lengths. For another practical demonstration, consider how much faster you can drink a beverage through a normal drinking straw than you can through a coffee stirrer. Not as dramatic as the leaf blower & volleyball (you really want to try it now, don’t you?) but you get my point.

Second, the Air Knife…the longer the Air Knife, the more air it’s going to use. And, if it’s longer than 18”, you’ll want to feed it with air at both ends…line loss will occur in the plenum as well.

In closing, I want to leave with another video, shot right here at EXAIR, showing the actual reductions in pressure due to line loss through different lengths, and diameters, of compressed air supply line to a Super Air Knife.

If you ever have any questions about compressed air use, or how EXAIR products can help you use your compressed air more efficiently, safely, and quietly, please give us a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Deflated Footballs? What’s the Big Deal, We Talk Air Pressure Everyday

This week we prepare for the professional football championship game, that phrase is trademarked within the Woerner household. For a few years, we have had my friends from college over for guacamole, chicken wings, French fries, and beverages. This year our small family is now three, so we are in for a quiet evening at home. My son will most likely be asleep at kick off, but my wife and I might stay awake for the end of the first quarter. Even with the small amount of people that we will watch the game, I will still make a small spread for our family, because tradition. Tradition says, it’s Super Bowl Week – we buy avocados early in the week so they have time to ripen.

In the build up to the big game, it seems like we always get a very silly story that the media grabs a hold of and just will not let go.  I want to join them. Have you heard about the fact that the footballs that the one of teams used on offense might not have been inflated to the correct pressure. I don’t know that the fotballs were under inflated on purpose, but I also think that LaDainian Tomlinson might have been on to something, when he said “The Patriots live by the saying if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

That was a long introduction into my blog today about pressure. The NFL Rule Book states,

“The ball shall be made up of an inflated (12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds) urethane bladder enclosed in a pebble grained, leather case (natural tan color) without corrugations of any kind. It shall have the form of a prolate spheroid and the size and weight shall be: long axis, 11 to 11 1/4 inches; long circumference, 28 to 28 1/2 inches; short circumference, 21 to 21 1/4 inches; weight, 14 to 15 ounces.”

From an engineering perspective this is ambiguous at best. If I read this with no knowledge of football, I would have no idea how to test whether the ball is inflated. The rule states that the ball should be an inflated urethane bladder. Then in the parenthetical phrase it lists 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds. Last time I checked pounds is a measure of weight. If I received this specifications, I would put the ball on a scale to weigh it. Using some common sense a quarterback isn’t going to be able to throw a 12 pounds ball, like a bullet, 10 yards. Let alone 60 yards for that deep bomb.

If I was writing the rule book, it would read that “the ball shall be inflated to a pressure of 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds per square inch gauge pressure.” With this wording there is a clear standard to be met for football to be worthy for use.

What Is Gauge Pressure?

Gauge pressure is the pressure determined by a gauge or instrument. The term is used to differentiate pressure registered by a gauge from absolute pressure. Absolute pressure is determined by adding gauge pressure to atmospheric (aka barometric) pressure. Barometric pressure can be calculated based on elevation or measured by a barometer.

What is Atmospheric Pressure?

Andrew Gatt
This bottle was sealed at 10,000 ft above sea level then moved to the beach. At the beach the bottle spontaneously crushed by the increased atmospheric pressure

 

Atmospheric pressure is the force per area that the air around us compresses our world. Above is a photo with a simple illustration of atmospheric pressure. At roughly 10,000 feet above sea level, the bottle is sealed trapping the atmospheric pressure inside the bottle. As the bottle drops in elevation, the pressure outside the bottle rises compressing bottle and the air inside.

When do I use Gauge Pressure?

Gauge pressure is used in a majority of industrial applications. For instance, EXAIR’s air nozzle performance is based on 80 Pounds per Square Inch Gauge (PSIG). No matter what elevation the air nozzles are used the flow rate and the force of the nozzle will be the same as long as the gauge at the inlet to the nozzle reads 80 PSIG.

When do I use Atmospheric Pressure?

I seldom use atmospheric pressure by itself. I often use atmospheric pressure in conjunction with gauge pressure. Meteorologists reference atmospheric pressure when referring to low pressure or high pressure weather systems.

When do I use Absolute Pressure?

In one word: calculations. Absolute pressure is equal to gauge pressure plus atmospheric pressure. In a majority of formulas or calculations, absolute pressure is used. Specifically, whenever you are using pressure to multiply, divide, or raise to a power, absolute pressure is used. There may be exceptions, but I would need to be very familiar with the formula, before I would only use gauge pressure to multiply. For instance, if you need to calculate the air usage at of an air nozzle at a different pressure (as seen in this earlier blog), you would use the absolute pressure. The flow through a nozzle is governed by Bernoulli’s principle.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
@EXAIR_DW
DaveWoerner@EXAIR.com

 

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Gatt. Creative Commons License

Actual vs. Standard flows

Have you ever noticed that when a flow rate like SCFM, SLPM, or NM3/hr is reported, there is a pressure associated with it? There is a reason for this. The “S” in SCFM and SLPM, is for Standard, and the “N” in NM3/hr is for Normal. It is the amount of air being used at atmospheric pressure and temperature. To further explain it, if you take a segment of air out of a compressed air line and place it next to you at ambient temperature and pressure, it will expand to a larger volume. Think of it like an air-filled balloon floating on top of the water. This would be the “Standard” or “Normal” condition. As you take the balloon into deeper water, the more pressure is applied to the balloon, and the volume decreases. This is because air is compressible. The balloon still has the same amount of air by weight (as the volume decreases, the density increases). If you return back to the surface, the balloon will expand back to the original size.

Pressure
Pressure

Being that the flow rate for nozzles, knives, etc., are rated at a standard or normal condition, why do we require a pressure rating? It should be at the atmospheric pressure and temperature. Well, this is where it gets tricky. Just like the air-filled balloon, the deeper you go (higher pressures), the less volume is in the balloon. So, when we have different pressures, we are trying to find the actual volume of air being used because that is what you are paying for. Also, this is where the term ACFM (lpm or M3/hr) comes into play. The “A” in ACFM is for Actual (the volume of air at the actual pressure and temperature). Pneumatic devices use this type of flow (ACFM), but for the ease of understanding, they convert it to a SCFM, SLPM, or NM^3/hr at a pressure. If we assume ambient temperatures because most of our products are used there, then the correlation between Actual and Standard is Qa = Qs * Pa/(P +Pa) .

Imperial Units                                    SI units

Qa          Actual flow (ACFM)                         Actual flow (M^3/hr)

Qs           Standard flow (SCFM)                    Normal flow (NM^3/hr)

P             Gage Pressure (psig)                      Gage Pressure (barg)

Pa           Absolute Pressure (psia)                Absolute Pressure (bara)

 

The reason for this explanation is because some competitors like to use a lower pressure to rate their products. As an example, two air nozzles are rated for 70 SCFM (119 NM^3/hr). One nozzle is cataloged at 60 psig (4.1 barg) and the other is cataloged at 80 psig (5.5 barg). By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but actually they do not. Under the actual condition (using the formula above), we have the following:

Imperial Units                                                                    SI Units

@60 psig                                                                              @4.1 barg

Qa = 70 SCFM * 14.7 psia/(60 psig + 14.7 psia)     Qa = 119 NM^3/hr * 1 bara/(4.1 barg + 1 bara)

= 13.8 ACFM (actual amount of air used)                 = 23.3 M^3/hr (actual amount of air used)

 

@80 psig                                                                              @5.5barg

Qa = 70 SCFM * 14.7 psia/(80 psig + 14.7 psia)     Qa = 119 NM^3/hr * 1 bara/(5.5 barg + 1 bara)

= 10.9 ACFM (actual amount of air used)                = 18.3 M^3/hr (actual amount of air used)

 

Even though it seems like they use the same amount of compressed air, you are actually using 27% more air with the nozzle reported at 60 psig than the one that was reported at 80 psig. Always remember that if you want to compare air usage, always do it at the same pressure and temperature. If you need help, you can always contact our application engineers here at EXAIR.

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

 

Image courtesy of UpUpa4me. Creative Comment License