Air: What is it?

Air Balloons

What is Air? Air is an invisible gas that supports life on earth. Dry air is made from a mixture of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% of remaining gases like carbon dioxide and other inert gases.  Ambient air contains an average of 1% water vapor, and it has a density of 0.0749 Lbs./cubic foot (1.22 Kg/cubic meter) at standard conditions.  Air that surrounds us does not have a smell, color, or taste, but it is considered a fluid as it follows the rules of fluid dynamics. But unlike liquids, gases like air are compressible.  Once we discovered the potential of compressing the surrounding air, we were able to advance many technologies.


Guess when the earliest air compressor was used?  Believe it or not, it was when we started to breathe air.  Our diaphragms are like compressors.  It pulls and pushes the air in and out of our lungs.  We can generate up to 1.2 PSI (80 mbar) of air pressure.  During the iron age, hotter fires were required for smelting.  Around 1500 B.C., a new type of air compressor was created, called a bellows.  You probably seen them hanging by the fireplaces.  It is a hand-held device with a flexible bag that you squeeze together to compress the air.  The high stream of air was able to get higher temperature fires to melt metals.

Then we started to move into the industrial era.  Air compressors were used in mining industries to move air into deep caverns and shafts.  Then as the manufacturing technologies advanced, the requirements for higher air pressures were needed.  The stored energy created by compressing the air allowed us to develop better pneumatic systems for manufacturing, automation, and construction.  I do not know what the future holds in compressed air systems, but I am excited to find out.

Since air is a gas, it will follow the basic rules of the ideal gas law;

PV = nRT  (Equation 1)

P – Pressure

V – Volume

n – Amount of gas in moles

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Temperature

If we express the equation in an isothermal process (same temperature), we can see how the volume and pressure are related.  The equation for two different states of a gas can be written as follows:

P1 * V1 = P2 * V2  (Equation 2)

P1 – Pressure at initial state 1

V1 – Volume at initial state 1

P2 – Pressure at changed state 2

V2 – Volume at changed state 2

If we solve for P2, we have:

P2 = (P1 * V1)/V2  (Equation 3)

In looking at Equation 3, if the volume, V2, gets smaller, the pressure, P2, gets higher.  This is the idea behind how air compressors work.  They decrease the volume inside a chamber to increase the pressure of the air.  Most industrial compressors will compress the air to about 125 PSI (8.5 bar).  A PSI is a pound of force over a square inch.  For metric pressure, a bar is a kg of force over a square centimeter.  So, at 125 PSI, there will be 125 pounds of force over a 1” X 1” square.  This amount of potential energy is very useful to do work for pneumatic equipment.  To simplify the system, the air gets compressed, stored as energy, released as work and is ready to be used again in the cycle.

Air Compressor

Compressed air is a clean utility that is used in many different applications.  It is much safer than electrical or hydraulic systems.  Since air is all around us, it is an abundant commodity for air compressors to use.  But because of the compressibility factor of air, much energy is required to create enough pressure in a typical system.  It takes roughly 1 horsepower (746 watts) of power to compress 4 cubic feet of air (113L) to 125 PSI (8.5 bar) every minute.  With almost every manufacturing plant in the world utilizing compressed air in one form or another, the amount of energy used to compress air is extraordinary.  So, utilizing compressed air as efficiently as possible is mandatory.  Air is free, but making compressed air is expensive

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


Picture: Hot Air Rises by Paul VanDerWerf. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Picture: Bellows by Joanna Bourne. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Picture: Air Compressor by Chris Bartle. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Keys to an Efficient Compressed Air System

How do I make our compressed air system efficient?

This is a critical question which plagues facilities maintenance, engineering, and operational personnel.  There are concerns over what is most important, how to approach efficiency implementation, and available products/services to assist in implementation.  In order to address these concerns (and others), we must first look at what a compressed air system is designed to do and the common disruptions which lead to inefficiency.

The primary object of a compressed air system is to transport the compressed air from its point of production (the compressors) to its point of use (applications) in sufficient quantity and quality, and at adequate pressure for proper operation of air-driven devices.[1]  In order for a compressed air system to do so, the compressed air must be able to reach its intended destination in proper volume and pressure.  And, in order to do this, pressure drops due to improper plumbing must be eliminated, and compressed air leakage must be eliminated/kept to a minimum.

But, before these can be properly addressed, we must create a pressure profile to determine baseline operating pressures and system needs.  After developing a pressure profile and creating a target system operating pressure, we can move on to the items mentioned above – plumbing and leaks.

Proper plumbing and leakage elimination

The transportation of the compressed air happens primarily via piping, fittings, valves, and hoses – each of which must be properly sized for the compressed air-driven device at the point of use.  If the compressed air piping/plumbing is undersized, increased system (main line) pressures will be needed, which in-turn create an unnecessary increase in energy costs.

In addition to the increased energy costs mentioned above, operating the system at a higher pressure will cause all end use devices to consume more air and leakage rates to increase.  This increase is referred to as artificial demand, and can consume as much as 30% of the compressed air in an inefficient compressed air system.[2]

But, artificial demand isn’t limited to increased consumption due to higher system pressures.  Leaks in the compressed air system place a tremendous strain on maintaining proper pressures and end-use performance.  The more leaks in the system, the higher the main line pressure must be to provide proper pressure and flow to end use devices.  So, if we can reduce leakage in the system, we can reduce the overall system pressure, significantly reducing energy cost.


How to implement solutions

Understanding the impact of an efficient compressed air system is only half of the equation.  The other half comes down to implementation of the solutions mentioned above.  In order to maintain the desired system pressure we must have proper plumbing in place, reduce leaks, and perhaps most importantly, take advantage of engineered solutions for point-of-use compressed air demand.

The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector being used to check for leaks

Once proper plumbing is confirmed and no artificial demands are occurring due to elevated system pressures, leaks in the system should be addressed.  Compressed air leaks are common at connection points and can be found using an ultrasonic noise sensing device such as our Ultrasonic Leak Detector (ULD).  The ULD will reduce the ultrasonic sound to an audible level, allowing you to tag leaks and repair them.  We have a video showing the function and use of the ULD here, and an excellent writeup about the financial impact of finding and fixing leaks here.

The EXAIR catalog – full of engineered solutions for point-of-use compressed air products.

With proper plumbing in place and leaks fixed, we can now turn our attention to the biggest use of compressed air within the system – the intended point of use.  This is the end point in the compressed air system where the air is designed to be used.  This can be for blow off purposes, cleaning, conveying, cooling, or even static elimination.

These points of use are what we at EXAIR have spent the last 34 years engineering and perfecting.  We’ve developed designs which maximize the use of compressed air, reduce consumption to absolute minimums, and add safety for effected personnel.  All of our products meet OSHA dead end pressure requirements and are manufactured to RoHS, CE, UL, and REACH compliance.

If you’re interested in maximizing the efficiency of your compressed air system, contact one of our Application Engineers.  We’ll help walk you through the pressure profile, leak detection, and point-of-use engineered solutions.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer


[1] Compressed Air Handbook, Compressed Air & Gas Institute, pg. 204

[2] Energy Tips – Compressed Air, U.S. Department of Energy

Estimating the Cost of Compressed Air Systems Leaks

Leaks in a compressed air system can waste thousands of dollars of electricity per year. In fact, in many plants, the leakage can account for up to 30% of the total operational cost of the compressor. Some of the most common areas where you might find a leak would be at connection joints like valves, unions, couplings, fittings, etc. This not only wastes energy but it can also cause the compressed air system to lose pressure which reduces the end use product’s performance, like an air operated actuator being unable to close a valve, for instance.

One way to estimate how much leakage a system has is to turn off all of the point-of-use devices / pneumatic tools, then start the compressor and record the average time it takes for the compressor to cycle on and off. The total percentage of leakage can be calculated as follows:

Percentage = [(T x 100) / (T + t)]

T = on time in minutes
t = off time in minutes

The percentage of compressor capacity that is lost should be under 10% for a system that is properly maintained.

Another method to calculate the amount of leakage in a system is by using a downstream pressure gauge from a receiver tank. You would need to know the total volume in the system at this point though to accurately estimate the leakage. As the compressor starts to cycle on,  you want to allow the system to reach the nominal operating pressure for the process and record the length of time it takes for the pressure to drop to a lower level. As stated above, any leakage more than 10% shows that improvements could be made in the system.


(V x (P1 – P2) / T x 14.7) x 1.25

V= Volumetric Flow (CFM)
P1 = Operating Pressure (PSIG)
P2 =  Lower Pressure (PSIG)
T = Time (minutes)
14.7 = Atmospheric Pressure
1.25 = correction factor to figure the amount of leakage as the pressure drops in the system

Now that we’ve covered how to estimate the amount of leakage there might be in a system, we can now look at the cost of a leak. For this example, we will consider a leak point to be the equivalent to a 1/16″ diameter hole.

A 1/16″ diameter hole is going to flow close to 3.8 SCFM @ 80 PSIG supply pressure. An industrial sized air compressor uses about 1 horsepower of energy to make roughly 4 SCFM of compressed air. Many plants know their actual energy costs but if not, a reasonable average to use is $0.25/1,000 SCF generated.

Calculation :

3.8 SCFM (consumed) x 60 minutes x $ 0.25 divided by 1,000 SCF

= $ 0.06 per hour
= $ 0.48 per 8 hour work shift
= $ 2.40 per 5-day work week
= $ 124.80 per year (based on 52 weeks)

As you can see, that’s a lot of money and energy being lost to just one small leak. More than likely, this wouldn’t be the only leak in the system so it wouldn’t take long for the cost to quickly add up for several leaks of this size.

If you’d like to discuss how EXAIR products can help identify and locate costly leaks in your compressed air system, please contact one of our application engineers at 800-903-9247.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer






What’s So “Super” About The Super Air Amplifier?

EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Products such as (left to right) the Air Wipe, Super Air Knife, Super Air Nozzle, and Air Amplifier are engineered to entrain enormous amounts of free air from the surrounding environment.

“Free air” from the surrounding environment?  You might think it’s too good to be true, and if you think you’re getting something for nothing, you’re right.  If you consider, though, that it’s oftentimes preferable to work smarter, not harder, then the use of engineered compressed air products is too good NOT to be true.  Case in point: the Super Air Amplifier.

The Coanda Effect is the “work smarter, not harder” part of the Super Air Amplifier

Simple and low cost, (hey, “engineered” doesn’t necessarily mean “complex and expensive”) the EXAIR Super Air Amplifier uses a small amount of compressed air to generate a tremendous amount of air flow through entrainment.  How much do they pull in?  Depending on the model, they entrain air at rates of 12:1 (for the 3/4″ Model 120020) to 25:1 (4″ & 8″ Models 120024 & 120028, respectively.)  The larger diameters mean there’s more cross sectional area to entrain air, so there is indeed efficiency to scale, size-wise.  There are a couple of great visuals in this video, if you want to see the entrainment in action (1:50) or the difference that the entrainment makes (1:30):


Where can you use a Super Air Amplifier?  The easy answer is, anyplace you want a consistent, reliable air flow.  The pressure supply can be regulated from a “blast to a breeze,” depending on the needs of your application.  The patented shim can be replaced for even higher performance, while maintaining the efficiency that makes it so valuable.  The balanced flow makes for incredibly quiet operation…no more noisy fans, blowers, or open-end compressed air pipes.  The body (3/4″ to 4″ sizes) is cast with a 2-hole flange for ease of installation.

When can you use a Super Air Amplifier?  Another easy answer: anytime you want.  If you need a continuous air flow, there are no moving parts to wear or electrical components to burn out.  Supply them clean, dry air, and they’ll run darn near indefinitely, maintenance free.

Alternately, if you need intermittent air flow, starting & stopping operation is as simple as opening & closing a valve in the compressed air supply line.  They produce rated flow immediately, and cut it off just as fast.

Some of the more popular applications are ventilation/exhaust, cooling, drying, cleaning, and dust collection.  There are five distinct models to choose from, and they’re all in stock.  We’re also happy to discuss special requirements that might lead to a custom product too.  Our Application Engineers work with Design & Production all the time to meet specific needs of particular situations.

If you’d like to find out more about letting the Super Air Amplifier, or any of EXAIR’s Intelligent Compressed Air Products work smarter for you, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Video Blog: Digital Flowmeter Installation

Brian Farno and I were working on a conveyor project recently. Part of the piping installation included installation of a Digital Flowmeter. We thought we would capture the process so you can see how easy it is to put one into service.  Enjoy!

Neal Raker, Application Engineer