## 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

## ICFM, SCFM, ACFM, CFM What does it all mean!

A common question we get asked is “What does SCFM mean?” Most people are aware of CFM but the “S” in front seems to be less known about! Well strap on your seat belt, we are about to go into a compressed air worm hole all about volumetric flow rates!

Here at EXAIR we rate all of our products air consumption in SCFM at a given supply pressure. CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute, but one definition will not satisfy the conditions that will be experienced in many applications by a number of variables  (altitude, temperature, pressure, etc.). Air by nature is a compressible fluid. The properties of this fluid are constantly changing due to the ambient conditions of the surrounding environment.

This makes it difficult to describe the volumetric flow rate of the compressed air. Imagine you have a cubic foot of air, at standard conditions (14.696 psia, 60°F, 0% Relative Humidity), right in front of you. Then, you take that same cubic foot, pressurize it to 100 psig and place it inside of a pipe. You still have one cubic foot, but it is taking up significantly less volume. You have probably heard the terms SCFMACFM, and ICFM when used to define the total capacity of a compressor system. Understanding these terms, and using them correctly, will allow you to properly size your system and understand your total compressed air consumption.

SCFM is used as a reference to the standard conditions for flow rate. This term is used to create an “apples to apples” comparison when discussing compressed air volume as the conditions will change. EXAIR publishes the consumption of all products in SCFM for this reason. You will always notice that an inlet pressure is specified as well. This allows us to say that, at standard conditions and at a given inlet pressure, the product will consume a given amount of compressed air. It would be nearly impossible, not to mention impractical, to publish the ACFM of any product due to the wide range of environmental conditions possible.

ACFM stands for Actual Cubic Feet per Minute. If the conditions in the environment are “standard”, then the ACFM and SCFM will be the same. In most cases, however, that is not the case. The formula for converting SCFM to ACFM is as follows:

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)

The last term that you’ll see floating around to describe compressed air flow is ICFM (Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute). This term describes the conditions at the inlet of the compressor, in front of the filter, dryer, blower, etc. Because several definitions for Standard Air exist, some compressor manufacturers have adopted this simpler unit of measure when sizing a compressor system. This volume is used to determine the impeller design, nozzle diameter, and casing size for the most efficient compressor system to be used. Because the ICFM is measured before the air has passed through the filter and other components, you must account for a pressure drop.

The inlet pressure is determined by taking the barometric pressure and subtracting a reasonable loss for the inlet air filter and piping. According to the Compressed Air Handbook by the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, a typical value for filter and piping loss is 0.3 psig. The need to determine inlet pressure becomes especially critical when considering applications in high-altitudes. A change in altitude of more than a few hundred feet can greatly reduce the overall capacity of the compressor. Because of this pressure loss, it is important to assess the consumption of your compressor system in ACFM. To convert ICFM to ACFM use the following formula:

ICFM = ACFM (Pact / Pf) (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

P = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (psia)

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

If you’re looking into a new project utilizing EXAIR equipment and need help determining how much compressed air you’ll need, give us a call. An Application Engineer will be able to assess the application, determine the overall consumption, and help recommend a suitably sized air compressor.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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## Laminar vs. Turbulent Flow

Laminar flow is an fundamental component of compressed air efficiency. Believe it or not, laminar flow is controlled exclusively by the airline used in a compressed air system. To fully understand the effects of laminar flow in a compressed air system, we need to explain exactly what it is.

Fluids & gases are unique in their ability to travel. Unlike solid molecules that remain stationary whose molecules tend to join others of the same kind; fluid molecules aren’t so picky. Fluid molecules, such as gases and liquids, partner with different molecules and are difficult to stop.

Laminar flow describes the ease with which these fluids travel; good laminar flow describes fluid travelling as straight as possible. On the contrary, when fluid is not travelling straight, the result is turbulent flow.

Turbulent air flow results in an inefficient compressed air system. This may not seem like a major concern; yet, it has huge impacts on compressor efficiency. Fluid molecules bounce and circle within their path, causing huge energy wastage. In compressed air systems, this turbulent airflow results in a pressure drop. How do you avoid this from happening? It all comes down to compressed air system design.

The design and material of the air pipe, as well as the positioning of elbows and joints, has a direct connection to laminar flow and pressure drop. To avoid high energy consumption of your compressed air system, reducing pressure drop is key.

If your system is experiencing high pressure drop, your compressor has to work overtime to provide the needed air pressure. When your compressor works overtime, it not only increases your maintenance costs, but also your energy bills.

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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## About Compressed Air Dryers – What Are They and Why Use Them

All atmospheric air contains some amount of water vapor.  When air is then cooled to saturation point, the vapor will begin to condense into liquid water. The saturation point is the condition where the the air can hold no more water vapor. The temperature at which this occurs is knows as the dew point.

When ambient air is compressed, heat is generated and the air becomes warmer. In industrial compressed air systems, the air is then routed to an aftercooler, and condensation  begins to take place. To remove the condensation, the air then goes into separator which traps the liquid water. The air leaving the aftercooler is typically saturated at the temperature of the discharge, and any additional cooling that occurs as the air is piped further downstream will cause more liquid to condense out of the air. To address this condensation, compressed air dryers are used.

It is important to dry the air and prevent condensation in the air. Many usages of the compressed air are impacted by liquid water being present. Rust and corrosion can occur in the compressed air piping, leading to scale and contamination at point -of -use processes. Processes such as drying operations and painting would see lower quality if water was deposited onto the parts.

There are many types of dryers – (see recent blogs for more information)

• Refrigerant Dryer – most commonly used type, air is cooled in an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger.
• Regenerative-Desiccant Type – use a porous desiccant that adsorbs (adsorb means the moisture adheres to the desiccant, the desiccant does not change, and the moisture can then be driven off during a regeneration process).
• Deliquescent Type – use a hygroscopic desiccant medium that absorbs (as opposed to adsorbs) moisture. The desiccant is dissolved into the liquid that is drawn out. Desiccant is used up, and needs to be replaced periodically.
• Heat of Compression Type – are regenerative desiccant dryers that use the heat generated during compression to accomplish the desiccant regeneration.
• Membrane Type– use special membranes that allow the water vapor to pass through faster than the dry air, reducing the amount water vapor in air stream.

The air should not be dried any more than is needed for the most stringent application, to reduce the costs associated with the drying process. A pressure dew point of 35°F to 38°F (1.7°C to 3.3°C) often is adequate for many industrial applications.  Lower dew points result in higher operating costs.

If you have questions about compressed air systems and dryers or any of the 15 different EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product lines, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
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