Compressor Control – A Way to Match Supply to Demand

Rarely does the compressed air demand match the supply of the compressor system. To keep the generation costs down and the system efficiency as high as possible Compressor Controls are utilized to maximize the system performance, taking into account system dynamics and storage. I will touch on several methods briefly, and leave the reader to delve deeper into any type of interest.

air compressor

  • Start/Stop – Most basic control –  to turn the compressor motor on and off, in response to a pressure signal (for reciprocating and rotary type compressors)
  • Load/Unload – Keeps the motor turning continuously, but unloads the compressor when a pressure level is achieved.  When the pressure drops to a set level, the compressor reloads (for reciprocating, rotary screw, and centrifugal type)
  • Modulating – Restricts the air coming into the compressor, as a way to reduce the compressor output to a specified minimum, at which point the compressor is unloaded (for lubricant-injected rotary screw and centrifugal)
  • Dual/Auto Dual – Dual Control has the ability to select between Start/Stop and Load /Unload control modes.  Automatic Dual Control adds the feature of an over-run timer, so that the motor is stopped after a certain period of time without a demand.
  • Variable Displacement (Slide Valve, Spiral Valve or Turn Valve) – Allows for gradual reduction of the compressor displacement while keeping the inlet pressure constant (for rotary screw)
  • Variable Displacement (Step Control Valves or Poppet Valves) – Similar effect as above, but instead of a gradual reduction, the change is step like (for lubricant injected rotary types)
  • Variable Speed – Use of a variable frequency AC drive or by switched reluctance DC drive to vary the speed of the motor turning the compressor. The speed at which the motor turns effects the output of the system.

In summary – the primary functions of the Compressor Controls are to match supply to demand, save energy, and protect the compressor (from overheating, over-pressure situations, and excessive amperage draw.) Other functions include safety (protecting the plant and personnel), and provide diagnostic information, related to maintenance and operation warnings.

If you would like to talk about compressed air or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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About Sliding Vane Air Compressors

Over the last few months, my EXAIR colleagues have blogged about several different types of air compressor types including single and double acting reciprocating and rotary screw. (You can select the links above to check those out.) Today I will review the basics of the sliding vane type, specifically the oil/lubricant injected sliding vane compressor.

The lubricant injected sliding vane compressor falls under the positive displacement-type, the same as the other types previously discussed.  A positive displacement type operates under the premise that a given quantity of air is taken in, trapped in a compression chamber and the physical space of the chamber is mechanically reduced.  When a given amount of air occupies a smaller volume, the pressure of the air increases.

Each of the previous positive displacement type compressors use a different mechanism for the reduction in size of the compression chamber.  The single and double acting reciprocating use a piston that cycles up and down to reduce the compression chamber size. The rotary screw uses two inter-meshing rotors, where the compression chamber volume reduces as the air approaches the discharge end.  For the lubricant sliding vane type, the basic design is shown below.

Sliding Vane2
Air enters from the right, and as the compression chamber volume reduces due to counterclockwise rotation, the pressure increases until the air discharges to the left

The compressor consist of an external housing or stator, and the internal circular rotor, which is eccentrically offset.  The rotor has radially positioned (and occasionally offset) slots in which vanes reside.  As the rotor rotates, the centrifugal forces on the vanes cause them to move outwards and contact the inner surface of the stator bore.  This creates the compression areas, formed by the vanes, rotor surface and the stator bore.  Because the rotor is eccentrically offset, the volume of the compression area reduces as the distance between the rotor surface and the stator reduces.  As the rotor turns counterclockwise, the vanes are pushed back into the rotor slots, all the while in contact with the stator surface.  The shrinking of the compression area leads to the increase in air pressure.

Oil is injected into compression chamber to act as a lubricant, to assist is sealing, and to help to remove some of the heat of compression.

The advantages of the lubricant sliding vane compressor type is very similar to the lubricant injected rotary screw.  A few key advantages include:

  • Compact size
  • Relatively low initial cost
  • Vibration free operation- no special foundation needed
  • Routine maintenance includes basic lubricant and filter changes

A few of the disadvantages include:

  • Lubricant gets into the compressed air stream, requires an air/lubricant separation system
  • Requires periodic lubricant change and disposal
  • Less efficient than rotary screw type
  • Not as flexible as rotary screw in terms of capacity control in meeting changing demands

EXAIR recommends consulting with a reputable air compressor dealer in your area, to fully review all of the parameters associated with the selection and installation of a compressed air system.

If you would like to talk about compressed air or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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Diagram:  used from Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

Intelligent Compressed Air: Things to Consider when Designing the Compressor Room

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One common thing that can be easily overlooked is the importance of designing an efficient compressor room. After you’ve determined your overall requirements and selected the appropriate compressor, you can begin designing the layout of your compressor room. For starters, the compressor room should be located in a central location when possible, close to the point of use. This will help to minimize pressure drop as well as reduce installation costs as less piping will be required. If this isn’t possible, try to keep the compressor room close to the larger volume applications in your facility. Otherwise you will have to use larger diameter piping in order to ensure an adequate volume of air is available.

The diameter of the distribution piping should NOT be based on the connection size of the compressors, aftercoolers, or filters. According to the Compressed Air Challenge Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems handbook, piping should be sized so that the maximum velocity in the pipe is 30 ft/sec. When the distance between the compressor room and the point of use is lengthy, consider increasing the pipe diameter to minimize the pressure drop across the system.

Inside of your compressor room you’ll have a variety of different equipment, all dependent on the demand, quality, supply, storage, and distribution of your compressed air. Keeping all of the equipment in its own room will also provide some insulation from the noise associated with compressed air generation. It is crucial that the space selected as your compressor room is sufficiently large enough to accommodate everything without becoming cramped. As a general rule of thumb, keep about 3′ of space between equipment such as the compressor, receiver tanks, aftercooler, and dryer. This helps to prevent equipment from overheating as well as offers maintenance personnel adequate space with which to perform any regularly scheduled maintenance or repairs.

Once you’ve selected your equipment, piping, and determined the location, another thing to consider is ventilation. As compressed air is generated, the compressor gives off a good amount of heat. It is important that the exhaust air is not permitted to re-circulate throughout the compressor room. The exhaust needs to be ducted so that it the warm air is not drawn in at the air intake on the compressor. Some equipment, such as refrigerated dryers, requires a substantial amount of cooling air. In these situations, an exhaust fan can be used to provide that additional airflow.

To further enhance the efficiency of your facility, the heat generated from compression can be re-purposed instead of simply exhausting into the ambient environment. This process is commonly referred to as compressed air energy recovery. Some industries require a source of heat for many of their manufacturing processes. In these scenarios, the heat energy that is produced during compression can be reused rather than having to generate another source of heated air. If the heated air can’t be used for any of your manufacturing processes, the heat can be used as a means to heat your water supply or even to heat the facility itself. This can drastically reduce your electricity or gas requirements during cooler periods.

To reduce the amount of required maintenance and ensure that your compressor is operating as efficiently as possible, the compressed air intake must also be free from particulate and harmful gases. When dust and dirt is drawn into the compressor, it can cause wear on the internal components. If the ambient environment contains a lot of dust and particulate, a pre-filter can be used to prevent any future problems. In these instances, it is important to consider the pressure drop that will be caused when designing the system.

Keeping these tips in mind will serve to make your life much easier in the long run. Once you have everything installed and set up, visit the EXAIR website or give us a call to speak with an Application Engineer. EXAIR’s Intelligent Compressed Air Products  can help you reduce compressed air consumption and increase worker safety by adhering to both OSHA 1910.242(b) and 1910.95.

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

Image Courtesy of  thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.

Intelligent Compressed Air: What is an Air Compressor?

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Example of the supply side of a compressed air system

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.

types of compressors

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 lubicrant-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.

Just as you can find a wide variety of makes and models of automobiles, the same can be said for air compressors. The size, type, and features will be dictated by the types of applications that you’ll be needing the compressed air for in your facility. A quick chat with your local air compressor supplier will help you to determine which type is most suitable for you.

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

 

Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge and thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.

What Makes A Compressed Air System “Complete”?

It’s a good question.  When do you know that your compressed air system is complete?  And, really, when do you know, with confidence, that it is ready for use?

A typical compressed air system. Image courtesy of Compressed Air Challenge.

Any compressed air system has the basic components shown above.  A compressed air source, a receiver, dryer, filter, and end points of use.   But, what do all these terms mean?

A compressor or compressed air source, is just as it sounds.  It is the device which supplies air (or another gas) at an increased pressure.  This increase in pressure is accomplished through a reduction in volume, and this conversion is achieved through compressing the air.  So, the compressor, well, compresses (the air).

A control receiver (wet receiver) is the storage vessel or tank placed immediately after the compressor.  This tank is referred to as a “wet” receiver because the air has not yet been dried, thus it is “wet”.  This tank helps to cool the compressed air by having a large surface area, and reduces pulsations in the compressed air flow which occur naturally.

The dryer, like the compressor, is just as the name implies.  This device dries the compressed air, removing liquid from the compressed air system.  Prior to this device the air is full of moisture which can damage downstream components and devices.  After drying, the air is almost ready for use.

To be truly ready for use, the compressed air must also be clean.  Dirt and particulates must be removed from the compressed air so that they do not cause damage to the system and the devices which connect to the system.  This task is accomplished through the filter, after which the system is almost ready for use.

To really be ready for use, the system must have a continuous system pressure and flow.  End-use devices are specified to perform with a required compressed air supply, and when this supply is compromised, performance is as well.  This is where the dry receiver comes into play.  The dry receiver is provides pneumatic capacitance for the system, alleviating pressure changes with varying demand loads.  The dry receiver helps to maintain constant pressure and flow.

In addition to this, the diagram above shows an optional device – a pressure/flow control valve.  A flow control valve will regulate the volume (flow) of compressed air in a system in response to changes in flow (or pressure).  These devices further stabilize the compressed air system, providing increased reliability in the supply of compressed air for end user devices.

Now, at long last, the system is ready for use.  But, what will it do?  What are the points of use?

Points of use in a compressed air system are referred to by their end use.  These are the components around which the entire system is built.  This can be a pneumatic drill, an impact wrench, a blow off nozzle, a pneumatic pump, or any other device which requires compressed air to operate.

If your end use devices are for coating, cleaning, cooling, conveying or static elimination, EXAIR Application Engineers can help with engineered solutions to maximize the efficiency and use of your compressed air.  After placing so much effort into creating a proper system, having engineered solutions is a must.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE

Intelligent Compressed Air: Membrane Dryers – What are they and How Do they Work?

Recently we have blogged about Compressed Air Dryers and the different types of systems.  We have reviewed the Desiccant and Refrigerant types of dryers, and today I will discuss the basics of  the Membrane type of dryers.

All atmospheric air that a compressed air system takes in contains water vapor, which is naturally present in the air.  At 75°F and 75% relative humidity, 20 gallons of water will enter a typical 25 hp compressor in a 24 hour period of operation.  When the the air is compressed, the water becomes concentrated and because the air is heated due to the compression, the water remains in vapor form.  Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, and generally an increase in temperature of 20°F results in a doubling of amount of moisture the air can hold. The problem is that further downstream in the system, the air cools, and the vapor begins to condense into water droplets. To avoid this issue, a dryer is used.

Membrane Dryers are the newest type of compressed air dryer. Membranes are commonly used to separate gases, such as removing nitrogen from air. The membrane consists of a group of hollow fiber tubes.  The tubes are designed so that water vapor will permeate and pass through the membrane walls faster than the air.  The dry air continues on through the tubes and discharges into the downstream air system. A small amount of ‘sweep’ air is taken from the dry air to purge and remove the water vapor from inside the dryer that has passed through the membrane tubes.

Membrane Dryer
Typical Membrane Dryer Arrangement

Resultant dew points of 40°F are typical, and dew points down to -40°F are possible but require the use of more purge air, resulting in less final dry compressed air discharging to the system.

The typical advantages of Membrane Dryers are-

  1.  Low installation and operating costs
  2.  Can be installed outdoors
  3.  Can be used in hazardous locations
  4.  No moving parts

There are a few disadvantages to consider-

  1. Limited to low capacity systems
  2. High purge air losses (as high as 15-20% to achieve lowest pressure dew points
  3. Membrane can be fouled by lubricants and other contaminants, a coalescing type filter is required before the membrane dryer.

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

Send me an email
Find us on the Web 
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Membrane Dryer Schematic – From Compressed Air Challenge, Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems, Second Edition

 

 

 

Intelligent Compressed Air: Refrigerant Dryers and How They Work

We’ve seen in recent blogs that Compressed Air Dryers are an important part of a compressed air system, to remove water and moisture to prevent condensation further downstream in the system.  Moisture laden compressed air can cause issues such as increased wear of moving parts due to lubrication removal, formation of rust in piping and equipment, quality defects in painting processes, and frozen pipes in colder climates.  The three main types of dryers are – Refrigerant, Desiccant, and Membrane. For this blog, we will review the basics of the Refrigerant type of dryer.

All atmospheric air that a compressed air system takes in contains water vapor, which is naturally present in the air.  At 75°F and 75% relative humidity, 20 gallons of water will enter a typical 25 hp compressor in a 24 hour period of operation.  When the the air is compressed, the water becomes concentrated and because the air is heated due to the compression, the water remains in vapor form.  Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, and generally an increase in temperature of 20°F results in a doubling of amount of moisture the air can hold. The problem is that further downstream in the system, the air cools, and the vapor begins to condense into water droplets. To avoid this issue, a dryer is used.

Refrigerated Dryer
Fundamental Schematic of Refrigerant-Type Dryer

Refrigerant Type dryers cool the air to remove the condensed moisture and then the air is reheated and discharged.  When the air leaves the compressor aftercooler and moisture separator (which removes the initial condensed moisture) the air is typically saturated, meaning it cannot hold anymore water vapor.  Any further cooling of the air will cause the moisture to condense and drop out.  The Refrigerant drying process is to cool the air to 35-40°F and then remove the condensed moisture.  The air is then reheated via an air to air heat exchanger (which utilizes the heat of the incoming compressed air) and then discharged.  The dewpoint of the air is 35-40°F which is sufficient for most general industrial plant air applications.  As long as the compressed air stays above the 35-40°F temperature, no further condensation will occur.

The typical advantages of Refrigerated Dryers are-

  1.  – Low initial capital cost
  2.  – Relatively low operating cost
  3.  – Low maintenance costs

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

Send me an email
Find us on the Web 
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Twitter: @EXAIR_BB