How to Calculate and Avoid Compressed Air Pressure Drop in Systems

EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983.  They are engineered with the highest of quality, efficiency, safety, and effectiveness in mind.  Since compressed air is the source for operation, the limitations can be defined by its supply.  With EXAIR products and pneumatic equipment, you will need a way to transfer the compressed air from the air compressor.  There are three main ways; pipes, hoses and tubes.  In this blog, I will compare the difference between compressed air hoses and compressed air tubes.

The basic difference between a compressed air hose and a compressed air tube is the way the diameter is defined.    A hose is measured by the inner diameter while a tube is measured by the outer diameter.  As an example, a 3/8” compressed air hose has an inner diameter of 3/8”.  While a 3/8” compressed air tube has an outer diameter that measures 3/8”.  Thus, for the same dimensional reference, the inner diameter for the tube will be smaller than the hose.

Why do I bring this up?  Pressure drop…  Pressure Drop is a waste of energy, and it reduces the ability of your compressed air system to do work.  To reduce waste, we need to reduce pressure drop.  If we look at the equation for pressure drop, DP, we can find the factors that play an important role.  Equation 1 shows a reference equation for pressure drop.

Equation 1:

DP = Sx * f * Q1.85 * L / (ID5 * P)

DP – Pressure Drop

Sx – Scalar value

f – friction factor

Q – Flow at standard conditions

L – Length of pipe

ID – Inside Diameter

P – Absolute Pressure

 

From Equation 1, differential pressure is controlled by the friction of the wall surface, the flow of compressed air, the length of the pipe, the diameter of the pipe, and the inlet pressure.  As you can see, the pressure drop, DP, is inversely affected by the inner diameter to the fifth power.  So, if the inner diameter of the pipe is twice as small, the pressure drop will increase by 25, or 32 times.

Let’s revisit the 3/8” hose and 3/8” tube.  The 3/8” hose has an inner diameter of 0.375”, and the 3/8” tube has an inner diameter of 0.25”.  In keeping the same variables except for the diameter, we can make a pressure drop comparison.  In Equation 2, I will use DPt and DPh for the pressure drop within the tube and hose respectively.

Equation 2:

DPt / DPh = (Dh)5 / (Dt)5

DPt – Pressure drop of tube

DPh – Pressure Drop of hose

Dh – Inner Diameter of hose

Dt – Inner Diameter of tube

Thus, DPt / DPh = (0.375”)5 / (0.25”)5 = 7.6

As you can see, by using a 3/8” tube in the process instead of the 3/8” hose, the pressure drop will be 7.6 times higher.

Diameters: 3/8″ Pipe vs. 3/8″ tube

At EXAIR, we want to make sure that our customers are able to get the most from our products.  To do this, we need to properly size the compressed air lines.  Within our installation sheets for our Super Air Knives, we recommend the infeed pipe sizes for each air knife at different lengths.

There is also an excerpt about replacing schedule 40 pipe with a compressed air hose.  We state; “If compressed air hose is used, always go one size larger than the recommended pipe size due to the smaller I.D. of hose”.  Here is the reason.  The 1/4” NPT Schedule 40 pipe has an inner diameter of 0.364” (9.2mm).  Since the 3/8” compressed air hose has an inner diameter of 0.375” (9.5mm), the diameter will not create any additional pressure drop.  Some industrial facilities like to use compressed air tubing instead of hoses.  This is fine as long as the inner diameters match appropriately with the recommended pipe in the installation sheets.  Then you can reduce any waste from pressure drop and get the most from the EXAIR products.

With the diameter being such a significant role in creating pressure drop, it is very important to understand the type of connections to your pneumatic devices; i.e. hoses, pipes, or tubes.  In most cases, this is the reason for pneumatic products to underperform, as well as wasting energy within your compressed air system.  If you would like to discuss further the ways to save energy and reduce pressure drop, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to assist you.

 

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

People of Interest: Daniel Bernoulli – 2/8/1700 to 3/17/1782

Daniel Bernoulli was born in Groningen, Netherlands on February 8, 1700  and was part of a large family heritage of famous mathematicians – His father Johann Bernoulli, one of the first founders of calculus, his uncle Jacob Bernoulli and his older brother Nicolous. When he was only 7 years old, Daniel began to take an interest in mathematics but his father convinced him that there was no financial gain to be had in mathematics and recommended he focus his studies in business instead. Reluctant at first, Daniel would take his father’s advice under the one condition, that his father would tutor him in calculus and his theories of kinetic energy.

At 13 years old, Daniel attended Basel University where he studied logic and philosophy completing his bachelor’s degree by the age of 15 and earning his master’s degree just 1 year later. Over the years, Daniel’s relationship with his father was strained as a result of him plagiarizing his father’s findings. Eventually, his father passed without reconciling with Daniel. At 24, Daniel became a Professor of Mathematics  at a University in Venice but resigned from the position just 9 years later in 1733.

His most recognized mathematical contribution, Bernoulli’s principle, came in 1938 while performing energy conservation experiments, and he published the results in his book entitled Hydrodynamica . He discovered that when fluid travels through a wide pipe into a smaller, more narrow pipe, the fluid begins to move  faster. He determined that the volume or amount of fluid moving through the pipe remains unchanged but will conform to the shape of the pipe or container as it flows. He concluded that the higher the pressure, the slower the flow of the liquid and the lower the pressure, the faster the liquid flow.

The same principle can be applied to air. As air moves around an obstruction or object, it follows the profile of the part and begins to speed up.

Take for example our Super Air Nozzles. The compressed air exits the nozzle through a series of jets which induces a low pressure around the profile of the nozzle, drawing in ambient air. This entrainment of air, up to 25 times or more, results in a high outlet flow at minimal compressed air consumption.

Super Air Nozzle air entrainment

Many of the products offered by EXAIR incorporate this science which can lead to a more efficient operation by lowering compressed air demand ultimately reducing operating costs. To see how our products can help you save money while increasing process performance, contact an Application Engineer for assistance.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

 

Bildnis des Daniel Bernoullius image courtesy of Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig via creative commons license

 

3 Common Mistakes in Your Compressed Air System

Every day I speak with engineers who are having trouble using compressed air products. A common problem they have is not providing an adequate air supply to their unit. I go through a basic troubleshooting technique to ensure that their pressure and flow rate is adequate. I ask them to install tee on the inlet to the compressed air product in order to install a pressure gauge right at the inlet to the pipe. This allows us to know exactly what pressure we are supplying to the product. Customers are always surprised how the gauge on the compressor or the regulator may read 120 PSIG, but the gage on the inlet to the compressed air product is significantly less.

Last year, my colleague, Russell Bowman, made an excellent video showing how the inlet pressure at the knife will have a significant impact on the performance of the Super Air Knife.  In the video, he changes the length and ID of the compressed air supply to illustrate the difference a proper supply line will have on the performance of a compressed air products.

Not providing adequate air supply is commonly caused by these three mistakes, when plumbing compressed air systems.

1. Incorrectly Sized Piping – This can be the single biggest problem. A lack of planning before installing a compressed air product. Not all compressed air systems are created equal. Though a 1/4″ shop air hose may work for a number our products, some of our products require a larger air line because they require more volume of air to be effective. We often speak with customers an illustrate this problem by stating small air lines are like trying to feed a fire hose with a garden hose – there simply is not enough volume to create the pressure necessary to reach the fire, or solve the application in our scenarios. We publish the flow rates for all of our products and make inlet pipe size recommendation in the installation and maintenance guide furnish with the products so you may avoid this common problem. We also have air data tables in our Knowledge Base or  you may consult an application engineer who will be happy to make the proper recommendation.

2. Quick Disconnects – These handy connectors are great when operating a brad nailer, or a small blow gun, but the small through diameter can severely limit the flow rate into a long air knife, large diameter air operated conveyor, or big vortex tubes.  Due to this fact it is strongly advised to use threaded fittings or over-sized quick disconnects.

3. Adding extra hose or pipe – Extra hose is never a bad thing, right? No, an extra 30 feet of air hose can significantly drop the pressure of a compressed air system. 20 feet of ½ Pipe can flow 70 CFM with a 5 PSI pressure drop.  50 feet of ½” pipe will only flow 42 SCFM with the same 5 PSIG pressure drop. Keep your hose or pipe lengths to a minimum to improve the volume of air you can deliver to a compressed air product.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
DaveWoerner@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_DW

Compressed Air Calculations, Optimization, and Tips

EXAIR uses our blog platform to communicate everything from new product announcements to personal interests to safe and efficient use of compressed air. We have recently passed our 5 year anniversary of posting blogs (hard for us to believe) and I thought it appropriate to share a few of the entries which explain some more of the technical aspects of compressed air.

Here is a good blog explaining EXAIR’s 6 steps to optimization, a useful process for improving your compressed air efficiency:


One of the Above 6 steps is to provide secondary storage, a receiver tank, to eliminate pressure drops from high use intermittent applications. This blog entry addresses how to size a receiver tank properly:

Here are 5 things everyone should know about compressed air, including how to calculate the cost of compressed air:

These next few entries address a common issue we regularly assist customers with, compressed air plumbing:

In a recent blog post we discuss how to improve the efficiency of your point of use applications:

Thanks for supporting our blog over the past 5 years, we appreciate it. If you need any support with your sustainability or safety initiatives, or with your compressed air applications please contact us.  

Have a great day,
Kirk Edwards
@EXAIR_KE

How to Size Pipes for Your Compressed Air System

Most facility’s compressed air systems have evolved over time. A spur added here a spur added there. Eventually pressure drop issues develop. Common practice is to increase the air pressure at the compressor. While it may address the symptom it does not address the problem and is very costly. For every 2 PSI increase in pressure requires 1% more energy.

A properly designed system will be a loop with spurs. This will ensure all airsystem

drops will share the air equally. The header loop should be able to carry all the air the compressor is capable of producing.  Best practices suggest the distribution header should be sized to allow an air velocity not to exceed 30 ft/second. The formula to calculate this is:

A =    144 * Q * Pa
       V *60 x (Pd +Pa)

Pipe Diameter = √ (A*4/3.14)

Where:

A = cross sectional area if the pipe bore in square inches or ∏ x diameter squared / 4
Q = Flow rate SCFM
Pa = Prevailing absolute pressure. Sea level is 14.7
Pd = compressor gauge pressure minus prevailing absolute pressure
V = Design pipe velocity ft/sec

Example: Size a header for 500 SCFM at 100 PSI at an elevation at sea level

A = 144 x 500 x 14.7 / 30 x 60 (100 + 14.7) = 5.13  square inches

Pipe diameter then is square root of  (5.13 * 4) / 3.14 = 2.56″

So an 2.56″  internal diameter pipe would be the proper size header.

The same formula can be used to calculate the sizes of the drops. In this case you would use the demand flow rate for Q.

Joe Panfalone
Application Engineer
Phone (513) 671-3322
Fax (513) 671-3363
Web: http://www.exair.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/exair_jp
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/exair