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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When to Use a Receiver Tank for a Compressed Air Application

Recently, I worked with a production engineer at a Tier 1 supplier for the auto industry.  An upcoming project was in the works to install a new line to produce headlight lenses.  As a part of the process, there was to be a “De-static / Blow-off” station, where a shuttle system would bring a pair of the parts to a station where they would be blown off and any static removed prior to being transferred to a painting fixture and sent off for painting.  For best results, the lenses were to be dust and lint free and have no static charge, ensuring a perfect paint result.

The customer installed a pair of 18″ Gen4 Super Ion Air Knives, to provide coverage of the widest 16″ lens assembly, that were staged in pairs.

The Super Ion Air Knife Kit, and Everything that is Included.

The customer was limited in compressed air supply volume in the area of the plant where this process was to occur. 50 SCFM of 80 PSIG was the expected air availability at peak use times, which posed a problem –  the Super Ion Air Knives would need up to 105 SCFM if operated at 80 PSIG.  A further review of the design parameters for the process revealed that the system needed to blow air for only 4 seconds and would be off for 25 seconds to meet the target throughput.

This scenario lends itself perfectly to the use of a Receiver Tank.  Running all of the design numbers into the calculations, showed that the 60 Gallon Receiver Tank we offer, would allow for a 20 second run-time, and require 13.1 seconds to refill.  These figures were well within the requires times, and would allow for the system to work as needed, without having to do anything to the compressed air supply system.

60 Gallon Receiver Tank

The moral of the story is – if you have a process that is intermittent, and the times for and between blow-off, drying, or cooling allows, a Receiver Tank can be used to allow you to get the most of your available compressed air system.

Note – Lee Evans wrote an easy to follow blog that details the principle and calculations of Receiver Tanks, and it is worth your time to read here.

If you would like to talk about 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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Find us on the Web 
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Twitter: @EXAIR_BB

Compressed Air Calculations, Optimization, and Tips

EXAIR uses our blog platform to communicate everything from new product announcements to personal interests to safe and efficient use of compressed air. We have recently passed our 5 year anniversary of posting blogs (hard for us to believe) and I thought it appropriate to share a few of the entries which explain some more of the technical aspects of compressed air.

Here is a good blog explaining EXAIR’s 6 steps to optimization, a useful process for improving your compressed air efficiency:

One of the Above 6 steps is to provide secondary storage, a receiver tank, to eliminate pressure drops from high use intermittent applications. This blog entry addresses how to size a receiver tank properly:

Here are 5 things everyone should know about compressed air, including how to calculate the cost of compressed air:

These next few entries address a common issue we regularly assist customers with, compressed air plumbing:

In a recent blog post we discuss how to improve the efficiency of your point of use applications:

Thanks for supporting our blog over the past 5 years, we appreciate it. If you need any support with your sustainability or safety initiatives, or with your compressed air applications please contact us.  

Have a great day,
Kirk Edwards

Advanced Management of Compressed Air – Storage and Capacitance

Receiver Tank Drawing

Last week I attended the Advanced Management of Compressed Air Systems seminar put on by the Compressed Air Challenge.  For those unfamiliar with the Compressed Air Challenge, it’s an organization focused on delivering reliable and sustainable compressed air that has maximized efficiency.  Many of the industry’s best practices are preached, if not mandated, and the ultimate goal is to reduce compressed air use as much as possible.  This fits in line with EXAIR products, their design for maximum efficiency, and the recurring ability of our customers to reduce their compressed air use by using our products.

The “advanced” seminar dives into compressed air system profiles, explores the math and theory behind system design, explains the various types of system controls, and shows how to balance compressed air supply and demand.  These things are great not only on their inherent value, but also because when Brian Farno, Russ Bowman, and I attended the Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems seminar, we kept raising our hands asking questions that were “too advanced”.  The material presented here answered many of those questions, and sparked a few new ones.

One of the questions that came to me during the training had to do with the capacitance of a compressed air system.  When storing the energy of a compressed air system in a receiver tank, there has to be a pressure gradient in order for there to be energy storage.  If a receiver tank has the same inlet and outlet pressure, it is merely part of the system plumbing and provides no benefit to the system when demand peaks.  So I thought to myself, “if a pressure drop is needed across a receiver tank to achieve system capacitance, and the capacitance of the system is related to the value of that differential, a system could theoretically be supplied enough compressed air volume with the right pressure specs”.

So, I looked to the formula used for sizing a receiver tank.

V = (T x (C – R) x Pa)/P1-P2


V = Receiver volume in cubic feet

T = Time of the event in minutes (amount of time for which the receiver tank must be able to provide compressed air at the needed rate)

C = Intermittent demand amount (how much flow or “Q”) in CFM

R = Flow into tank during event (through needle valve, spare air in system, etc.) in CFM

Pa = Absolute atmospheric pressure (14.7 PSIA)

P1 = Initial receiver tank pressure (in PSI)

P2 = Final receiver tank pressure (in PSI)

Ok, nothing new there.  First grade stuff.  Plugging in some theoretical values we could say:

T = 1 minute

C = 50 cubic feet per minute

R = 0 cubic feet per minute.  In this example we’ll assume there is no residual compressed air flow and that the receiver tank must deliver all the airflow for the duration of the event.

Pa = 14.7

P1 = 100 PSIG

P2 = 90 PSIG

Using these values, the volume calculates to be 73.5 cubic feet.  But, most receiver tanks are sized in gallons so we can multiply by 7.48 to get the figure in gallons.  (7.48 gallons = 1 cubic foot)  This yields an approximate value of 550 gallons.  In plain terms, for the application above, we would need a 550 gallon receiver tank with an inlet pressure of 100 PSIG and an outlet pressure of 90 PSIG to provide compressed airflow over the needed (1) minute duration.

That’s a big tank.

Now, back to my thought on pressure differentials – if we increase the ΔP, we can decrease the size of the receiver tank.  Let’s say the inlet pressure to the receiver tank can be as high as 130 PSIG (a wet tank, in line before any filters or dryers).  This will quadruple the pressure differential and reduce the size of the tank by 75% to 138 gallons.  Great!

Well, great for a new system, but what about one already in place?  What if the application needs 50 CFM of compressed air flow for 1 minute, and the shop already has a 175 gallon tank.  We can work the equation in reverse to determine the necessary pressure differential that will ensure the system has enough capacitance to sustain the event (approximately 32 PSI).  It’s good to know the math.

As a whole, the seminar was a great success and the presenters proved why they’re experts in the field of compressed air.  We’re not too shabby here at EXAIR either.  If you have an application need, give us a call.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer