Round and Round They Go…. Rotary Compressors: How They Work

Positive-displacement and dynamic displacement compressors are the two high level principles for the generation of compressed air or gas. Positive displacement types are the most common found in industrial facilities. These units draw ambient air into a chamber which it seals off and then works to compress and squeeze it down into a smaller volume. The air is then discharged into the outlet system of the compressor. Out of the many types of positive displacement compressors, today we are going to discuss the rotary style positive displacement air compressors.

1 – Simplified Rotary Vane Compressor



These are available in both lubricant-free as well as lubricant-injected versions. The main function of the compressor is the same, both have two inter-meshing rotors what pull air into the inlet port and then after the rotational processing of the compressor the air is discharged through a discharge port. The in between of the ports is where the important information lies. The air after being sucked into the inlet gets pulled in between two lobes and the stator. As the air is being trapped the space between the lobes becomes increasingly smaller, thus increasing the pressure of the air transferring it to the discharge port.

The lubricated versions will often help to dissipate the heat that is created as the air is being compressed. This lubricant is then possible to transfer into the compressed air stream and must be removed before a point of use product if lubricant-free air is needed for the process. These compressors rank amongst the lower efficiencies in the positive displacement air compressors.

If you are visual learner, feel free to take a few minutes for the video below.

2 – Rotary Compressor Operation


If you would like to discuss the way to get the most out of your compressor, no matter the type, contact an Application Engineer and let us help you determine the most efficient way to use the air effectively.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

1 – Rotary vane.png – R. Castelnuovo, 10/20/2005 – retrieve from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rotary_vane.png

2 – Rotary compressor operation – HVACRinfo.com – 8/1/2016 – retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxDEK3Ymx30

Centrifugal Air Compressors: How Do They Work?

Centrifugal air compressors are one example of dynamic style air compressors. The dynamic type of compressors have a continuous flow of air that has its velocity increased in an impeller that is rotating at a higher speed. The kinetic energy of the air is increased due to the increase in velocity and then becomes transformed into pressure energy through the use of a volute chamber, or a diffuser. The volute chamber is a curved funnel that increases in surface are as it approaches the discharge port. This converts the kinetic energy into pressure by allowing the velocity to reduce while the pressure increases. Approximately 1/2 of the energy is developed in the impeller and the other half is developed in the volute chamber or diffuser.

1 – Basic Centrifugal Air Compressor

The most common centrifugal air comppressor has between two and four stages in order to generate pressures up to 150 psig. A water cooled inter-cooler and separator is placed between each stage in order to remove condensation and cool the air down prior to being passed on to the next stage. These compressors still have advantages and some disadvantages. The list below showcases just a few.

Advantages:

  • Lubricant-free air is generated
  • Complete packages up to 1,500 hp
  • Initial costs decrease with increase in compressor size
  • No special foundations or reinforcements needed

Disadvantages:

  • Specialized maintenance requirements
  • Higher initial investment
  • Unloading/waste of air required to drop system pressures

To determine which type of compressor may be best suited for your facility, we suggest to locate and contact a compressor sales company in your geographic area. When it comes to determining the volume of air required to operate the EXAIR products and even some other point of use compressed air applications, EXAIR’s Application Engineers can help you determine the volume you will need to ensure the compressor is sized appropriately. If you would like to discuss any other point of use application, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

1 – Dugan, Tim PE – Basic Centrifugal Air Compressor, Compressed Air Best Practices; retrieved from https://www.airbestpractices.com/technology/air-compressors/centrifugal-air-compressor-controls-and-sizing-basics

Maintenance for your Air Compressor

In one of my previous jobs, I was responsible for the operation of the facility, and one of my biggest jobs was the operation of our air compressor.  Like with many industries, the compressor system is the life blood of the company.  If the compressor fails, the whole facility will stop.  In this blog, I will share some maintenance items and schedules for air compressors. 

Because the cost to make compressed air is expensive, the compressed air system is considered to be a fourth utility.  With such an important investment, you would like to keep it operating as long and efficiently as possible.  To do this, it is recommended to get your air compressor a “checkup” every so often.  I will cover some important items to check.  Depending on the size and type of air compressor, some items may or may not apply.  It is always best to check with the manufacturer. 

Intake filter:  The intake filter is used to clean the air that is being drawn into the air compressor.  The better the filtration, the less debris that will get into your system.  Particles can damage the air pump mechanisms over time as well as plug filters and heat exchangers downstream.  If they are not properly monitored and cleaned, the air flow can be restricted.  This will cause the motor to operate harder and hotter. 

Compressor Oil:  This would be for flooded screws and reciprocating compressor that use oil to lubricate the bearings and sleeves in the air pump.  Most systems have an oil sight gage to verify levels.  The oil can also be checked for acidity which will tell the degree at which the oil is breaking down.  Just like the motor oil in your car, you will have to replace it out after so many hours of operation. 

Belts & couplings:  These items transmit the power from the motor to the air pump.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  You should have spares on hand in case of any failures.

Electric Motors:  A mechanical device that turns electric energy into rotational energy.  It is the main component that uses much energy to make compressed air.  So, some checks are required to foresee any potential issues and major shutdowns.  For the windings inside, the resistance should be measured with a multimeter, and it should fall within the motor’s specifications.  Another check should be on the start capacitor.  The start capacitor stores energy to give the motor a powerful boost to get it turning.  One other item is the centrifugal switch.  Just like the name states, it will disconnect the start capacitor when the motor starts spinning.  One other item for large electric motors is the phase convertor.  These are typically capacitors, and they are designed to keep the direction of a three-phase motors going in the correct rotation.  Both types of capacitors can be checked with a multimeter. 

Air/Oil Separators:  This filter removes as much oil from the compressed air before it travels downstream.  It returns the oil back to the sump of the air compressor.  If the Air/Oil Separator builds too much pressure drop, excess oil can travel downstream.  Not only will the air pump loose the required oil level, but it will affect the performance of downstream parts like your air dryer and after cooler.  Also, the pressure drop is a waste and can rob your air system of workable energy.  

Internal filters:  Many air compressors will come with an attached refrigerated air dryer.   With this type of air compressor, they will place coalescing filters to remove any residual oil.  These filters should be checked for pressure drop.  If the pressure drop gets too high, then it will rob your compressed air system of pressure, and you will not get the required performance.  Some filters come with a pressure drop indicator which can help you to determine the time to change the element.    

Unloader valve:  When the air compressor unloads, this valve helps to remove any of the compressed air that is trapped in the cavity.  When the air compressor restarts, it does not have to “work” against this air pressure.  If they do not fully unload, the air compressor will have to work harder to start, wasting energy.

Preventative maintenance is very important.  As for a schedule, I created a rough sequence to check, change, or clean certain items that are important to your air compressor.  You should also check with your local compressor representative for a more detailed maintenance schedule. 

Daily:

  • After stopping, remove any condensate from the receiver tank.
  • Check oil level. 

Monthly:

  • Inspect cooling fins on air pump.  Clean if necessary
  • Inspect oil cooler. Clean if necessary

Quarterly:

  • Inspect the inlet air filter.  Clean or replace if necessary. 
  • Check the belt for tension and cracks.  Tighten or replace.
  • Check differential pressure indicators on outlet compressed air filters.
  • Ohm check on the electric motor

Yearly:

  • Replace Air Inlet Filter
  • Replace the air-oil separator
  • Test safety valves and unloader valve
  • Replace compressed air filters
  • Change oil
  • Grease bearings if required

Keeping your air compressor running optimal is very important for pneumatic operations and energy savings.  To help your air compressor, you should also check your pneumatic system for optimization.  EXAIR manufactures engineered products that can blow, coat, clean, and cool at reduced air consumption rates; saving you money.  As an example, the model 1102 Mini Super Air Nozzle can save your company $1,872.00 per year for one blow-off device by replacing a 1/8” NPT open pipe.  You can contact an Application Engineer to determine how much EXAIR products can save your company and your air compressor.   

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

Image courtesy of Compressor1Creative commons license

Save Your Compressed Air Today with These Simple Methods

When discussing ROI, return on investment, for an industrial compressed air system it is necessary to  understand what it costs to produce compressed air.  Generally we calculate that it costs .25 cents to produce 1,000 SCF (Standard Cubic Feet) of compressed air here in the Midwest of the United States. For our example let’s consider a typical 250 HP industrial compressor running 24 hours per day/5 days per week for 52 weeks.  This compressor can generate 374,400,000 SCF per year, using the industry standard utility cost for the Midwest of .25 cents per 1,000 SCF it will cost $93,600 to produce that volume of compressed air.

To avoid wasting money on compressed air generation it is extremely important to eliminate unintended or wasteful compressed air use in your plant. The two main offenders are leaks and open tube blow-offs.  While soapy water is a good method for discovering leaks, EXAIR offers the Ultrasonic Leak Detector.  This handy device allows leaks to be detected at distances of up to 20′ away! Also consider how safe and convenient it is to find leaks in overhead pipes while standing on the ground instead of on a ladder. Using a tool like this to do an entire system leak audit can easily result in many small leaks being identified and when fixed result in a large savings.

open tubes
Thirteen Open Tube Blow-Offs

Now let’s look at what an open pipe or tube may consume. A single 1/4″ OD copper tube can use 33 SCFM @ 80 PSIG inlet pressure.  Using the manifold pictured above as our example with 13 open tubes, each tube can consume 33 SCFM @ 80 PSI inlet pressure. With 13 open tubes running 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks per year equates to a total consumption of  160,617,600 SCF annually.  If we installed the EXAIR model 1100 Super Air Nozzle  using a simple compression fitting we would reduce the air consumption dramatically.  The EXAIR 1100 Super Air Nozzle consumes 14 SCFM @ 80 PSIG inlet pressure, running 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks per year equates to a total consumption of 68,140,800 SCF annually.  That change will save you 92,476,800 SCF annually which is equal to $23,119.20 and 24.7% of air compressor capacity!  These calculations are all based on continuous running applications, if intermittent operation is possible consider the EXAIR Electronic Flow Control for even greater savings.  The EXAIR Electronic Flow Control combines a photoelectric sensor with timing control that limits compressed air use by turning it off when no part is present

Open pipe blow offs also violate OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.242(b) requirement for using compressed air for cleaning when pressurized above 30 PSIG. Not to mention they generally are louder than 90 dBA, which is the maximum allowable noise exposure without hearing protection under OSHA standard 29 CFR – 1910.95 (a). The EXAIR engineered Super Air Nozzle is a great way to avoid a OSHA fine.

A great product that will help you keep your fingers on the pulse of compressed air consumption and demand is by incorporating the EXAIR Digital Flow Meter.  This handy item mounts directly to the pipe.  The digital display shows the amount of compressed air being used in any leg of your distribution system.  The Digital Flow Meter is offered in sizes for 1/2″ – 4″ Schedule 40 Iron Pipe and 3/4″ – 4″ Copper Pipe.  It also is available with the Summing Remote Display that is prewired with a 50′ cable, it is powered by the Digital Flow Meter and with a push of the button will display either the current compressed air consumption, consumption for the previous 24 hours or the total cumulative usage.

The Digital Flowmeters are also available with wireless capability using the ZigBee mesh network protocol, data can be passed from meter to meter to extend the distance over which the wireless system can operate.  Each meter has a range of up to 100′ (30 meters). Or you can opt for the USB Data Logger option.  The USB Data Logger can store approximately 9 hours of readings if set to sample once every second or up to 2 years if sampled every 12 hours.

If you would like to talk about any of the quiet EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® products or our line of Optimization Products, feel free to contact me or any EXAIR  Application Engineer.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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