Air & Water DO Mix – Why That’s A Problem for Compressed Air Systems

Wherever you go, humidity – and its effects – are an inescapable fact of life. Low humidity areas (I’m looking at you, American Southwest) make for a “dry heat” in the summer that many prefer to the wet & muggy conditions that areas with higher humidity (like much of the rest of the United States) encounter during the “dog days” of summer.

Regardless of human comfort level issues, all atmospheric air contains water vapor in some finite proportion…in fact, next to nitrogen and oxygen, it makes up a bigger percentage of our air’s makeup than the next eleven trace gases combined:

Reference: CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, edited by David R. Lide, 1997.

And, because warmer air is capable of holding higher moisture concentrations (a 20°F rise in temperature doubles the potential for holding moisture), chances are good that it’ll become a bigger problem for your compressed air system in the summertime. So…how BAD of a problem is it? Let’s do some math. Consider a nice, typical summer day in the midwest, when it’s 80°F outside, with a relative humidity of 75% and we’ll use the data from the tables below to calculate how much water collects in the compressed air system:

Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3
Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3

Let’s assume:

  • An industrial air compressor is making compressed air at 100psig, and at a discharge temperature of 100°F.
  • The demand on the compressed air system (all the pneumatic loads it services) is 500 SCFM.

Table 3.3 tells us that, at 80°F and 75% RH, the air the compressor is pulling in has 0.1521 gallons per 1,000 cubic feet.

Table 3.4, tells us that, at 100°F and 100psig, the compressor is discharging air with a moisture content of 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet.

The difference in these two values is the amount of water that will condense in the receiver for every 1,000 SCF that passes through, or 0.1521-0.0478=0.1043 gallons. Since the demand (e.g., the air flow rate out of the receiver) is 500 SCFM, that’s:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.1043 gallons/1,000 SCF = 25 gallons of condensate

That’s 25 gallons that has to be drained from the receiver tank over the course of every eight hours, so a properly operating condensate drain is crucial. There are a few types to choose from, and the appropriate one is oftentimes included by the air compressor supplier.

So, you’ve got a condensate drain on your compressor’s receiver, and it’s working properly. Crisis averted, right? Well, not so fast…that 100°F compressed air is very likely going to cool down as it flows through the distribution header. Remember all that moisture that the hot air holds? Assuming the compressed air cools to 70°F in the header (a reasonable assumption in most industrial settings), a bunch of it is going to condense, and make its way to your air tools, cylinders, blow off devices, etc., which can cause a host of problems.

Reversible Drum Vacs have tight passages where contaminants (like pipe rust) can accumulate and hamper performance. Fortunately, they are designed to be easy to clean and returned to peak performance.

And…I trust you saw this coming…we’re going to calculate just how much condensation we have to worry about. Using table 3.4 again, we see that the header’s air (at 100psig & 70°F) can only hold 0.0182 gallons per 1,000 SCF. So, after cooling down from 100°F (where the air holds 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 SCF) to 70°F, that means 0.0296 gallons per 1,000 SCF will condense. So:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.0296 gal/1,000 SCF = 7.1 gallons of condensate

Qualified installers will have sloped the piping away from the compressor, with drip legs strategically placed at low points, so that condensate can drain, collect, and be disposed of…oftentimes via similar devices to the condensate drains you’ll find on the compressor’s main receiver. Good engineering practice, of course, dictates point-of-use filtration – EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators, with 5-micron particulate elements, and centrifugal elements for moisture removal, are also essential to prevent water problems for your compressed air operated products.

Good engineering practice calls for point of use filtration and moisture removal, such as that provided by EXAIR Filter Separators.

EXAIR Corporation remains dedicated to helping you get the most out of your compressed air system. If you have questions, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Compressed Air System Equipment – What You Need To Know

The use of compressed air in industry is so widespread that it’s long been called “the fourth utility” (along with electricity, water, and natural gas). As a function of energy consumption (running an air compressor) to energy generated (operation of pneumatic equipment), only 10-15% of the energy consumed is converted to usable energy stored as compressed air. Its “bang for the buck”, however, comes when you consider the total cost of ownership – yes, it costs a lot to generate, but:

  • It’s relatively safe, when compared to the risks of electrocution, combustion, and explosion associated with electricity & natural gas.
  • Air operated tools, equipment, and products are generally much cheaper than their electric, gas, or hydraulic powered counterparts.
  • Air operated products, like anything, require periodic maintenance, but oftentimes, that maintenance simply comes down to keeping the air supply clean and moisture free, unlike the extensive (and expensive) maintenance requirements of other industrial machinery.

Even with these advantages, though, it’s still critical to get all you can out of that 10-15% of the energy you’re consuming to make that compressed air, and that starts with having the right stuff in the right place. Now, all of the following “stuff” might not apply to every compressed air system. I once worked in a repair shop, for example, with a small compressor that was used for a couple of blow off guns, impact drivers, and a sidearm grinder. I’ve also done field service in facilities with hundreds of pneumatic cylinders & air motors that operated their machinery. Those places had even more “stuff” than I’m devoting space to in this blog, but here’s a list of the “usual suspects” that you’ll encounter in a properly designed compressed air system:

  • Air compressor. I mean, of course you need a compressor, but the size and type will be determined by how you’re going to use your air. The small repair shop I worked in had a 5HP reciprocating positive displacement compressor with a 50 gallon tank, and that was fine. The larger facilities I visited often had several 100 + HP dynamic centrifugal or axial compressors, which get more efficient with size.
  • Air preparation. This includes a number of components that can be used to cool, clean, and dry the air your compressor is generating:
    • Pressurizing a gas raises its temperature as well. Hot compressed air could cause unsafe surface temperatures and can damage gaskets, seals, and other components in the system. Smaller compressors might not have this problem, as the heat of compression is often dissipated through the wall of the receiver tank and the piping at a rate sufficient to keep the relatively low (and often intermittent) flow at a reasonable temperature. Larger compressors usually come with an aftercooler.
    • The air you compress likely has a certain amount of moisture in it…after nitrogen and oxygen, water vapor usually makes up more of the content of atmospheric air than all other trace gases combined. There are a number of air dryer types; selection will be dictated by the specifics of your facility.
    • Your air is going to have other contaminants in it too. We did welding & grinding in the repair shop where our compressor sat in the corner. We kept a few spare intake filters handy, and replaced them regularly. In conjunction with the aftercooler & dryer, larger industrial compressors will also have particulate filters for these solids. For extra protection, coalescing filters for oil vapor, and adsorption filters for other gases & liquid vapors, are specified.
  • Distribution. In the repair shop, we had a 3/4″ black iron pipe that ran across the ceiling, with a few tees & piping that brought the air down to the individual stations where we used it. The larger facilities I visited had larger variations of this “trunk and branch” type network, and some were even big enough to make use of a loop layout…these were especially popular when multiple air compressors were located throughout the facility. In addition to black iron, copper & aluminum pipe (but NEVER PVC) are commonly used too.
  • Condensate removal. The small repair shop compressor had a valve on the bottom of the tank with a small hose that we’d blow down into a plastic jug periodically. Larger systems will have more complex, and oftentimes automated condensate management systems.

So, that’s the system-wide “stuff” you’ll usually encounter in a properly designed compressed air system. After that, we’ll find a number of point-of-use components:

  • Air preparation, part 2. The compressor intake & discharge filtration mentioned above make sure that you’re putting clean air in the distribution piping. That’s fine if your distribution piping is corrosion resistant, like aluminum or copper, but black iron WILL corrode, and that’s why you need point-of-use filters. EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators have 5 micron particulate elements, and centrifugal elements that ‘spin’ any moisture out. If oil is an issue, our Oil Removal Filters have coalescing elements for oil/oil vapor removal, and they provide additional particulate protection to 0.03 microns.
  • Pressure control. Your compressor’s discharge pressure needs to be high enough to operate your pneumatic device(s) with the highest pressure demand. Odds are, though, that not everything in your plant needs to be operated at that pressure. EXAIR Pressure Regulators are a quick & easy way to ‘dial in’ the precise supply pressure needed for specific products so they can get the job done, without wasting compressed air.
  • Storage. This could also be considered system “stuff”, but I’m including it under point-of-use because that’s oftentimes the reason for intermediate storage. Having a ready supply of compressed air near an intermittent and/or large consumption device can ensure proper operation of that device, as well as others in the system that might be “robbed” when that device is actuated. They’re good for the system, too, as they can eliminate the need for higher header pressures, which cause higher operating costs, and increased potential for leaks. EXAIR Model 9500-60 60 Gallon Receiver Tanks are an ideal solution for these situations.

For more information on proper installation and use of compressed air system “stuff” like this, the Compressed Air & Gas Institute’s Compressed Air and Gas Handbook has a good deal of detailed information. The Air Data section of EXAIR’s own Knowledge Base is a great resource as well.

Of course, all the attention you can pay to efficiency on the supply side doesn’t matter near as much if you’re not paying attention to HOW you’re using your compressed air. EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Products are designed with efficiency, safety, and noise reduction in mind. Among the other ways my fellow Application Engineers and I can help you get the most out of your compressed air system, we’re also here to make sure you get the right products for your job. To find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Compressed Air Receiver Tanks On The “Demand” Side

Most any air compressor is going to have a receiver tank…from the “pancake” types that might hold a gallon or so, to the large, multi-tank arrangements that facilitate both cooling and drying of compressed air in major industrial installations.  The primary purpose of these receiver tanks is to maintain proper operation of the compressor itself…they store a pressurized volume of air so that the compressor doesn’t have to run all the time.  Receiver Tanks, however, can also be used to eliminate fluctuations at points of use, especially in facilities where there might be a lot of real estate between the compressor and the compressed air consuming products.

I recently had the pleasure of discussing an Line Vac Air Operated Conveyor application with a caller.  The need was to move wood chips, from inside to outside the plant, into trailers.  The facility has plenty of compressed air to operate the Line Vacs (the application calls for several) but because the point of operation is so far from the header, they’ll need a “stash” (the caller’s words…we call it “intermediate storage” but he’s not wrong) of compressed air to keep the Line Vacs supplied for operation without any dips in performance.

Enter the Model 9500-60 60 Gallon Receiver Tank.  When an application requires an intermittent demand for a high volume of compressed air, the Receiver Tank provides intermediate storage (or a “stash” – that word’s growing on me) to prevent pressure fluctuations and the associated dips in performance.

Model 9500-60 60 Gallon Receiver Tank

The Model 9500-60 has a small footprint for where floor space is at a premium, and meets ASME pressure vessel code specifications. It comes with a drain valve so you can discharge condensate and contaminants.  A check valve (not included) can be installed upstream to maintain the tank at max pressure so it doesn’t ‘back feed’ other upstream uses.

Use of intermediate storage near the point of use is one of our Six Steps To Optimizing Your Compressed Air System.  If you’d like to find out more about getting the most out of your compressed air, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Optimizing Compressed Air Systems in Six Easy Steps

Knowing your compressed air needs and understanding the limitations of your equipment is essential when optimizing your compressed air system. Everything about compressed air systems are interrelated. Items putting demand on your system can and will effect how the equipment supplying the demand will operate. Taking a holistic approach when optimizing your compressed air system will not only give you a better understanding of your supply and demand requirements but will also serve as the most efficient means to optimize your process. Now lets look at the six steps to optimizing.

  1. Measure: the air consumption You must create a baseline to understand your demand requirements. How can you measure your improvements if you do not understand your total demand or baseline? Installing an EXAIR Flow Meter to your main air lines will help identify the amount of compressed air demand you have and help identify areas of concern.
  2. Find and fix leaks in the system: The repair of compressed air leaks is one of easiest ways to gain energy savings. In most cases all you need is a keen sense of hearing to locate a leak. Once a you have confirmed a leak then the make the necessary repairs. Harder to find leaks may require tools such as EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector. This is a hand held high quality instrument that can be used to locate costly air leaks.
  3. Upgrade your blow off, cooling and drying operations: Updating your compressed air process tooling can save you energy and help you comply with OSHA noise and safety regulations. An example would be to replace old blow off or open pipe systems with EXAIR Safety Air Nozzles. Replacing open copper tubes or pipes can amount up to 80% air savings. You achieve lower sound levels and significant energy savings.
  4. Turn off the compressed air when it isn’t in use: It sounds obvious but how many times has an operator left for a break or lunch and doesn’t shut off the compressed air for his/her station? The minutes add up to a significant amount of time annually meaning there is opportunity for energy savings. The use of solenoid valves will help but EXAIR’s Electronic Flow Control (EFC) will dramatically reduce compressed air costs with the use of a photoelectric sensor and timing control.
  5. Use intermediate storage of compressed air near the point of use: The use of storage receivers can improve your overall system efficiency in a number of ways. For example, using a main air receiver at the compressor room can make load/unload compressor control more efficient. Localizing receiver tanks such as EXAIR’s 9500-60 sixty gallon receiver tank by the point of use for a high demand process will stabilize the demand fluctuations allowing a more fluid operation.
  6. Control the air pressure at the point of use to minimize air consumption: The use of pressure regulators will resolve this issue. Using regulators you can control the amount of air being processed at each point of use. EXAIR offers different sized pressure regulators depending upon your air line and process requirements. Regulating the compressed air to the minimum amount required and will reduce your overall demand resulting in annual savings and a payback schedule.

Compressed air optimization can definitely be implemented using low cost and manual procedures but sometimes you will need a higher level means to achieve your goal. EXAIR has many optimization products to support your efforts. You can review our catalog, blogs and videos at www.EXAIR.com or by calling 800.903.9247 and any of our qualified Application Engineers will assist you.

Eric Kuhnash
Application Engineer
E-mail: EricKuhnash@exair.com
Twitter: Twitter: @EXAIR_EK