Intelligent Compressed Air: Compressed Air System Components

In any manufacturing environment, compressed air is critical to the operation of many processes. You will often hear compressed air referred to as a “4th utility” in a manufacturing environment. The makeup of a compressed air system is usually divided into two primary parts: the supply side and the demand side. The supply side consists of components before and including the pressure/flow controller. The demand side then consists of all the components after the pressure/flow controller.

The first primary component in the system is the air compressor itself. There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy.

Still on the supply side, but installed after the compressor, are aftercoolers, and compressed air dryers. An aftercooler is designed to cool the air down upon exiting from the compressor. During the compression, heat is generated that carries into the air supply. An aftercooler uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature.

When air leaves the aftercooler, it is typically saturated since atmospheric air contains moisture. In higher temperatures, the air is capable of holding even more moisture. When this air is then cooled, it can no longer contain all of that moisture and is lost as condensation. The temperature at which the moisture can no longer be held is referred to as the dewpoint. Dryers are installed in the system to remove unwanted moisture from the air supply. Types of dryers available include: refrigerant dryers, desiccant dryers, and membrane dryers.

Also downstream of the compressor are filters used to remove particulate, condensate, and lubricant. Desiccant and deliquescent-type dryers require a pre-filter to protect the drying media from contamination that can quickly render it useless. A refrigerant-type dryer may not require a filter before/after, but any processes or components downstream can be impacted by contaminants in the compressed air system.

Moving on to the demand side, we have the distribution system made up of a network of compressed air piping, receiver tanks when necessary, and point of use filters/regulators. Compressed air piping is commonly available as schedule 40 steel pipe, copper pipe, and aluminum pipe. Some composite plastics are available as well, however PVC should NEVER be used for compressed air as some lubricants present in the air can act as a solvent and degrade the pipe over time.

Receiver tanks are installed in the distribution system to provide a source of compressed air close to the point of use, rather than relying on the output of the compressor. The receiver tank acts as a “battery” for the system, storing compressed air energy to be used in periods of peak demand. This helps to maintain a stable compressed air pressure. It improves the overall performance of the system and helps to prevent pressure drop.

Finally, we move on to the point-of-use. While particulate and oil removal filters may be installed at the compressor output, it is still often required to install secondary filtration immediately at the point-of-use to remove any residual debris, particulate, and oil. Receiver tanks and old piping are both notorious for delivering contaminants downstream, after the initial filters.

Regulator and filter

In any application necessitating the use of compressed air, pressure should be controlled to minimize the air consumption at the point of use. Pressure regulators are available to control the air pressure within the system and throttle the appropriate supply of air to any pneumatic device. While one advantage of a pressure regulator is certainly maintaining consistent pressure to your compressed air devices, using them to minimize your pressure can result in dramatic savings to your costs of compressed air. As pressure and flow are directly related, lowering the pressure supplied results in less compressed air usage.

EXAIR manufactures a wide variety of products utilizing this compressed air to help you with your process problems. If you’d like to discuss your compressed air system, or have an application that necessitates an Intelligent Compressed Air Product, give us a call.

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

Compressor Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License

Keep Your Pneumatics “Healthy” and “Running Like a Brand New Car”

Compressed air systems are used in facilities to operate pneumatic systems, and these systems are vital for industries.  So, it is important to keep them running.  The system can be segregated into three different sections; the supply side, the demand side, and the distribution system.  I like to represent these sections as parts of a car.  The supply side will be the engine; the distribution system will be the transmission; and, the demand side will be the tires.  I will go through each section to help give tips on how to improve the “health” of your pneumatic system.

From the supply side, it will include the air compressor, after-cooler, dryer, and receiver tank that produce and treat the compressed air.  They are generally found in a compressor room somewhere in the corner of the plant.  The air compressor, like the engine of your car, produces the pneumatic power for your plant, and needs to have maintenance to keep it working optimally.  The oil needs to be changed, the filters have to be replaced, and maintenance checks have to be performed.  I wrote a blog that covers most of these items, “Compressed Air System Maintenance”.

To connect the supply side to the demand side, a distribution system is required.  Distribution systems are pipes which carry compressed air from the air compressor to the pneumatic devices.  Just like the transmission on the car, the power is transferred from the air compressor to your pneumatic products.

Maintenance is generally overlooked in this area.  Transmissions have oil which can be detected if it is leaking, but since air is a gas, it is hard to tell if you have leaks.  Energy is lost from your pneumatic “engine” for every leak that you have.  So, it is important to find and fix them.  A study was conducted within manufacturing plants about compressed air leaks.  They found that for plants without a leak detection program, up to 30% of their compressed air is lost due to leaks.  This will be equivalent to running on only 6 cylinders in a V-8 engine.

EXAIR offers the Ultrasonic Leak Detector to find those pesky leaks.  It makes the inaudible “hiss”; audible.  It can detect leaks as far as 20 feet (6m) away with the parabola attachment, and can find the exact location of the leak to be fixed with the tube attachment.

Another area for discussion with the distribution system is contamination like rust, oil, water, and debris.  Compressed air filters should be used to clean the compressed air that supplies your pneumatic products. They can remove the debris for your pneumatic products to have a long life.  You can read about the EXAIR compressed air filters here, “Preventative Maintenance for EXAIR Filters”.

The third section is the demand side.  So, you have an engine that makes the power, the transmission to transfer that power, and the tires to use that power safely and efficiently.  Many managers miss the importance of the demand side within their pneumatic system.  If you are using blow-off devices like open pipes, coolant lines, copper tubes, or drilled pipe; it will be like running your car on flat tires.  It is very unsafe as well as reducing gas mileage.  To improve safety and efficiency, EXAIR has a line of Super Air Nozzles and Super Air Knives.  Not only will it increase your “gas mileage” to save you money, but they also will keep your operators safe.

In this analogy, you can have a high-performance engine and a durable transmission, but if your tires are bald, flat, or cracked; you cannot use your car safely and efficiently.  The same thing with your compressed air system.  You have to optimize your blow-off devices to get the most from your pneumatic system.  EXAIR is a leader in engineered blow-off devices for efficiency and safety.  So, if you want to improve the “health” of your pneumatic system, you should begin at how you are using your compressed air on the demand side.  EXAIR has Application Engineers that will be happy to help you in trying to keep your pneumatic system running like a “brand new car”.

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

 

Photo: Ford Mustang Roadster by openclipart-VectorsPixabay License

Compressor Maintenance: Steps to Minimize Wear

While I was still in college, I worked in a meat processing plant as a Project Engineer in the maintenance department. During my time in the maintenance department I learned the importance of proper maintenance on machines. A meat processing plant is one of the most taxing environments on machines as they will have to survive in extreme cold temperatures to extreme hot temperatures; they are also put through deep sanitation wash downs multiple times a day sometimes for periods of over an hour. The plant really put into perspective the importance of preventative maintenance of machines. This includes utilities such as a boiler and of course your air compressor.

Industrial Air Compressors
Neglected air compressors can cause a lot of issues ranging from expensive repairs to a decrease in efficiency. Wear and tear placed on the motor of an air compressor can cause the compressor to produce less compressed air (SCFM) at the same power consumption. This means you are paying the same amount of money for less compressed air.

A primary focus to prevent an increased amount of wear on your compressor motor is to seal up compressed air leaks. Leaks can cause the compressor to cycle more often and/or refill receiver tanks on a more frequent basis, causing the motor to run more often. With the motor having to run more often to keep the air present, it will wear down faster. Using EXAIR’s Ultra Sonic Leak detector, leaks can be found in the pipes so that they can be sealed up.

EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector
Another important maintenance is to make sure that the compressor gets cleaned. As the motor runs excess heat is generated; the heat generated then needs to be dissipated which is done by exhausting air through vents. If these vents become dirty or blocked and the air cannot escape then the temperature of the motor and winding resistance will increase; this in turn will shorten the life of the motor and increase the energy consumption. Using one of EXAIR’s Super Air Nozzles is a sure way to keep your compressor vents clean and dust free in a quiet and efficient manner.
EXAIR Nozzles
There are many other items that require maintenance over time such as keeping belts in good condition and the drain traps clean. Good maintenance on any item whether it’s a production machine or  air compressor keeps it running a peak performance helping you save money and headaches in the long run. 

If you have any questions about compressed air systems or want more information on any EXAIR’s of our products, give us a call, we have a team of Application Engineers ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Compressed Air System Maintenance

Air Compressor and Storage Tanks

Compressed air is the life blood of a manufacturing plant, and the air compressor would be considered the heart. To keep things “fit”, it is important to check all areas and to optimize your system to keep your plant running safely and efficiently. You do not have to be a doctor to do these “operations”. If your compressor fails, the entire facility will stop working. In this blog, I will cover some simple preventative maintenance that can really help you.

As margins get tighter and cost of manufacturing climbs, industries are looking into other areas to be more economical. A big focus today is the compressed air system. Compressed air is considered to be a “forth” utility behind gas, water, and electricity, and it is a necessary to run your pneumatic systems. But it is the least efficient of the utilities. So, it is very important to use this utility as practical as possible and to use a PM program to keep it going.

If we start at the beginning of your compressed air system, this would jump us to the air compressor. This is the machine that uses an electric or gas motor to spin a crank. It compresses the ambient air into a small volume to generate stored energy to be used by your pneumatic systems. Because the air compressor is complex and intricate, I would recommend a trained service personnel to do the maintenance. But, if your staff is familiar with air compressors, I wrote a blog to help look at certain parts periodically. You can read it here: “6 Basic Steps for Good Air Compressor Maintenance (And When to Do Them)”.

The next part after the air compressor is to look at the aftercoolers, compressed air dryers, receiver tanks, filters, and condensate drains. Some facilities may only have some of these items.

The aftercoolers are designed to cool the exit air from your air compressor. It uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature. It is easy to check the fan to verify that it is spinning and to keep the coils clean from debris.

The compressed air dryers can range in size and type. For the refrigerant type air dryers, you should periodically check the freon compressor with ohm and amp readings, the condensers for cleaning, and the super heat temperature as well. For desiccant type air dryers, you will need to check the operation of the valves. Valves are used to regenerate one side of the desiccant bed. The valves can fail and stick either open or closed. In either way, if the desiccant cannot regenerate, then it will allow moisture to go down stream and eventually destroy the desiccant beads.

The receiver tanks have safety relief valves that will need to be checked to make sure that they are not leaking. If they are, they should be changed.

As for the filters, they collect contamination from the compressed air stream. This will include liquid water, oil, and dirt. A pressure drop will start to increase with the contaminants, which will reduce the potential energy. If they do not have pressure drop indicators, you should have two points of references for pressure readings. You should change the filter elements when the pressure drop reaches 10 PSID (0.7 bar) or after 1 year.

With all these items above, water is created. There should be condensate drains to discard the water. The most efficient types of condensate drains are the zero loss drains. Most condensate drains will have a test button to be pressed to verify that they open. If they do not open, they should be replaced or fixed. Do not place a valve on them and partially open for draining. For float type drains, they will have a pin inside that can be pressed to open. You can verify that all the liquid has been expelled.

The distribution system are the pipes and tubes that run compressed air from the supply side to the demand side of your pneumatic system. One of the largest problems affecting the distribution system are leaks. That quiet little hissing sound from the pipe lines is costing your company much money. A study was conducted by a university to determine the percentage of air leaks in a typical manufacturing plant. In a poorly maintained system, they found on average of 30% of the compressor capacity is lost through air leaks.

To put a dollar value on it, a leak that you cannot physically hear can cost you as much as $130/year. That is just for one inaudible leak in hundreds of feet of compressed air lines. Unlike a hydraulic system, compressed air is clean; so, leaks will not appear at the source. So, you have to find them by some other means.

Digital Flowmeter

 

EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector

Most leaks occur where you have threaded fittings, connections, hoses, and pneumatic components like valves, regulators, and drains. EXAIR has two products in our Optimization product line that are designed to help find leaks in your compressed air system.

The Ultrasonic Leak Detectors can find air leaks, and the Digital Flowmeters can monitor your system for loss of air. When an air leaks occur, it emits an ultrasonic noise caused by turbulence. These ultrasonic noises can be at a frequency above audible hearing for human. The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector can pick up these high frequencies to make inaudible leaks audible.

With the Digital Flowmeters, you can continuously check your system for waste and record it with a USB Datalogger.  Air leaks can occur at any time within any section of your pneumatic system.  With a Digital Flowmeter, you can also isolate an area to watch for any flow readings; telling you that the air is leaking in that section.  With both products included in your leak-preventative program, you will be able to reduce your waste and optimize your compressed air system.

Family of Nozzles

At the point-of-use areas, this is the easiest target area for compressed air maintenance. If you are using open tubes or drilled pipes for blowing, they are loud, inefficient, and unsafe. They can be easily change to an engineered blow-off product from EXAIR which are very efficient and OSHA safe. EXAIR offers a range of Super Air Nozzles and Super Air Knives to simply replace the current blow-off devices that overuse compressed air. If we go back to the beginning of your system, the air compressor is a mechanical device which will have a MTBF, or Mean Time Between Failures. The hour meter on your air compressor is like a life monitor. By using less compressed air, your air compressor will extend that time in MTBF.

Keeping your compressed air system running optimally is very important for a business to run. With a simple maintenance program, it can help you with your pneumatic operations and energy savings. Like stated above, your compressed air system is the life blood of your company, and you do not need a PhD to keep it well maintained. Just follow the target areas above. If you would like to discuss further about the health of your compressed air system, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR. We will be happy to help “diagnose” a solution.

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