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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Non Hazardous Purge Cabinet Cooler Systems

Last fall, when our youngest “flew the coop” and moved into a dormitory to begin his college experience, my lovely bride and I also embarked upon an exciting adventure: finding, purchasing, and moving in to our “empty nest” dream house.  While packing up the contents of the house where we had raised a United States Marine AND a hippie college student, I moved my trusty laptop from its perch on a desk in a dark basement corner, where it had resided, in that one spot, for more than a couple years.

As I was looking for its carrying case, I noticed the fan grill was almost completely obscured with more than a couple years’ worth of environmental contamination (or dust).  I vacuumed out the grill, but wondered how much more environmental contamination (dust) had made its way into the deep recesses of the laptop…and more importantly, what might it be doing to the sensitive electronics inside my trusty internet browsing device?

If a computer’s fan in a residential environment can get this dusty, imagine how much worse a control panel on a factory floor can get.

I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but electronics and dust don’t mix.  We have this conversation a LOT with callers inquiring about our Cabinet Cooler Systems.  The protection they offer against environmental contamination is integral with the protection they offer against heat.  In the panel cooling market, our Cabinet Cooler Systems are unique in that respect: a total protection solution.

When properly installed on a sealed enclosure, the only thing the inside of that enclosure is ever exposed to is cold, clean, moisture free air.  But what if the enclosure can’t be completely sealed?  One option is to use a Continuous Operation Cabinet Cooler System.  It works just as the name implies:  cold air is continuously flowing into the enclosure, creating a constant purge flow…if that cold air is blowing out of any openings in the enclosure, there’s no way for environmental contamination to get in.  Problem solved.

Well…almost.  Something else I’m sure you already know is, compressed air is costly.  Organizations like the Compressed Air & Gas Institute (CAGI) and the Compressed Air Challenge (CAC), who are devoted to optimizing industrial use of compressed air, have lists of “inappropriate uses of compressed air”, and panel cooling is on that list…EXCEPT when they’re thermostatically controlled.  At EXAIR, we couldn’t agree more, and if a caller asks any of us Application Engineers about a Continuous Operation Cabinet Cooler System, they’re inviting us in to a conversation about that.

Sometimes, the initial question is cost…well, we have to pay for the components that make up the Thermostat Controls, so we ask our customers who want those products to as well.   A quick conversation about the operating cost of continuous operation vs thermostat control is usually all that’s required in those cases.

Other times, a panel that can’t be sealed is installed in a particularly dusty or dirty environment, and they want the continuous flow of cold air, as described above, to keep those contaminants out.  A Continuous Operation Cabinet Cooler System will, of course, do that.  But EXAIR wants you to get the most out of your compressed air use, so we developed a “best of both worlds” solution: Non-Hazardous Purge Cabinet Cooler Systems.  Here’s how they work:

  • Based on a few key pieces of data that you can submit in our Cabinet Cooler Systems Sizing Guide, we’ll specify the appropriate Cabinet Cooler System to manage that heat load.
  • The system will be thermostatically controlled: a bimetallic Thermostat, mounted inside the panel, will open and close the Solenoid Valve plumbed in the compressed air supply to operate the Cabinet Cooler as needed to maintain temperature inside the panel.
  • The Solenoid Valve is modified to pass a small amount of air flow (1 SCFM) even when it’s closed.  This saves you from using the full rated air consumption of the Cabinet Cooler when cold air isn’t required, and still maintains enough purge air flow to prevent environmental contaminants from entering a less-than-ideally-sealed enclosure.

Whatever you do, DON’T do THIS to your panel.

The Non-Hazardous Purge option is just one way that EXAIR Corporation can help you address specific environmental challenges that may be presented in electrical and electronic panel cooling applications.  If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Exploring Optimization: Standards And Certifications For Compressed Air Audits

EXAIR Corporation has devoted almost 37 years to manufacturing engineered products aimed at the most efficient, quietest, and safest use of compressed air.  Sometimes, a caller has recognized that an open pipe blow off, for example, is loud, wasteful, and unsafe, and just wants to install an engineered product that they know will be an improvement.  They may not be interested in precisely quantifying the savings…they’ll just notice that their lone air compressor runs less, and their electric bill isn’t as high anymore.

Others, however, may have a compressed air system that comprises multiple compressors, with advanced controls, and they may have specific operational goals in regard to how the individual compressors are loaded and controlled, or maybe even eliminating the need to run particular compressors all the time…or at all.

The skills & knowledge necessary to handle such a task are within the confines of discipline of mechanical engineering, but oftentimes, specialized training is needed to effectively conduct an audit in order to formulate an execute such an optimization plan.  If you’re interested in pursuing this training, or working with trained personnel, here’s a brief description of the training that’s available, and how you can find people that have been through it:

  • The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) publication “Guidance for ASME EA-4, Energy Assessment for Compressed Air Systems” details the requirements for performing an audit.  Since there are so many configurations of compressed air systems, it’s not a “step by step” procedure, but it IS handy for developing one, if you know how.  Speaking of which…
  • The Compressed Air & Gas Institute (CAGI) offers training & certification in two categories:
    • Certified Compressed Air System Specialists (CCASS) – these are qualified experts who have demonstrated competence (by means of a comprehensive examination) in skills and abilities relating to the design, service, sales, and installation of compressed air systems & equipment.
    • Certified Compressed Air System Assessors (CCASA) – in addition to CCASS certification, these individuals has passed another comprehensive examination, verifying their knowledge and skills as practitioners performing assessments (audits) of compressed air systems.

Both of these certifications comply with the ISO 17024 Conformity Assessment standard, which governs General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons in any field of endeavor.  This means that, not only have certified personnel all passed the same tests regardless of where they are, but the tests they’ve passed meet stringent standards for examining knowledge level and competence in these fields.

Bottom line: if you want an in-depth, accurate evaluation of the efficiency of your compressed air system, experts are available.  The Compressed Air & Gas Institute even publishes directories so you can find them in your area.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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