What Are Compressed Air Dryers and Why are They Necessary?

desiccant-dryer

When we talk with customers about their EXAIR Products, we also discuss the quality of their compressed air. Many of our products have no moving parts and are considered maintenance-free when supplied with clean, dry compressed air. One of the most critical aspects of a compressed air distribution system is the dryer.

No matter where you are in the world, the atmospheric air will contain water vapor. Even in the driest place in the world, McMurdo Dry Valley in Antartica, there is some moisture in the air. As this air cools to the saturation point, also known as dew point, the vapor will condense into liquid water. The amount of this moisture will vary depending on both the ambient temperature and the relative humidity. According to the Compressed Air Challenge, a general rule of thumb is that the amount of moisture air can hold at a saturated condition will double for every increase of 20°F. In regions or periods of warmer temperatures, this poses an even greater problem. Some problems that can be associated with moisture-laden compressed air include:

  • Increased wear of moving parts due to removal of lubrication
  • Formation of rust in piping and equipment
  • Can affect the color, adherence, and finish of paint that is applied using compressed air
  • Jeopardizes processes that are dependent upon pneumatic controls. A malfunction due to rust, scale, or clogged orifices can damage product or cause costly shutdowns
  • In colder temperatures, the moisture can freeze in the control lines

In order to remove moisture from the air after compression, a dryer must be installed at the outlet of the compressor. There are three primary types of dryers used in the compressor industry: refrigerant, desiccant, and membrane. Each style has it’s own inherent applications and benefits.

Refrigerant type dryers cool the air, removing the condensed moisture before allowing it to continue through the distribution system. These will generally lower the dew point of the air to 35-40°F which is sufficient for most applications. So long as the temperature in the facility never dips below the dew point, condensation will not occur. Typical advantages of a refrigerant dryer include: low initial capital cost, relatively low operating cost, and low maintenance costs. This makes them a common solution used in an industrial compressed air system.

Another type of dryer is the desiccant dryer. I’m sure you’ve seen the small “Do Not Eat” packages that are included in a variety of food products, shoes, medications, etc. These are filled with a small amount of desiccant (typically silica gel) that is there to absorb any moisture that could contaminate the product. In a desiccant dryer, the same principle applies. The compressed air is forced through a “tower” that is filled with desiccant. The moisture is removed from the air supply and then passed into the distribution system. One minor drawback with a desiccant type dryer is that the desiccant material does have to periodically be replaced. Desiccant dryers can also be used in addition to a refrigerant dryer for critical applications that require all water vapor to be removed.

The third type of dryer is the membrane dryer. In this style, extremely low dew points are able to be achieved. This makes them the optimal choice for outdoor applications where the air could be susceptible to frost in colder climates. They are also ideal for medical and dental applications where consistent reliability and air quality is an absolute must. A membrane dryer does not require a source of electricity to operate and its compact size allows it to be easily installed with minimal downtime and floor space. Maintenance is minimal and consists of periodic replacement of the membrane. While they are good for some applications, they do come with limitations. They do limit the capacity of the system with variations ranging from as little as 1 SCFM to 200 SCFM. Because of this, they’re often used as a point-of-use dryer for specific applications rather than an entire compressed air system. Some of the compressed air must be purged with along with the moisture which consumes excess compressed air.

Regardless of what products you’re using at the point-of-use, a dryer is undoubtedly a critical component of that system. Delivering clean, dry air to your EXAIR Products or other pneumatic devices will help to ensure a long life out of your equipment.

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

Why Start a Leak Prevention Program?

All compressed air systems will have some amount of leakage. It is a good idea to set up a Leak Prevention Program.  Keeping the leakage losses to a minimum will save on compressed air generation costs, and reduce compressor operation time which can extend its life and lower maintenance costs.

The Compressed Air Challenge estimates an individual compressed air leak can cost thousands of dollars per year when using $0.07/kWh.

  • 1/16″ diameter hole in excess of $700/year
  • 1/8″ hole in excess of $2900/year
  • 1/4″ hole in excess of $11,735 per year

There are generally two types of leak prevention programs:

  • Leak Tag type programs
  • Seek-and-Repair type programs

Of the two types, the easiest would be the Seek-and-Repair method.  It involves finding leaks and then repairing them immediately. For the Leak Tag method, a leak is identified, tagged, and then logged for repair at the next opportune time.

A successful Leak Prevention Program consists of several important components:

  • Document your Starting Compressed Air Use – knowing the initial compressed air usage will allow for comparison after the program has been followed for measured improvement.
  • Establishment of initial leak loss – See this blog for more details.
  • Determine the cost of air leaks – One of the most important components of the program. The cost of leaks can be used to track the savings as well as promote the importance of the program. Also a tool to obtain the needed resources to perform the program.
  • Find the leaks – Leaks can be found using many methods.  Most common is the use of an Ultrasonic Leak Detector, like the EXAIR Model 9061.  See this blog for more details. An inexpensive handheld meter will locate a leak and indicate the size of the leak.

    Model 9061
    Model 9061
  • Record the leaks – Note the location and type, its size, and estimated cost. Leak tags can be used, but a master leak list is best.  Under Seek-and-Repair type, leaks should still be noted in order to track the number and effectiveness of the program.
  • Plan to repairs leaks – Make this a priority and prioritize the leaks. Typically fix the biggest leaks first, unless operations prevent access to these leaks until a suitable time.
  • Record the repairs – By putting a cost with each leak and keeping track of the total savings, it is possible to provide proof of the program effectiveness and garner additional support for keeping the program going. Also, it is possible to find trends and recurring problems that will need a more permanent solution.
  • Compare and publish results – Comparing the original baseline to the current system results will provide a measure of the effectiveness of the program and the calculate a cost savings. The results are to be shared with management to validate the program and ensure the program will continue.
  • Repeat As Needed – If the results are not satisfactory, perform the process again. Also, new leaks can develop, so a periodic review should be performed to achieve and maintain maximum system efficiency.

An effective compressed air system leak prevention and repair program is critical in sustaining the efficiency, reliability, and cost effectiveness of an compressed air system.

If you have questions about a Leak Prevention Program or any of the 16 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.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Rotary Scroll Compressors

Over the years, my EXAIR colleagues and I have blogged about different types of air compressor types including single and double acting reciprocating, rotary screw and sliding vane air compressors. You can click on the links above to check those out. Today, I will review the basics of the rotary scroll-type compressor.

The rotary scroll type 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.

Positive displacement type compressors

Each of the previous positive displacement type compressors use a different mechanism for the reduction in size of the compression chamber. The rotary scroll uses two inter-meshing scrolls, that are spiral in shape. One of the scrolls is fixed, and does not move (red).  The other scroll (black) has an “orbit” type of motion, relative to the fixed scroll. Air would be drawn in from the left, and as it flows clockwise through the scroll, the area is reduced until the air is discharged at a high pressure at the center.

How it Works

There is no metal to metal sliding contact, so lubrication is not needed.  A drawback to an oil free operation is that oil lubrication tends to reduce the heat of compression and without it, the efficiency of scroll compressors is less than that of lubricated types.

The advantages of the rotary scroll type compressor include:

  • Comes as a complete package
  • Comparatively efficient operation
  • Can be lubricant-free
  • Quiet operation
  • Air cooled

The main disadvantage:

  • A limited range of capacities is available, with low output flows

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.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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Rotary Scroll GIF:  used from  Public Domain
Images Courtesy of  Compressor1 Creative Commons.

 

Business Benefits From Compressed Air Efficiency

Use of compressed air, or “the fourth utility” as it’s called, is widespread in many industries.  How you use it in your business is important, for a couple of key considerations:

Monetary cost

Compressed air isn’t free.  Heck, it isn’t even cheap.  According to a Tip Sheet on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, some companies estimate the cost of generation at $0.18 – $0.30 per 1,000 cubic feet of air.  A typical industrial air compressor will make 4-5 Standard Cubic Feet per Minute per horsepower.  Let’s be generous and assume that our 100HP compressor puts out 500 SCFM and is fully loaded 85% of the time over two shifts per day, five days a week:

500 SCFM X $0.18/1,000 SCF X 60 min/hr X 16 hr/day X 5 days/week X 52 weeks/year =

$22,464.00 estimated annual compressed air cost

If you want to go jot down some numbers from your compressor’s nameplate and your last electric bill, you can accurately calculate your actual cost.  Here’s the formula:

Taking our same 100HP compressor (105 bhp required,) fully loaded 85% of the time, and assuming the motor’s good (95% efficient):

(105 bhp X 0.746 X 4,160 hours X $0.08/kWh X 0.85 X 1.0)÷ 0.95 =

$23,324.20 actual annual compressed air cost

So, our estimate was within 4% of our actual…but the point is, $22,000 to $23,000 is a significant amount of money, which deserves to be spent as wisely as possible, and that means using your compressed air efficiently.  Engineered solutions like EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Products can be a major part of this – look through our Case Studies; implementing our products have saved companies as much as 60% on their compressed air costs.

Health & Safety

Injuries and illnesses can be big expenses for business as well. Inefficient use of compressed air can be downright unsafe.  Open ended blow offs present serious hazards, if dead-ended…the pressurized (energized) flow can break the skin and cause a deadly air embolism.  Even some air nozzles that can’t be dead ended (see examples of cross-drilled nozzles on right) cause a different safety hazard, hearing loss due to noise exposure.  This is another case where EXAIR can help.  Not only are our Intelligent Compressed Air Products fully OSHA compliant in regard to dead end pressure, their efficient design also makes them much quieter than other devices.

Efficient use of compressed air can make a big difference in the workplace – not only to your financial bottom line, but to everyone’s safety, health, and livelihood.  If you’d like to find out more about how EXAIR can help, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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About Heat of Compression Dryers

Drying compressed air is similar to removing the humidity in the air when using an air conditioning system.

From a functional standpoint, what does this really mean?  What will take place in the compressed air system if the air is not dried and the moisture is allowed to remain?

The answer is in the simple fact that moisture is damaging.  Rust, increased wear of moving parts, discoloration, process failure due to clogging, frozen control lines in cold weather, false readings from instruments and controls – ALL of these can happen due to moisture in the compressed air.  It stands to reason, then, that if we want long-term operation of our compressed air products, having dry air is a must.

desiccant-dryer
A Heat of Compression regenerative desiccant dryer for compressed air

 

A heat of compression type dryer is a regenerative desiccant dryer which uses the heat generated by the compression of the ambient air to regenerate the moisture removing capability of the desiccant used to dry the compressed air.

heat-of-compression-regenerative-desiccant-dryer-diagram.png

When using one of these dryers, the air is pulled directly from the outlet of the compressor with no cooling or treatment to the air and is fed through a desiccant bed in “Tank 1” where it regenerates the moisture removing capabilities of the desiccant inside the tank.  The compressed air is then fed through a regeneration cooler, a separator, and finally another desiccant bed, this time in “Tank 2”, where the moisture is removed.  The output of “Tank 2” is supplied to the facilities as clean, dry compressed air.  After enough time, “tank 1” and “tank 2” switch, allowing the hot output of the compressor to regenerate the desiccant in “tank 2” while utilizing the moisture removing capabilities of the desiccant in “tank 1”.

If you have questions about your compressed air system and how the end use devices are operating, contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.  We’ll be happy to discuss your system and ways to optimize your current setup.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Heated Desiccant Dryer by Compressor1.  Creative Commons License

How to Size a Receiver Tank and Improve your Compressed Air System

Receiver Tank: Model 9500-60

My colleague, Lee Evans, wrote a blog about calculating the size of primary receiver tanks within a compressed air system.  (You can read it here: Receiver Tank Principle and Calculations).  I would like to expand a bit more about secondary receiver tanks.  They can be strategically placed throughout the plant to improve your compressed air system.  The primary receiver tanks help to protect the supply side when demands are high, and the secondary receiver tanks help systems on the demand side to optimize performance.

Circuit Board

I like to compare the pneumatic system to an electrical system.  The receiver tanks are like capacitors.  They store energy produced by an air compressor like a capacitor stores energy from an electrical source.  If you have ever seen an electrical circuit board, you notice many capacitors with different sizes throughout the circuit board (reference photo above).  The reason is to have a ready source of energy to increase efficiency and speed for the ebbs and flows of electrical signals.  The same can be said for the secondary receiver tanks in a pneumatic system.

To tie this to a compressed air system, if you have an area that requires a high volume of compressed air intermittently, a secondary receiver tank would benefit this system.  There are valves, cylinders, actuators, and pneumatic controls which turn on and off.  And in most situations, very quickly.  To maximize speed and efficiency, it is important to have a ready source of air nearby to supply the necessary amount quickly.

For calculating a minimum volume size for your secondary receiver tank, we can use Equation 1 below.  It is the same as sizing a primary receiver tank, but the scalars are slightly different.  The secondary receivers are located to run a certain machine or area.  The supply line to this tank will typically come from a header pipe that supplies the entire facility.  Generally, it is smaller in diameter; so, we have to look at the air supply that it can feed into the tank.  For example, a 1” NPT Schedule 40 Pipe at 100 PSIG can supply a maximum of 150 SCFM of air flow.  This value is used for Cap below.  C is the largest air demand for the machine or targeted area that will be using the tank.  If the C value is less than the Cap value, then a secondary tank is not needed.  If the Cap is below the C value, then we can calculate the smallest volume that would be needed.  The other value is the minimum tank pressure.  In most cases, a regulator is used to set the air pressure for the machine or area.  If the specification is 80 PSIG, then you would use this value as P2.  P1 is the header pressure that will be coming into the secondary tank.  With this collection of information, you can use Equation 1 to calculate the minimum tank volume.  So, any larger volume would fit the requirement as a secondary receiver tank.

Secondary Receiver tank capacity formula (Equation 1)

V = T * (C – Cap) * (Pa) / (P1-P2)

Where:

V – Volume of receiver tank (cubic feet)

T – Time interval (minutes)

C – Air demand for system (cubic feet per minute)

Cap – Supply value of inlet pipe (cubic feet per minute)

Pa – Absolute atmospheric pressure (PSIA)

P1 – Header Pressure (PSIG)

P2 – Regulated Pressure (PSIG)

If you find that your pneumatic devices are lacking in performance because the air pressure seems to drop during operation, you may need to add a secondary receiver to that system.  For any intermittent design, the tank can store that energy like a capacitor to optimize the performance.  EXAIR stocks 60 Gallon tanks, model 9500-60 to add to those specific locations, If you have any questions about using a receiver tank in your application, primary or secondary, you can contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.  We can restore that efficiency and speed back into your application.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

Photo: Circuit Board courtesy from T_Tide under Pixabay License

Refrigerant Compressed Air Dryer Systems

No matter what your use of compressed air entails, moisture is very likely an issue.  Air compressors pressurize air that they pull in straight from the environment and most of the time, there’s at least a little humidity involved.  Now, if you have an industrial air compressor, it’s also very likely that it was supplied with a dryer, for this very reason.

There are different types of dryer systems, depending on your requirements.

For practical purposes, “dryness” of compressed air is really its dew point.  That’s the temperature at which water vapor in the air will condense into liquid water…which is when it becomes the aforementioned issue in your compressed air applications.  This can cause rust in air cylinders, motors, tools, etc.  It can be detrimental to blow offs – anything in your compressed air flow is going to get on the surface of whatever you’re blowing onto.  It can lead to freezing in Vortex Tube applications when a low enough cold air temperature is produced.

Some very stringent applications (food & pharma folks, I’m looking at you) call for VERY low dew points…ISO 8673.1 (food and pharma folks, you know what I’m talking about) calls for a dew point of -40°F (-40°C) as well as very fine particulate filtration specs.  As a consumer who likes high levels of sanitary practice for the foods and medicines I put in my body, I’m EXTREMELY appreciative of this.  The dryer systems that are capable of low dew points like this operate as physical filtration (membrane types) or effect a chemical reaction to absorb or adsorb water (desiccant or deliquescent types.)  These are all on the higher ends of purchase price, operating costs, and maintenance levels.

For many industrial and commercial applications, though, you really just need a dew point that’s below the lowest expected ambient temperature in which you’ll be operating your compressed air products & devices.  Refrigerant type air dryers are ideal for this.  They tend to be on the less expensive side for purchase, operating, and maintenance costs.  They typically produce air with a dew point of 35-40°F (~2-5°C) but if that’s all you need, they let you avoid the expense of the ones that produce those much lower dew points.  Here’s how they work:

  • Red-to-orange arrows: hot air straight from the compressor gets cooled by some really cold air (more on that in a moment.)
  • Orange-to-blue arrows: the air is now cooled further by refrigerant…this causes a good amount of the water vapor in it to condense, where it leaves the system through the trap & drain (black arrow.)
  • Blue-to-purple arrows: Remember when the hot air straight from the compressor got cooled by really cold air? This is it. Now it flows into the compressed air header, with a sufficiently low dew point, for use in the plant.

Non-cycling refrigerant dryers are good for systems that operate with a continuous air demand.  They have minimal dew point swings, but, because they run all the time, they’re not always ideal when your compressed air is not in continuous use.  For those situations, cycling refrigerant dryers will conserve energy…also called mass thermal dryers, they use the refrigerant to cool a solution (usually glycol) to cool the incoming air.  Once the glycol reaches a certain temperature, the system turns on and runs until the solution (thermal mass) is cooled, then it turns off.  Because of this, a cycling system’s operating time (and cost) closely follows the compressor’s load – so if your compressor runs 70% of the time, a cycling dryer will cost 30% less to operate than a non-cycling one.

EXAIR Corporation wants you to get the most out of your compressed air system.  If you have questions, I’d love to hear from you.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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