Intelligent Compressed Air: What is an Air Compressor?

One thing that is found in virtually every industrial environment is an air compressor. Some uses for the compressed air generated are: powering pneumatic tools, packaging, automation equipment, conveyors, controls systems, and various others. Pneumatic tools are favored because they tend to be smaller and more lightweight than electric tools, offer infinitely variable speed and torque, and can be safer than the hazards associated with electrical devices. In order to power these devices, compressed air must be generated.

There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy.

Of the positive-displacement variety they are broken down further into two more categories: reciprocating and rotary. A reciprocating compressor works like a bicycle pump. A piston reduces the volume occupied by the air or gas, compressing it into a higher pressure. There are two types of reciprocating compressors, single or double-acting. Single-acting compressors are the most common and are available up to 30HP at 200 psig. Their small size and weight allow them to be installed near the point of use and avoid lengthy piping runs. These are the types of compressors that would be commonly found in your garage. The double-acting reciprocating compressor is much like its single-acting brethren, only it uses both sides of the piston and cylinder for air compression. This doubles the capacity of the compressor for a given cylinder size. They are much more efficient than single-acting compressors, but are more expensive and do require a more specialized installation and maintenance.

Rotary compressors are available in lubricant-injected or lubricant-free varieties. These types of compressors use two inter-meshing rotors that have an inlet port at one end and a discharge port at the other. Air flows through the inlet port and is trapped between the lobes and the stator. As the rotation continues, the point intermeshing begins to move along the length of the rotors. This reduces the space that is occupied by the air, resulting in an increase in pressure. In the lubricant-injected compressors, the compression chamber is lubricated between the intermeshing rotors and bearings. This takes away the heat of compression and also acts as a seal. In the lubricant-free varieties, the intermeshing rotors have very tight tolerances and are not allowed to touch. Since there is no fluid to remove the heat of compression, they typically have two stages of compression with an intercooler between and an after cooler after the second stage. Lubricant-free compressors are beneficial as they supply clean, oil-free compressed air. They are, however, more expensive and less efficient to operate than the lubricant-injected variety.

On the other side of the coin, we have the dynamic compressors. These are comprised of two main categories: axial and centrifugal. These types of compressors raise the pressure of air or gas by imparting velocity energy and converting it to pressure energy. In a centrifugal air compressor, air continuously flows and is accelerated by an impeller. This impeller can rotate at speeds that exceed 50,000 rpm. Centrifugal air compressors are generally much larger and can accommodate flow ranges of 500-100,000 CFM. They also provide lubricant-free air.

Axial compressors are used for situations that require lower pressure but high flow rates. They do not change the direction of the gas, it enters and exits the compressor in an axial direction. It is accelerated and then diffused which creates the increase in pressure. A common application that would be served by this type of compressor is to compress the air intake of gas turbines. They have a relatively high peak efficiency, however their large overall size and weight as well as the high starting power requirements pose some disadvantages.

Of course, any of these types of compressors can be used to supply air to your engineered Intelligent Compressed Air Products. If you have an application in your facility that could benefit from an engineered solution, give us a call. An Application Engineer would be happy to discuss your options with you and see to it that you’re getting the most out of your compressed air!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License

Top Factors for Air Compressor & System Maintenance

Performing regular maintenance on your compressor system helps to keep everything operating in peak condition and ensures you’re not wasting unnecessary energy. Just as you perform regular routine maintenance on your vehicles, a compressed air system also needs a little TLC to keep things running smoothly. Neglected maintenance items can lead to increased energy costs, high operating temperatures, and coolant carryover. Much of these issues can be eliminated simply by performing routine maintenance on the components of the system.

According to the Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems by the Compressed Air Challenge (1), components within the system that need maintained include: the compressor, heat exchanger surfaces, lubricant, lubricant filter, air inlet filter, motors, belts, and air/oil separators.  

The compressor and all surfaces of the heat exchanger need to be kept clean and free of contaminants. When these components are dirty, compressor efficiency is greatly reduced. Any fans and water pumps should also be regularly inspected to ensure that they’re functioning properly. The air inlet filter and piping should also be cleaned. The quality of the air in the facility will impact the frequency, refer to the manufacturer’s specifications for ideal intervals for performing scheduled maintenance.

The lubricant and lubricant filter must also be changed per manufacturer’s specifications. Old coolant can become corrosive, impacting useful life and damaging other components while reducing efficiency. While synthetic lubricants are available that have an extended life compared to standard coolants, this does not extend the life of the lubricant filter itself.

Belts should be routinely checked for tension (every 400 hours is reasonable) to alleviate bearing wear. Belts will stretch and wear under normal operation and must be adjusted periodically. It’s a good practice to keep some spares on hand in the event of a failure.

End use filters, regulators, and lubricators should also be periodically inspected and filter elements replaced as needed. If left unchecked, a clogged filter will increase pressure drop. This can cause both a reduction of pressure at the point of use or an increase in the pressure supplied by the compressor, leading to increased energy costs.

Another often overlooked maintenance item is leak detection and repair. Leaks contribute to unnecessary air usage, pressure drop, and increased energy costs. EXAIR offers an Ultrasonic Leak Detector that can be used to identify the leaks in your system and allow you to make the necessary repairs.

EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector

In order to keep your system running in peak condition, regular maintenance is critical. By paying close attention to the manufacture’s recommendations, and implementing a regular maintenance schedule, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your system components.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

(1) Scales, W. (2021). Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems : Second Edition (2nd ed.). The Compressed Air Challenge,.

Compressor system image courtesy of Compressor1 via Flickr Creative Commons License

Determining Leakage Rate and Cost of Compressed Air Leaks

The electricity costs associated with the generation of compressed air make it the most expensive utility within an industrial environment. In a   poorly maintained compressor system, up to 30% of the total operational costs can be attributed simply to compressed air leaks. While this wasted energy is much like throwing money into the air, it can also cause your compressed air system to lose pressure. This can reduce the ability of the end use products to function properly, negatively impacting production rates and overall quality. Luckily, it’s quite easy to estimate the leakage rate and is something that you should be including in your regular PM schedule.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, a well-maintained system should have a leakage rate of less than 5-10% of the average system demand. To estimate what your leakage rate is across the facility, first start by shutting off all of the point of use compressed air products so that there’s no demand on the system. Then, start the compressor and record the average time it takes for the compressor to cycle on/off. The compressor will load and unload as the air leaks cause a pressure drop from air escaping. The percentage of total leakage can be calculated using the following formula:

Leakage % = [(T x 100) / (T + t)]

Where:

T = loaded time (seconds)

T = unloaded time (seconds)

The leakage rate will be given in a percentage of total compressor capacity lost. This value should be less than 10% for a well-maintained system. It is not uncommon within a poorly maintained system to experience losses as high as 20-40% of the total capacity and power.

A leak that is equivalent to the size of a 1/16” diameter hole will consume roughly 3.8 SCFM at a line pressure of 80 PSIG. If you don’t know your company’s air cost, a reasonable average is $0.25 per 1,000 SCF. Let’s calculate what the cost would be for a plant operating 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.

3.8 SCFM x 60 minutes x $0.25/1,000 SCFM =

$0.06/hour

$0.06 x 24 hours =

$1.44/ day

$1.44 x 7 days x 52 weeks =

$524.16 per year

A small leak of just 3.8 SCFM would end up costing $524.16. This is just ONE small leak! Odds are there’s several throughout the facility, quickly escalating your operating costs. If you can hear a leak, it’s a pretty severe one. Most leaks aren’t detectable by the human ear and require a special instrument to convert the ultrasonic sound created into something that we can pick up. For that, EXAIR has our Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector.

ULD_Pr
Model 9061 ULD w/ parabola attachment checking for compressed air leaks

Implementing a regular procedure to determine your leakage rate in the facility as well as a compressed air audit to locate, tag, and fix any known leaks should be a priority. The savings that you can experience can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s not something that has ever been done before!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Intelligent Compressed Air: Compressed Air System Components

In any manufacturing environment, compressed air is critical to the operation of many processes. You will often hear compressed air referred to as a “4th utility” in a manufacturing environment. The makeup of a compressed air system is usually divided into two primary parts: the supply side and the demand side. The supply side consists of components before and including the pressure/flow controller. The demand side then consists of all the components after the pressure/flow controller.

The first primary component in the system is the air compressor itself. There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy.

Still on the supply side, but installed after the compressor, are aftercoolers, and compressed air dryers. An aftercooler is designed to cool the air down upon exiting from the compressor. During the compression, heat is generated that carries into the air supply. An aftercooler uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature.

When air leaves the aftercooler, it is typically saturated since atmospheric air contains moisture. In higher temperatures, the air is capable of holding even more moisture. When this air is then cooled, it can no longer contain all of that moisture and is lost as condensation. The temperature at which the moisture can no longer be held is referred to as the dewpoint. Dryers are installed in the system to remove unwanted moisture from the air supply. Types of dryers available include: refrigerant dryers, desiccant dryers, and membrane dryers.

Also downstream of the compressor are filters used to remove particulate, condensate, and lubricant. Desiccant and deliquescent-type dryers require a pre-filter to protect the drying media from contamination that can quickly render it useless. A refrigerant-type dryer may not require a filter before/after, but any processes or components downstream can be impacted by contaminants in the compressed air system.

Moving on to the demand side, we have the distribution system made up of a network of compressed air piping, receiver tanks when necessary, and point of use filters/regulators. Compressed air piping is commonly available as schedule 40 steel pipe, copper pipe, and aluminum pipe. Some composite plastics are available as well, however PVC should NEVER be used for compressed air as some lubricants present in the air can act as a solvent and degrade the pipe over time.

Receiver tanks are installed in the distribution system to provide a source of compressed air close to the point of use, rather than relying on the output of the compressor. The receiver tank acts as a “battery” for the system, storing compressed air energy to be used in periods of peak demand. This helps to maintain a stable compressed air pressure. It improves the overall performance of the system and helps to prevent pressure drop.

Finally, we move on to the point-of-use. While particulate and oil removal filters may be installed at the compressor output, it is still often required to install secondary filtration immediately at the point-of-use to remove any residual debris, particulate, and oil. Receiver tanks and old piping are both notorious for delivering contaminants downstream, after the initial filters.

Regulator and filter

In any application necessitating the use of compressed air, pressure should be controlled to minimize the air consumption at the point of use. Pressure regulators are available to control the air pressure within the system and throttle the appropriate supply of air to any pneumatic device. While one advantage of a pressure regulator is certainly maintaining consistent pressure to your compressed air devices, using them to minimize your pressure can result in dramatic savings to your costs of compressed air. As pressure and flow are directly related, lowering the pressure supplied results in less compressed air usage.

EXAIR manufactures a wide variety of products utilizing this compressed air to help you with your process problems. If you’d like to discuss your compressed air system, or have an application that necessitates an Intelligent Compressed Air Product, give us a call.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Compressor Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License