Understanding Compressed Air Supply Piping

An important component of your compressed air system is the supply piping. The piping will be the middle man that connects your entire facility to the compressor. Before installing pipe, it is important to consider how the compressed air will be consumed at the point of use.  You’ll also need to consider the types of fittings you’ll use, the size of the distribution piping, and whether you plan to add additional equipment in the next few years. If so, it is important that the system is designed to accommodate any potential expansion. This also helps to compensate for potential scale build-up (depending on the material of construction) that will restrict airflow through the pipe.

Air Compressor
Air Compressor and Storage Tanks

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine your air compressor’s maximum CFM and the necessary operating pressure for your point of use products. Keep in mind, operating at a lower pressure can dramatically reduce overall operating costs. Depending on a variety of factors (elevation, temperature, relative humidity) this can be different than what is listed on directly on the compressor. (For a discussion of how this impacts the capacity of your compressor, check out one of our previous blogs – Intelligent Compressed Air: SCFM, ACFM, ICFM, CFM – What do these terms mean?)

Once you’ve determined your compressor’s maximum CFM, draw a schematic of the necessary piping and list out the length of each straight pipe run. Determine the total length of pipe needed for the system. Using a graph or chart, such as this one from Engineering Toolbox. Locate your compressor’s capacity on the y-axis and the required operating pressure along the x-axis. The point at which these values meet will be the recommended MINIMUM pipe size. If you plan on future expansion, now is a good time to move up to the next pipe size to avoid any potential headache.

After determining the appropriate pipe size, you’ll need to consider how everything will begin to fit together. According to the Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems from the Compressed Air Challenge, the air should enter the compressed air header at a 45° angle, in the direction of flow and always through wide-radius elbows. A sharp angle anywhere in the piping system will result in an unnecessary pressure drop. When the air must make a sharp turn, it is forced to slow down. This causes turbulence within the pipe as the air slams into the insides of the pipe and wastes energy. A 90° bend can cause as much as 3-5 psi of pressure loss. Replacing 90° bends with 45° bends instead eliminates unnecessary pressure loss across the system.

Pressure drop through the pipe is caused by the friction of the air mass making contact with the inside walls of the pipe. This is a function of the volume of flow through the pipe. Larger diameter pipes will result in a lower pressure drop, and vice versa for smaller diameter pipes. The chart below from the Compressed Air and Gas Institute Handbook provides the pressure drop that can be expected at varying CFM for 2”, 3”, and 4” ID pipe.

Air Pressure Drop

To discuss your application and how an EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Product can help your process, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge and thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.

Line Loss: What It Means To Your Compressed Air Supply Pipe, Tubing, And Hose

“Leave the gun. Take the canolli.”

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!”

“This EXAIR 42 inch Super Air Knife has ¼ NPT ports, but the Installation and Operation Instructions recommend feeding it with, at a minimum, a ¾ inch pipe…”

If you’re a movie buff like me, you probably recognize 75% of those quotes from famous movies. The OTHER one, dear reader, is from a production that strikes at the heart of this blog, and we’ll watch it soon enough. But first…

It is indeed a common question, especially with our Air Knives: if they have 1/4 NPT ports, why is such a large infeed supply pipe needed?  It all comes down to friction, which slows the velocity of the fluid all by itself, and also causes turbulence, which further hampers the flow.  This means you won’t have as much pressure at the end of the line as you do at the start, and the longer the line, the greater this drop will be.

This is from the Installation & Operation Guide that ships with your Super Air Knife. It’s also available from our PDF Library (registration required.)

If you want to do the math, here’s the empirical formula.  Like all good scientific work, it’s in metric units, so you may have to use some unit conversions, which I’ve put below, in blue (you’re welcome):

dp = 7.57 q1.85 L 104 / (d5 p)


dp = pressure drop (kg/cm2) 1 kg/cm2=14.22psi

q = air volume flow at atmospheric conditions (FAD, or ‘free air delivery’) (m3/min) 1 m3/min = 35.31 CFM

L = length of pipe (m) 1m = 3.28ft

d = inside diameter of pipe (mm) 1mm = 0.039”

p = initial pressure – abs (kg/cm2) 1 kg/cm2=14.22psi

Let’s solve a problem:  What’s the pressure drop going to be from a header @80psig, through 10ft of 1″ pipe, feeding a Model 110084 84″ Aluminum Super Air Knife (243.6 SCFM compressed air consumption @80psig)…so…

q = 243.6 SCFM, or 6.9 m3/min

L = 10ft, or 3.0 m

d = 1″, or 25.6 mm

p = 80psig, or 94.7psia, or 6.7 kg/cm2

1.5 psi is a perfectly acceptable drop…but what if the pipe was actually 50 feet long?

Again, 1.5 psi isn’t bad at all.  8.2 psi, however, is going to be noticeable.  That’s why we’re going to recommend a 1-1/4″ pipe for this length (d=1.25″, or 32.1 mm):

I’m feeling much better now!  Oh, I said we were going to watch a movie earlier…here it is:

If you have questions about compressed air, we’re eager to hear them.   Call us.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Proper Supply Lines are Key to Air Knife Performance

A few weeks back I chatted with a customer on an Air Knife application where they were using our 48″ aluminum Super Air Knife to remove leftover dough from a baking pan. The knife was working somewhat, but they were seeing some residual dough being left in certain areas on the pans due to what they perceived as “weak” airflow. After reading through our catalog and installation guide, they noticed that there were available shim sets that would allow them to increase the gap setting to get more force and flow out of the knife.

Available in lengths from 3″ to 108″ in aluminum, 303ss or 316ss construction

Our aluminum Super Air Knives are shipped from stock with a .002″ shim installed. The optional shim set includes a .001″, .003″ and .004″ shim that would allow you to decrease or increase the performance. By operating the Super Air Knife with the .003″ shim installed, this would increase the force and flow by 1.5 times and using the .004″ shim would double the performance. Sometimes achieving greater force and flow may be required but with the customer saying they were seeing weak airflow, it seemed there may be a restriction on the supply side.

Super Air Knife with Shim Set

I asked the customer how the knife was plumbed and what size supply lines he was using. He advised that they were plumbing air to all 3 inlets on the bottom of the knife but they were using 3/4″ hose with a run of about 30′. I advised the customer that plumbing air to all 3 inlets is required for a 48″ Super Air Knife but we actually recommend 3/4″ Schedule 40 Pipe up to 10′ or 1″ pipe up to 50′. If using hose, he would need to go up a size to maintain a large enough ID to carry the volume required for the unit. In his case, since the length of the supply is close to 30′, he would need to use 1-1/4″ ID hose.

Improper plumbing line size is a common issue we deal with here at EXAIR. Using undersized supply lines can cause excessive pressure drops because they aren’t able to carry the volume of air necessary to properly supply the compressed air device. In this particular application, if the customer were to install either the .003″ or .004″ shim, while keeping his current plumbing size, the performance would actually be worse as now the lines are even more undersized due to the increased air volume requirement from the larger Super Air Knife gap.

If you are looking to change the performance with one of our Air Knives or if you would like to discuss a particular application or product, please contact one of our application engineers for assistance at 800-903-9247.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer

Proper Supply Line Size And Fittings Provide Peak Performance

Many times when we provide the air consumption of an EXAIR product, we get a response like…. “I’ve got plenty of pressure, we run at around 100 PSIG”. While having the correct pressure available is important, it doesn’t make up for the volume requirement or SCFM (Standard Cubic Feet per Minute) needed to maintain that pressure. We commonly reference trying to supply water to a fire hose with a garden hose, it is the same principle, in regards to compressed air.

When looking to maintain an efficient compressed air system, it’s important that you use properly sized supply lines and fittings to  support the air demand (SCFM) of the point-of-use device. The smaller the ID and the longer the length of run, it becomes more difficult for the air to travel through the system. Undersized supply lines or piping can sometimes be the biggest culprit in a compressed air system as they can lead to severe pressure drops or the loss of pressure from the compressor to the end use product.

Take for example our 18″ Super Air Knife. A 18″ Super Air Knife will consume 52.2 SCFM at 80 PSIG. We recommend using 1/2″ Schedule 40 pipe up to 10′ or 3/4″ pipe up to 50′. The reason you need to increase the pipe size after 10′ of run is that 1/2″ pipe can flow close to 100 SCFM up to 10′ but for a 50′ length it can only flow 42 SCFM. On the other hand, 3/4″ pipe is able to flow 100 SCFM up to 50′ so this will allow you to carry the volume needed to the inlet of the knife, without losing pressure through the line.

Pipe size chart for the Super Air Knife

We also explain how performance can be negatively affected by improper plumbing in the following short video:


Another problem area is using restrictive fittings, like quick disconnects. While this may be useful with common everyday pneumatic tools, like an impact wrench or nail gun, they can severely limit the volumetric flow to a device requiring more air , like a longer length air knife.

1/4″ Quick Connect

For example, looking at the above 1/4″ quick disconnect, the ID of the fitting is much smaller than the NPT connection size. In this case, it is measuring close to .192″. If you were using a device like our Super Air Knife that features 1/4″ FNPT inlets, even though you are providing the correct thread size, the small inside diameter of the quick disconnect causes too much of a restriction for the volume (SCFM) required to properly support the knife, resulting in a pressure drop through the line, reducing the overall performance.

If you have any questions about compressed air applications or supply lines, please contact one of our application engineers for assistance.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer

Proper Plumbing Means Proper Performance

36″ Aluminum Super Air Knife being used in a monofilament extrusion line

An EXAIR customer recently contacted me about the application shown above, using an aluminum Super Air Knife model 110036 as a component to a blow off application in a monofilament extrusion line.  The extrusions from this line are used in one of the end user’s main product lines, a personal health device used by over a billion people around the world.

The original problem of drying the extrusions can certainly be solved with the setup shown, but the output force from the knife was less than what the customer expected, and below the EXAIR published data.  We take great care in the collection and verification of our performance data, so this prompted a deeper dive into the application to determine what could be the cause.

Immediately upon seeing the application photos, there were two things which stood out.  The first was the angle of attack of the knife, and the second was the compressed air plumbing.  The angle of attack in the original setup was ~90°, nearly perpendicular to the extrusions passing through the airstream from the knife.  EXAIR always recommends an angle of attack of ~45° to increase time in contact between the airstream from the knife and the materials passing through the airstream.  Although a small adjustment, this angle significantly contributes to overall blow off performance.

5mm ID x 8mm OD tubing used to supply compressed air to the knife

But, the real issue with this application was in the compressed air supply.  The tubing for this knife was shown as having a 5mm ID and an 8mm OD, which will allow a compressed air flow of ~40 SCFM at 80 PSIG, maximum, without consideration to pipe length from the compressor.  The 36” aluminum Super Air Knife will require 104.4 SCFM at 80 PSIG operating pressure.  So, it was clear that there was a significant plumbing problem, leading to the reduced performance from the knife.

In order to prove this out, we first had to take a pressure reading directly at the knife.  When this was done, the operating pressure dropped from ~85 PSIG at the main header to less than 20 PSIG at the knife.  By taking this pressure reading directly at the knife we were able to gain valuable information as to the true operating pressure of the knife, which was far below what the customer expected, but which made perfect sense given the performance output.

The remedy in this case was to increase the size of the supply line to at least 15mm ID (approximately equivalent to a ½” schedule 40 line), and preferably to something in the range of 19-20mm (~a ¾” schedule 40 line).  Once this was done the knife operated flawlessly, and after adjusting the angle of attack this application was optimized for the best possible results.

Being able to find the source of the problem for this application was a great service to the customer.  Our engineers are well-versed in compressed air system requirements, and we’re available for help in your application if needed.  If you’d like to contact an EXAIR Application Engineer we can be reached by email, phone (1-800-903-9247), or Twitter.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer

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

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)


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
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