What’s with the “S” in SCFM

So many times, when reviewing the air requirements for our products, I am met with psi. “I have 100 psi running to this Super Air Knife, but it has almost no air flow”. PSIG and SCFM work hand in hand, and both are critical in optimal performance of our products. These two measurements are related, but they are not immediate family. PSI is more about power, whereas SCFM is more about flow and consistency. When they both combine, force is the outcome. We need both PSI and SCFM to produce force and for products to perform. It seems that most have a solid grasp on PSIG, but the SCFM tends to cause some confusion. Mostly the “S” in the SCFM.

Once we redirect the conversation to SCFM, we almost always find the heart of the issue. But SCFM can be confusing and many times is mistakenly interchanged with CFM. CFM is the easiest to explain, so let’s start there.

CFM is Cubic Feet per Minute of airflow. This is exactly as it sounds, 1 CFM = 1 12″x12″x12″ box full of air moving through the product (Air Knife, Nozzle, Vortex Tube, Air Wipe and so on) per minute. To visualize this, take a look at your office (or visualize one). Let’s say it is 12x12x8 feet, like the sample to the right. That is 1152 cubic feet of air inside that office. If we used a 48″ Super Air Knife, running at 80 psig, it will consume 139.2 standard cubic feet of air per minute, or in other words, it will use all of the air in that office in 8.27 minutes. Assuming that air was not replaced, the Super Air Knife would starve and not have any airflow even though your gauge may still show 80 PSIG. So, when we break it down to this simple form and example, CFM is pretty easy to comprehend.

Now the confusing part: what is the S in SCFM? The S simply stands for Standard. I know, this is shocking, but what is “Standard”? Standard represents values that are a baseline of measurement, even though few of us reside or work in these “ideal” surroundings. Air volume can be altered by several things, the most common are atmospheric pressure, temperature, and relative humidity.

Some genius somewhere decided that the best place to measure for a Standard CFM at sea level. I imagine they chose Key West Florida, on the beach, which sits around 14.7 psia atmospheric pressure. Then, to be precise they measured this when the thermostat read 68°F, and the hygrometer showed 0% relative humidity. Outside of creating a lab with these settings, that beach, on that day, at that precise time, is where you can get a true CFM of air equal to the Standard.

To summarize the “S” or Standard conditions are 14.7 psi atmospheric pressure, 68°F, and 0% relative humidity.

Since most of us will never work in that exact environment, SCFM is “mostly” accurate. This is the reference point that we all can use, and has become the “Standard” across the globe. As you can imagine, it would be impossible for companies such as mine to publish or calculate every Actual CFM (ACFM). But we can do this…

ACFM is just what is says – the exact CFM that you will use based upon your elevation (atmospheric Pressure), your temp, and your relative humidity. I have a peer that wrote a recent blog that goes into depth on this topic as well as ACFM and ICFM (Inlet) and how to calculate each of these. You can see that blog here.

Thank you again for stopping by to find out more about the S in SCFM. If you have any questions about this, or anthing else related to our products, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Thank you for stopping by,

Brian Wages

Application Engineer

EXAIR Corporation
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Cover photo by PIRO4D, and licensed by Pixabay

Webinar Replay: SCFM, ACFM, ICFM, CFM – Why So Many Terms For Air Flows?

EXAIR’s latest addition to the Fall Webinar series was a discussion on the topic of volumetric air flow terms: SCFM, ACFM, ICFM, and CFM. In the compressed air world, these terms are used often to quantify the performance of a compressor or the point-of-use equipment on the supply side of your system. Since conditions will vary from one site location to another, it’s important that we understand how certain variables can change the performance of your system. The webinar is available to view on demand on the EXAIR.com.

The term SCFM (Standard Cubic Feet Per Minute) is used to allow us to make an apples to apples comparison across different equipment. The performance is rate at a set of “standard” conditions to remove any potential variables from the equation. CAGI, or the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, uses the standard conditions of: 14.5 psia, 0% relative humidity (RH), and 68°F. This allows us to compare different devices without needing to make any sort of adjustments.

Variables such as elevation (barometric pressure), relative humidity, and temperature all change the performance and must be considered.

With elevation, we’re looking at the atmospheric or barometric pressure at the location of operation. One way to illustrate this to consider a balloon. If you inflated a balloon at sea-level, or 14.5 psia, then carry that same balloon up to the top of Mt. Everest what would happen? Using Boyle’s Law (P1 x V1 = P2 x V2), we’re able to calculate the exact volume of the balloon. At the peak of Mt. Everest, pressure is significantly lower at roughly 4.5 psi. The balloon when taken to the peak at 4.5 psi would become 3.2x it’s original size as the pressure acting on the outside of the balloon decreases.

Relative humidity tells us how much moisture content is contained within a specific volume of air. Water molecules cannot be compressed, so when the air is compressed this water takes up the same volume. The water condenses in the inter-coolers and after-coolers or is removed via drains and dryers downstream. So, 1 cubic foot of air coming into the compressor weigh more than 1 cubic foot of air out due to this water vapor loss.

As temperature increases, so does air pressure as the molecules in the air speed up and come into contact with one another and the walls of its container at a more rapid pace. Air can also hold a greater volume of moisture at higher temperatures. So, the balance between RH and temperature is an important consideration when determining actual performance, or ACFM.

In the webinar, we walked through two different examples to highlight the changes in these variables and how it impacts the performance of a compressed air system. If you were unable to attend live, the webinar is available to view on demand on the EXAIR website. We have this latest webinar posted there on the website along with all prior webinars as well! There, we talk about topics ranging from compressed air system optimization, static electricity, OSHA Compliance, and more! Check out the available webinars on the Resources tab of the EXAIR.com page today for all the knowledge you’ll need about your compressed air system and processes.

Tyler Daniel, CCASS

Application Engineer

E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com

Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

CFM, ICFM, ACFM, SCFM: Volumetric Flow Rates Explained

Flow rate is the quantity of material that moves over a period of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are generally in units of pounds per minute (lbs./min) or kilograms per hour (Kg/hr).  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per hour (LPH).  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used for a compressible gas.  In this blog, I will go over the various acronyms and the reasons behind them.

What acronyms will be covered?

CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute

The volumetric component of the flow rate above is CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute.  This term is commonly used in rating air compressors and pneumatic equipment.  From their history, they would calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of cylinder.  With the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric flow rate.  As conditions change like altitude, temperature, and relative humidity, the value of CFM changes.  To better clarify these conditions, compressor manufacturers decided to add terms with definition.  (For your information, air compressors still use CFM as a unit of air flow, but now this is defined at standard temperature and pressure).

The first letter in front of CFM above now defines the conditions in which the volumetric air flow is being measured.  This is important for comparing pneumatic components or for properly sizing pneumatic systems. Volume is measured by three areas: temperature, pressure, and relative humidity as seen in the Ideal Gas Law.

Equation 1:

V = n * R * T / P

V – Volume

n – Number of molecules of gas

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

P – Absolute Pressure

The volume of air can change in reference to pressure, temperature, and the number of molecules.  Where is the relative humidity?  This would be referenced in the “n” term.  The more water vapor, or higher RH values, the less molecules of air is in a given volume.

SCFM is the most commonly used term, and it can be the most confusing.  The idea of this volumetric air flow is to set a reference point for comparisons.  So, no matter the pressure, temperature, or relative humidity; the volumetric air flows can be compared to each other at one reference point.  There have been many debates about an appropriate standard temperature and pressure, or STP.  But as long as you use the same reference point, then you can still compare the results.  In this blog, I will be using the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, CAGI, reference where the “Standard” condition is at 14.5 PSIA, 68oF, and 0% RH.  Since we have the reference point, we still need to know the actual conditions.  As an example, it is like having a location for a restaurant as a reference, but if you do not know your current location, you cannot reach it.   Similarly, we are “moving” the air from one condition to a reference or “Standard” condition.  We will need to know where the air began in order to reach that reference point.  We will talk more about this later in this blog.

ACFM is the volumetric air flow under actual conditions.  This is actually the “true” flow rate.  Even though this term is hardly used, there are reasons why we will need to know this value.  We can resize an air compressor that is not at “Standard” conditions, and we can use this value to calculate velocities and pressure drop in a system.  We can correlate between SCFM and ACFM:

Equation 2:

ACFM = SCFM * [Pstd / (Pact – Psat Φ)] * (Tact / Tstd)

Where:

ACFM = Actual Cubic Feet per Minute
SCFM = Standard Cubic Feet per Minute
Pstd = standard absolute air pressure (psia)
Pact = absolute pressure at the actual level (psia)
Psat = saturation pressure at the actual temperature (psi)
Φ = Actual relative humidity
Tact = Actual ambient air temperature (oR) or (oF + 460)
Tstd = Standard temperature (oR) or (oF + 460)

ICFM, or Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute, is one of the newest terms in the history of air compressors.  This is where devices are added to the inlet of an air compressor, affecting the flow conditions.  If you have a blower on the inlet of an air compressor, the volumetric flow rate changes as the pressure and temperature rises at the “Inlet”.  If an intake filter is used, then the pressure drop will decrease the incoming pressure at the “Inlet”.  These devices that affect the volumetric flow rate for an air compressor should be considered.  Equation 3 shows the relationship to ACFM and ICFM:

Equation 3:

ICFM = ACFM * (Pact / Pf) * (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

ACFM = Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

Pf  = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (PSIA)

Tf = Temperature after filter or inlet equipment (°R)

To expand on my explanation above about SCFM and ACFM, a technical question comes up often about the pressure when using SCFM.  The reference point of 14.5 PSIA is in the definition of SCFM.  Remember, this is only a reference point.  The starting location is actually needed.  This would be the ACFM value where the air values are true and actual.  As an example, two air nozzles are rated for 60 SCFM.  An EXAIR Super Air Nozzle, model 1106, is cataloged at 80 PSIG, and a competitor is cataloged at 60 PSIG.  By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but do they actually?  To simplify Equation 2 above, we can compare the two nozzles at the same temperature, 68oF, and 0% RH. This equation can be reduced to:

Equation 4:

ACFM = SCFM * 14.5 / (P + 14.5)

@60 PSIG Competitor:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA/ (60 PSIG + 14.5 PSIA)

= 11.7 ACFM

@80 PSIG EXAIR Super Air Nozzle:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA / (80 PSIG + 14.5PSIA)

= 9.2 ACFM

Even though the SCFM rating is the same but at two different pressures, the actual flow shows that you are using 21% more compressed air with the competitive nozzle. 

Another example would be for sizing an air compressor.  Since air compressors are rated at sea level (14.5 PSIA), 68oF and 0% RH, what happens if you are in Denver?  A manufacturing company was needing a 500 SCFM air compressor to run their plant.  They were located at 1,000 feet above sea level with a site temperature of 85oF and a relative humidity of 60%.  Since they were not at the standard conditions, we can calculate the ACFM to properly size the air compressor.  The atmospheric pressure at 1,000 feet was 14.2 PSIG.  The saturation pressure at 85oF is 0.595 PSIA.  From Equation 2, we can calculate the ACFM.

ACFM = SCFM * [Pstd / (Pact – Psat Φ)] * (Tact / Tstd)

ACFM = 500 SCFM * [14.5 / (14.2 – 0.595 * 60%)] * [(85oF + 460) / (68oF + 460)]

ACFM = 500 SCFM * 1.0474 * 1.0322

ACFM = 540

For this manufacturing plant, they will need to increase the capacity to 540 SCFM to run their 500 SCFM pneumatic system at their location.   

When it comes to rating compressed air products or air compressors, always ask the conditions of the pressure, temperature and RH.  The more you know about volumetric flow rates, the better decision that you can make in selecting the correct product.  If you need any help in selecting point-of-use blow-off devices, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.  We will be happy to help you. 

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

Photo: Air sign by Barney MossCreative Commons 2.0

Compressor Intake – Air Flows 

Flow rate is the quantity of material that is moved per unit of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are in units of pounds per minute or kilograms per hour.  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute, CFM, or liters per hour, LPH.  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used with compressible gases.  In this blog, I will go over the various acronyms and the reasons behind them.

What acronyms will be covered?

CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute

The volumetric component of the flow rate is CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute.  This term is commonly used for rating air compressors.  From the history of air compressors, they could calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of the cylinder.  With the volume of the compression chamber and the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric air flows.  As conditions change like altitude, temperature, and relative humidity, the volumetric value of CFM changes.  To better clarify these conditions, compressor manufacturers have decided to add terms with a definition.  (For your information, air compressors still use CFM as a unit of air flow, but now this is defined at standard temperature and pressure).

The first letter in front of CFM above now defines the conditions in which volumetric air flow is being measured.  This is important for comparing pneumatic components or for properly sizing pneumatic systems.  Volume is measured within three areas; temperature, pressure, and relative humidity.  We can see this in the Ideal Gas Law, reference Equation 1.

Equation 1:

P * V = n * R * T

Where:

P – Absolute Pressure

V – Volume

n – Number of molecules of gas

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

The volume of air can change in reference to pressure, temperature, and the number of molecules.  You may ask where the relative humidity is?  This would be referenced in the “n” term.  The more water vapor, or higher RH values, the less molecules of air are in a given volume.

SCFM is the most commonly used term, and it can be the most confusing.  The idea behind this volumetric air flow is to set a reference point for comparisons.  So, no matter the pressure, temperature, or relative humidity; the volumetric air flows can be compared to each other at that reference point.  There have been many debates about an appropriate standard temperature and pressure, or STP.  But as long as you use the same reference point, then you can still compare the results.  In this blog, I will be using the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, CAGI, reference where the “Standard” condition is at 14.5 PSIA, 68 o F, and 0% RH.  Since we have a reference point, we still need to know the actual conditions for comparison.  It is like having the location of a restaurant as a reference, but if you do not know your current location, you cannot move toward it.   Similarly, we are “moving” the air from its actual condition to a reference or “Standard” condition.  If we do not know the actual state where the air began, then we cannot “move” toward that reference point.  We will talk more about this later in this blog.

ACFM is the volumetric air flow under actual conditions.  This is actually the “true” flow rate.  Even though this term is hardly used, there are reasons why we will need to know this value.  We can size an air compressor that is not at “Standard” conditions, and we can use this value to calculate velocity and pressure drop in a pneumatic system.  We can correlate between SCFM and ACFM with Equation 2.

Equation 2:

ACFM = SCFM * [Pstd / (Pact – Psat * Φ)] * (Tact / Tstd)

Where:

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

Pstd – standard absolute air pressure (PSIA)

Pact – absolute pressure at the actual level (PSIA)

Psat – saturation pressure at the actual temperature (PSI)

Φ – Actual relative humidity (%)

Tact – Actual ambient air temperature (oR)

Tstd – Standard temperature (oR)

ICFM is one of the newest terms in the history of air compressors.  This is where devices are added to the inlet of an air compressor, affecting flow conditions.  If you have a blower on the inlet of an air compressor, the volumetric flow rate changes as the pressure and temperature rises at the “Inlet”.  If a filter is used, then the pressure drop will decrease the incoming pressure at the “Inlet”.  These devices that affect the volumetric flow rate for an air compressor should be considered.  The equation to relate ACFM to ICFM is Equation 3.

Equation 3:

ICFM = ACFM * (Pact / Pf) * (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

Pact – absolute pressure at the actual level (PSIA)

Pf – Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (PSIA)

Tact – Actual ambient air temperature (oR)

Tf – Temperature after filter or inlet equipment (°R)

To expand on my explanation above about SCFM and ACFM, a technical question is asked often about the pressure when using SCFM.  The reference point of 14.5 PSIA is in the definition of the term for SCFM.  Remember, this is only a reference point.  The starting location is also needed as it gives us the ACFM value where the air values are true and actual.  Then we can make a comparison of actual air usage. 

As an example, let’s look at two air nozzles that are rated at the same air flow; 60 SCFM.  The EXAIR Super Air Nozzle, model 1106, is cataloged at 60 SCFM at 80 PSIG, and a competitor is cataloged at 60 SCFM at 72 PSIG.  By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but actually they do not.  To simplify Equation 2, we can compare the two nozzles at the same temperature and RH at 68 oF and 0% RH respectively.  This equation can be reduced to form Equation 4.

Equation 4:

ACFM = SCFM * 14.5 / (P + 14.5)

@72 PSIG Competitor:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA/ (72 PSIG + 14.5 PSIA)

= 10.1 ACFM

@80 PSIG EXAIR Super Air Nozzle:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA / (80 PSIG + 14.5PSIA)

= 9.2 ACFM

Even though the SCFM is the same amount, you are actually using 10% more air with the competitive nozzle that was reported at 60 PSIG.  So, when it comes to rating pneumatic products, improving efficiency, and saving money; always determine the pressure that you are at.  The more you know about volumetric flow rates, the better decision that you can make.  If you need more information, you can always contact our Application Engineers at EXAIR.  We will be happy to assist.

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

Photo: Compressor equipment by terimakasih0Pixabay license