A Brief History of Compressed Air

So where exactly did compressed air come from? How did it become so widely used and where will it go? Both of these are great questions and the answers lie below.

Compressed air can be traced all the way back to the classic bellows that were used to fuel blacksmith fires and forges.  These started as hand pumped bellows, they then scaled up to foot pumped, multiple person pumped, oxen or horse driven and then eventually waterwheel driven.  All of these methods came about due to the demand for more and more compressed air. These bellows did not generate near the amount of air pressure or volume needed for modern day practices yet they worked in the times.  These early bellows pumps would even supply miners with air.

With the evolution of metallurgy and industry these bellows were replaced by wheel driven fans, then steam came about and began generating more industrial sources of power.  The main issue with steam was that it would lose its power over longer runs of pipe due to condensing in the pipes.  Thus the birth of the air compressor was born. One of the largest projects that is noted to first use compressed air was in 1861 during the build of the Mont Cenis Tunnel in Switzerland in which they used compressed air machinery.  From here the constant need and evolution for on-demand compressed air expanded.  The picture below showcases two air compressors from 1896.

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Air Compressors from the old days.

The compressors evolved over time from single stage, to two-stage reciprocating, on to compound, rotary-screw compressors, rotary vane, scroll, turbo, and centrifugal compressors with variable frequency drives.  The efficiency of each evolution has continued to increase.  More output for the same amount of input.  Now we see a two-stage compressor, considered old technology, and wonder how the company can get any work done.

All of the technological advances in compressor technology were driven by the demand sides of the compressed air systems.  Companies needed to power more, go further, get more from less, ultimately increase production.  With this constant increase in demand, the supply of compressed air increased and more efficient products for using compressed air began to evolve so the air was used more efficiently.

Enter EXAIR, we evolved the blowoff to meet the increasing demands of industrial companies to get the same amount of work done with less compressed air. We have continually evolved our product offering since 1983.  It all started with just a few typed pages of part numbers and has evolved to a 208 page catalog offering of Intelligent Compressed Air Products® for industry.  We will also continue to evolve our product designs for continued improvement of compressed air usage.  This is all to better help companies retain their resources.

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EXAIR Catalog 32

If your company uses compressed air and you aren’t sure if it is efficiently being utilized, contact an Application Engineer.  Thanks for joining us for the brief history lesson, we look forward to hearing from you and seeing what the future brings.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
@EXAIR_BF BrianFarno@EXAIR.com

 

Compressed air (1896) (14594022618).jpg – Wikimedia Commons – Internet Archive Book Images – Link

 

A (Sample) Lexicon For Compressed Air

Every industry and different technical subject matter comes with it’s own lexicon of terms or vocabulary words.  More often than not, when speaking to an Application Engineer here at EXAIR you are going to hear words within our lexicon. The list I have compiled below is merely a sampling to help translate some terms that we forget not everyone knows.  Some of these are merely acronyms that get thrown around a good amount.

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute – This is the unit we use to represent the volumetric flow rate of compressed gas that has already been corrected to standardized conditions of pressure and temperature.

PSIG – Pounds per square inch gauge – This is the unit which we use to represent the operating inlet pressure of the device.  When requesting this, we generally are looking for a pressure gauge to be installed directly on the inlet to the device with no other form of restrictions between the two.  For the most part, catalog consumption values are given in SCFM at 80 psig.  The main exception to that rule are the Vortex Tube based products.

Compressed Air – This is a utility that most industrial manufacturing facilities have available to them.   It is regular, atmospheric air which has been compressed by an air compressor to a higher pressure than atmospheric.  Generally speaking, compressed air systems will be at a range of 85-120 psig.

OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration – This is the main federal agency that enforces two of the major conformance standards that EXAIR products meet or exceed.

29 CFR- 1910.95 (a) – Maximum allowable noise level exposure.  The great majority of EXAIR products meet or exceed this safety standard, our largest Super Air Nozzles
1910.242 (b) – This is the standard which states compressed air blow off devices cannot exceed 30 psig of dead end pressure.  This means, if the exit point of the air can be blocked the operating pressure must be below 30 psig.  The reason for this standard is to prevent air embolism which can be fatal.  All EXAIR products meet or exceed this standard by having multiple orifice discharge.

Coanda Effect – This is the effect that numerous EXAIR products utilize to amplify and entrain ambient air.   The Coanda effect is when a fluid jet (stream of compressed air) tends to be attracted to a nearby surface.  This principle was found by a Romanian aerodynamics pioneer, Henri Coandᾰ.  The picture below shows a Super Air Amplifier blowing a foam ball into the air and suspending it due to the Coanda effect on the surface of the ball.

A Super Air Amplifier's air stream causes a foam ball to be suspended in mid air thanks to the Coandᾰ effect.
A Super Air Amplifier’s air stream causes a foam ball to be suspended in mid air thanks to the Coandᾰ effect.

Rigid Pipe or Hard Pipe – This is the term we will often use when discussing the compressed air line that can be used to support and supply certain EXAIR products.  Generally we are referring to a Schedule 40 steel pipe, Type L copper line, stainless steel tube, or any form of pressure rated hard pipe that can be used for supplying compressed air.

Plenum – the state or a space in which a gas, usually air, is contained at pressure greater than atmospheric pressure. Many of our products feature a plenum chamber. 

Again, this list is only a sample of the terminology you will hear us use when discussing compressed air applications.  If there are any other air/compressed air/fluid dynamic terms you may be unsure of, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer Manager
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF