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

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Membrane Dryer Schematic – From Compressed Air Challenge, Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems, Second Edition

 

 

 

FREE EXAIR Webinar – November 2nd, 2017 @ 2:00 PM EDT

On November 2, 2017 at 2 PM EDT, EXAIR Corporation will be hosting a FREE webinar titled “Optimizing Your Compressed Air System In 6 Simple Steps”.

During this short presentation, we will explain the average cost of compressed air and why it’s important to evaluate the current system. Compressed air can be expensive to produce and in many cases the compressor is the largest energy user in a plant, accounting for up to 1/3 of the total energy operating costs. In industrial settings, compressed air is often referred to as a “fourth utility” next to water, gas and electric.

Next we will show how artificial demand, through operating pressure and leaks, can account for roughly 30% of the air being lost in a system, negatively affecting a company’s bottom line. We will provide examples on how to estimate the amount of leakage in a system and ways to track the demand from point-of-use devices, to help identify areas where improvements can be made.

To close, we will demonstrate how following six simple steps can save you money by reducing compressed air use, increasing safety and making your process more efficient.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

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

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Intelligent Compressed Air: How to Develop a Pressure Profile

An important part of operating and maintaining a compressed air system is taking accurate pressure measurements at various points in the compressed air distribution system, and establishing a baseline and monitoring with data logging.  A Pressure Profile is a useful tool to understand and analyze the compressed air system and how it is functioning.

Pressure Profile 1
Sample Pressure Profile

The profile is generated by taking pressure measurements at the various key locations in the system.  The graph begins with the compressor and its range of operating pressures, and continues through the system down to the regulated points of use, such as Air Knives or Safety Air Guns.  It is important to take the measurements simultaneously to get the most accurate data, and typically, the most valuable data is collected during peak usage periods.

By reviewing the Pressure Profile, the areas of greatest drop can be determined and the impact on any potential low pressure issues at the point of use.  As the above example shows, to get a reliable 75 PSIG supply pressure for a device or tool, 105-115 PSIG must be generated, (30-40 PSIG above the required point of use pressure.)  As a rule of thumb, for every 10 PSIG of compressed air generation increase the energy costs increase 5-7.5%

By developing a total understanding of the compressed air system, including the use of tools such as the Pressure Profile, steps to best maximize the performance while reducing costs can be performed.

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

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Finding Leaks and Saving Money with the Ultrasonic Leak Detector

Locate costly leaks in your compressed air system!  Sounds like the right thing to do.

The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector is a hand-held, high quality instrument that is used to locate costly leaks in a compressed air system.

Ultrasonic sound is the term applied to sound that is above the frequencies of normal human hearing capacity.  This typically begins at sounds over 20,000 Hz in frequency.  The Ultrasonic Leak Detector can detect sounds in this upper range and convert them to a range that is audible to people.

When a leak is present, the compressed air moves from the high pressure condition through the opening to the low pressure environment.  As the air passes through the opening, it speeds up and becomes turbulent in flow, and generates ultrasonic sound components. Because the audible sound of a small leak is very low and quiet, it typically gets drowned out by by surrounding plant noises, making leak detection by the human ear difficult if not impossible.

ULD_Pr
Detecting a Leak with the Ultrasonic Leak Detector

By using the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, the background noise can be filtered out and the ultrasonic noises can be detected, thus locating a leakage in the compressed air system. There are (3) sensitivity settings, x1, x10, and x100 along with an on/off thumb-wheel for fine sensitivity.  The unit comes with a parabola and tubular extension for added flexibility.

ULD_Kit
Model 9061 – Ultrasonic Leak Detector and Included Accessories

Finding just one small leak can pay for the unit-

A small leak equivalent to a 1/16″ diameter hole will leak approx 3.8 SCFM at 80 PSIG of line pressure.  Using a reasonable average cost of $0.25 per 1000 SCF of compressed air generation, we can calculate the cost of the leak as follows-

Capture

It is easy to see that utilizing the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, and identifying and fixing leaks is the right thing to do.  It is possible to find and fix enough leaks that a new compressor purchase can be avoided or an auxiliary back-up is not needed any more.

If you have questions regarding the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, 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

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Video Blog: The Monetary Benefits of an Engineered Solution

This video highlights the value and benefits of an engineered blow off solution.  We take a homemade open pipe blowoff and replace it with an EXAIR model 1100 Super Air Nozzle.  This air nozzle is then controlled through our Electronic Flow Controller, allowing for intermittent On/Off of the compressed air flow.  And, these solutions are wirelessly monitored via Zigbee network using our Wireless Digital Flowmeter.  Implementing these solutions results in a compressed air reduction of over 90%!!!

 

Full calculations along with supporting flow values (pulled from the same data shown in the video above) are shown below.

Screengrab of the flow values shown in the video above. Click for larger image.

The open pipe:

The first compressed air flow values to show up on the EXAIR Logger are for the open pipe blow off.  At 1 BAR operating pressure, this “solution” consumes 22.3 SCFM of compressed air.  At a cost of $0.25 for every 1,000 cubic feet of compressed air, this nozzle will cost $695.76 to operate 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, 52 weeks per year.

The engineered EXAIR Super Air Nozzle

Model 1100 EXAIR Super Air Nozzles consumes 4.7 SCFM at an operating pressure of 1 BAR – a reduction of 79% compared to the open pipe.  These savings prove out in terms of operating cost as well – $146.64 per year, compared to $695.76.

The engineered EXAIR Super Air Nozzle with Electronic Flow Control (EFC)

By controlling the “ON” time for this application with an EFC, we are only blowing for 32% of the time for each minute of operation which changes the required compressed air flow from 4.7 SCFM to a peak value of 1.5 SCFM. This control saves an additional 68% of compressed air flow.  And, these savings are compounded by eliminating the need for constant compressed air flow.  Total annual operating cost for the EXAIR 1100 Super Air Nozzle with Electronic Flow Control is just $46.80.

Implementing an engineered solution can have a TREMENDOUS impact on energy costs and operating costs in your facility.  Compressed air is the most expensive utility to produce and consume, making the impact of proper solutions of high value to any business.  Let us help you utilize engineered compressed air solutions in your facility by contacting an EXAIR Application Engineer today.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE

The Importance Of Air Compressor System Maintenance

 

It should go without saying, but proper operation of anything that has moving parts will depend on how well it’s maintained.  Compressed air systems are certainly no exception; in fact; they’re a critical example of the importance of proper maintenance, for two big reasons:

*Cost: compressed air, “the fourth utility,” is expensive to generate.  And it’s more expensive if it’s generated by a system that’s not operating as efficiently as it could.

*Reliability: Many industrial processes rely on clean or clean & dry air, at the right pressure, being readily available:

  • When a CNC machine trips offline in the middle of making a part because it loses air pressure, it has to be reset.  That means time that tight schedules may not afford, and maybe a wasted part.
  • The speed of pneumatic cylinders and tools are proportional to supply pressure.  Lower pressure means processes take longer.  Loss of pressure means they stop.
  • Dirt & debris in the supply lines will clog tight passages in air operated products.  It’ll foul and scratch cylinder bores.  And if you’re blowing off products to clean them, anything in your air flow is going to get on your products too.

Good news is, the preventive maintenance necessary to ensure optimal performance isn’t all that hard to perform.  If you drive a car, you’re already familiar with most of the basics:

*Filtration: air compressors don’t “make” compressed air, they compress air that already exists…this is called the atmosphere, and, technically, your air compressor is drawing from the very bottom of the “ocean” of air that blankets the planet.  Scientifically speaking, it’s filthy down here.  That’s why your compressor has an inlet/intake filter, and this is your first line of defense. If it’s dirty, your compressor is running harder, and costs you more to operate it.  If it’s damaged, you’re not only letting dirt into your system; you’re letting it foul & damage your compressor.  Just like a car’s intake air filter (which I replace every other time I change the oil,) you need to clean or replace your compressor’s intake air filter on a regular basis as well.

*Moisture removal: another common “impurity” here on the floor of the atmospheric “ocean” is water vapor, or humidity.  This causes rust in iron pipe supply lines (which is why we preach the importance of point-of-use filtration) and will also impact the operation of your compressed air tools & products.

  • Most industrial compressed air systems have a dryer to address this…refrigerated and desiccant are the two most popular types.  Refrigerant systems have coils & filters that need to be kept clean, and leaks are bad news not only for the dryer’s operation, but for the environment.  Desiccant systems almost always have some sort of regeneration cycle, but it’ll have to be replaced sooner or later.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on these.
  • Drain traps in your system collect trace amounts of moisture that even the best dryer systems miss.  These are typically float-operated, and work just fine until one sticks open (which…good news…you can usually hear quite well) or sticks closed (which…bad news…won’t make a sound.)  Check these regularly and, in conjunction with your dryers, will keep your air supply dry.

*Lubrication: the number one cause of rotating equipment failure is loss of lubrication.  Don’t let this happen to you:

  • A lot of today’s electric motors have sealed bearings.  If yours has grease fittings, though, use them per the manufacturer’s directions.  Either way, the first symptom of impending bearing failure is heat.  This is a GREAT way to use an infrared heat gun.  You’re still going to have to fix it, but if you know it’s coming, you at least get to say when.
  • Oil-free compressors have been around for years, and are very popular in industries where oil contamination is an unacceptable risk (paint makers, I’m looking at you.)  In oiled compressors, though, the oil not only lubricates the moving parts; it also serves as a seal, and heat removal medium for the compression cycle.  Change the oil as directed, with the exact type of oil the manufacturer calls out.  This is not only key to proper operation, but the validity of your warranty as well.

*Cooling:  the larger the system, the more likely there’s a cooler installed.  For systems with water-cooled heat exchangers, the water quality…and chemistry…is critical.  pH and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) should be checked regularly to determine if chemical additives, or flushing, are necessary.

*Belts & couplings: these transmit the power of the motor to the compressor, and you will not have compressed air without them, period.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  Keeping spares on hand isn’t a bad idea either.

Optimal performance of your compressed air products literally starts with your compressor system.  Proper preventive maintenance is key to maximizing it.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to shut down any system to replace a moving (or wear) part.  With a sound preventive maintenance plan in place, you have a good chance of getting to say when.

If you’d like to talk about other ways to optimize the performance of your compressed air system,  give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Image courtesy of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet, Creative Commons License