Compressed Air and Pneumatic Systems

Compressed Air Pipe

Compressed air is used to operate pneumatic systems in a facility, and it can be segregated into three main sections; the supply side, the demand side, and the distribution system.  The supply side is the air compressor, after-cooler, dryer, and receiver tank that produce and treat the compressed air.  They are generally found in a compressor room.  The demand side is a collection of devices that will use the compressed air to do “work”.  These pneumatic components are generally scattered throughout the facility.  To connect the supply side to the demand side, a distribution system is required.  Distribution systems are pipes or tubes which carry compressed air from the air compressor to the pneumatic devices.  The three sections have to work together to make an effective and efficient system.

Compressed air is a clean utility that is used in many different ways, and it is much safer than electrical or hydraulic systems.  But most people think that compressed air is free, and it is most certainly not.  Because of the cost, compressed air is considered to be a fourth utility in manufacturing plants.  For an electrical motor to reduce a volume of air by compressing it, it takes roughly 1 horsepower (746 watts) to compress 4 cubic feet (113L) of air every minute to 125 PSI (8.5 bar).  With almost every manufacturing plant in the world utilizing air compressors larger than 1 horsepower, the amount of energy needed is extraordinary.

Let’s determine the energy cost to operate an air compressor by Equation 1:

Equation 1:

Cost = hp * 0.746 * hours * rate / (motor efficiency)


Cost – US$

hp – horsepower of motor

0.746 – conversion KW/hp

hours – running time

rate – cost for electricity, US$/KWh

motor efficiency – average for an electric motor is 95%.

As an example, a manufacturing plant operates a 100 HP air compressor in their facility.  The cycle time for the air compressor is roughly 60%.  To calculate the hours of running time per year, I used 250 days/year at 16 hours/day.  So operating hours equal 250 * 16 * 0.60 = 2,400 hours per year.  The electrical rate for this facility is $0.10/KWh. With these factors, the annual cost to run the air compressor can be calculated by Equation 1:

Cost = 100hp * 0.746 KW/hp * 2,400hr * $0.10/KWh / 0.95 = $18,846 per year in electrical costs.

Filters and Regulator

If we look at the point-of-use or demand side, the compressed air is generally conditioned to be used to run and control the pneumatic system.  The basic units include filters, regulators, and lubricators.  The filters are used to remove any oil, water, vapor, and pipe scale to keep your pneumatic system clean.  They fall into different types and categories depending on the cleanliness level required.

Filter Separators are more of a coarse filtration which will capture liquid water, oil, and particulate.  The Oil Removal Filters are more of a fine filtration which can capture particles down to 0.03 micron.  They are also designed to “coalesce” the small liquid particles into larger droplets for gravity removal.  One other group is for removing oil vapor and smell.  This type of filter uses activated charcoal to adsorb the vapor for food and pharmaceutical industries.  Filters should be placed upstream of regulators.

Pressure Regulators change the pressure downstream for safety and control.  Pneumatic devices need both flow and pressure to work correctly.  The lubricator, which is placed after the Regulator, helps to add clean oil in a compressed air line.  Air tools, cylinders, and valves use the oil to keep seals from wearing with dynamic functions.  Once the compressed air is “ready” for use, then it is ready to do many applications.

For EXAIR, we manufacture products that use the compressed air safely, efficiently, and effectively.  EXAIR likes to use the 5-C’s; Coat, Clean, Cool, Convey and Conserve.  We have products that can do each part with 16 different product lines.  EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983.  Compressed air is an expensive system to operate pneumatic systems; but, with EXAIR products, you can save yourself much money.  If you need alternative ways to decrease electrical cost, improve safety, and increase productivity when using compressed air, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to help you.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

About Rotary Scroll Compressors

The Rotary Scroll compressor is a popular style compressor and is used primarily for air conditioning refrigerant systems.  Recently, since it is very efficient, quiet and reliable it has been adopted by industrial air compressor manufacturer’s to expand their product offering for their smaller, high-efficiency product line.

They operate on the principle of two intermeshing spirals or scrolls with one being stationary while the other rotates or orbits in relation to it.  They are mounted with 180° phase displacement between them which forms air pockets having different volumes.  Air enters through the inlet port located in the rotating/orbiting scroll which fills the chambers and as is moved along and compressed along the scroll surfaces.

Some of the key advantages of a Rotary Scroll Compressor are:

  • Pulsation free delivery due to the continuous flow from the suction port to the outlet port.
  • No metal to metal contact thereby eliminating the need for lubrication
  • Low noise levels
  • Fewer moving parts means less maintenance
  • Energy Efficient
  • Air cooled

The largest disadvantage is they are available in a limited range of sizes and the largest SCFM outputs are around 100 SCFM.

This is exactly where EXAIR shines, we offer 15 product lines of highly efficient & quiet point of use compressed air products and accessories to compliment their limited output volume of air.  All EXAIR products are designed to use compressed air efficiently and quietly, many of which reduce the demand on your air compressor which will help control utility costs and possibly delay the need to add additional compressed air capacity.

As an example, EXAIR’s Super Air Knives deliver exceptional efficiency by entraining ambient air at ratios of up to 40:1 and they are able to deliver an even laminar flow of air ranging from a gentle breeze to exceptionally hard-hitting force.

Super Air Knife
EXAIR’s Super Air Knife entrains ambient air at a 40:1 ratio!

EXAIR’s Super Air Amplifiers are able to entrain ambient air at ratio’s up to 25:1.  The model 120024 – 4″ Super Air Amplifier developes output volumes up to 2,190 SCFM while consuming only 29.2 SCFM of compressed air @ 80 PSI which can easily be operated on a 100 SCFM output compressor.

Super Air Amplifier
EXAIR Air Amplifiers use a small amount of compressed air to create a tremendous amount of air flow.

For your blow off needs EXAIR’s Super Air Nozzle lineup has an offering that will fit nearly any need or application you may have.  Nozzles are available in sizes from M4 x 0.5 to  1 1/4 NPT and forces that range from 2 ounces of force up to 23 Lbs at 12″ from the discharge.  We offer sixty two nozzles that could all be operated easily from the limited discharge or a rotary scroll compressor.

Family of Nozzles

If you need to reduce your compressed air consumption or you are looking for expert advice on safe, quiet and efficient point of use compressed air products give us a call.  We would enjoy hearing from you!

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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