Compressor Intake – Air Flows 

Flow rate is the quantity of material that is moved per unit of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are in units of pounds per minute or kilograms per hour.  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute, CFM, or liters per hour, LPH.  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used with compressible gases.  In this blog, I will go over the various acronyms and the reasons behind them.

What acronyms will be covered?

CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute

The volumetric component of the flow rate is CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute.  This term is commonly used for rating air compressors.  From the history of air compressors, they could calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of the cylinder.  With the volume of the compression chamber and the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric air flows.  As conditions change like altitude, temperature, and relative humidity, the volumetric value of CFM changes.  To better clarify these conditions, compressor manufacturers have decided to add terms with a definition.  (For your information, air compressors still use CFM as a unit of air flow, but now this is defined at standard temperature and pressure).

The first letter in front of CFM above now defines the conditions in which volumetric air flow is being measured.  This is important for comparing pneumatic components or for properly sizing pneumatic systems.  Volume is measured within three areas; temperature, pressure, and relative humidity.  We can see this in the Ideal Gas Law, reference Equation 1.

Equation 1:

P * V = n * R * T

Where:

P – Absolute Pressure

V – Volume

n – Number of molecules of gas

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

The volume of air can change in reference to pressure, temperature, and the number of molecules.  You may ask where the relative humidity is?  This would be referenced in the “n” term.  The more water vapor, or higher RH values, the less molecules of air are in a given volume.

SCFM is the most commonly used term, and it can be the most confusing.  The idea behind this volumetric air flow is to set a reference point for comparisons.  So, no matter the pressure, temperature, or relative humidity; the volumetric air flows can be compared to each other at that reference point.  There have been many debates about an appropriate standard temperature and pressure, or STP.  But as long as you use the same reference point, then you can still compare the results.  In this blog, I will be using the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, CAGI, reference where the “Standard” condition is at 14.5 PSIA, 68 o F, and 0% RH.  Since we have a reference point, we still need to know the actual conditions for comparison.  It is like having the location of a restaurant as a reference, but if you do not know your current location, you cannot move toward it.   Similarly, we are “moving” the air from its actual condition to a reference or “Standard” condition.  If we do not know the actual state where the air began, then we cannot “move” toward that reference point.  We will talk more about this later in this blog.

ACFM is the volumetric air flow under actual conditions.  This is actually the “true” flow rate.  Even though this term is hardly used, there are reasons why we will need to know this value.  We can size an air compressor that is not at “Standard” conditions, and we can use this value to calculate velocity and pressure drop in a pneumatic system.  We can correlate between SCFM and ACFM with Equation 2.

Equation 2:

ACFM = SCFM * [Pstd / (Pact – Psat * Φ)] * (Tact / Tstd)

Where:

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

Pstd – standard absolute air pressure (PSIA)

Pact – absolute pressure at the actual level (PSIA)

Psat – saturation pressure at the actual temperature (PSI)

Φ – Actual relative humidity (%)

Tact – Actual ambient air temperature (oR)

Tstd – Standard temperature (oR)

ICFM is one of the newest terms in the history of air compressors.  This is where devices are added to the inlet of an air compressor, affecting flow conditions.  If you have a blower on the inlet of an air compressor, the volumetric flow rate changes as the pressure and temperature rises at the “Inlet”.  If a filter is used, then the pressure drop will decrease the incoming pressure at the “Inlet”.  These devices that affect the volumetric flow rate for an air compressor should be considered.  The equation to relate ACFM to ICFM is Equation 3.

Equation 3:

ICFM = ACFM * (Pact / Pf) * (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

Pact – absolute pressure at the actual level (PSIA)

Pf – Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (PSIA)

Tact – Actual ambient air temperature (oR)

Tf – Temperature after filter or inlet equipment (°R)

To expand on my explanation above about SCFM and ACFM, a technical question is asked often about the pressure when using SCFM.  The reference point of 14.5 PSIA is in the definition of the term for SCFM.  Remember, this is only a reference point.  The starting location is also needed as it gives us the ACFM value where the air values are true and actual.  Then we can make a comparison of actual air usage. 

As an example, let’s look at two air nozzles that are rated at the same air flow; 60 SCFM.  The EXAIR Super Air Nozzle, model 1106, is cataloged at 60 SCFM at 80 PSIG, and a competitor is cataloged at 60 SCFM at 72 PSIG.  By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but actually they do not.  To simplify Equation 2, we can compare the two nozzles at the same temperature and RH at 68 oF and 0% RH respectively.  This equation can be reduced to form Equation 4.

Equation 4:

ACFM = SCFM * 14.5 / (P + 14.5)

@72 PSIG Competitor:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA/ (72 PSIG + 14.5 PSIA)

= 10.1 ACFM

@80 PSIG EXAIR Super Air Nozzle:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA / (80 PSIG + 14.5PSIA)

= 9.2 ACFM

Even though the SCFM is the same amount, you are actually using 10% more air with the competitive nozzle that was reported at 60 PSIG.  So, when it comes to rating pneumatic products, improving efficiency, and saving money; always determine the pressure that you are at.  The more you know about volumetric flow rates, the better decision that you can make.  If you need more information, you can always contact our Application Engineers at EXAIR.  We will be happy to assist.

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

Photo: Compressor equipment by terimakasih0Pixabay license

Air & Water DO Mix – Why That’s A Problem for Compressed Air Systems

Wherever you go, humidity – and its effects – are an inescapable fact of life. Low humidity areas (I’m looking at you, American Southwest) make for a “dry heat” in the summer that many prefer to the wet & muggy conditions that areas with higher humidity (like much of the rest of the United States) encounter during the “dog days” of summer.

Regardless of human comfort level issues, all atmospheric air contains water vapor in some finite proportion…in fact, next to nitrogen and oxygen, it makes up a bigger percentage of our air’s makeup than the next eleven trace gases combined:

Reference: CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, edited by David R. Lide, 1997.

And, because warmer air is capable of holding higher moisture concentrations (a 20°F rise in temperature doubles the potential for holding moisture), chances are good that it’ll become a bigger problem for your compressed air system in the summertime. So…how BAD of a problem is it? Let’s do some math. Consider a nice, typical summer day in the midwest, when it’s 80°F outside, with a relative humidity of 75% and we’ll use the data from the tables below to calculate how much water collects in the compressed air system:

Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3
Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3

Let’s assume:

  • An industrial air compressor is making compressed air at 100psig, and at a discharge temperature of 100°F.
  • The demand on the compressed air system (all the pneumatic loads it services) is 500 SCFM.

Table 3.3 tells us that, at 80°F and 75% RH, the air the compressor is pulling in has 0.1521 gallons per 1,000 cubic feet.

Table 3.4, tells us that, at 100°F and 100psig, the compressor is discharging air with a moisture content of 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet.

The difference in these two values is the amount of water that will condense in the receiver for every 1,000 SCF that passes through, or 0.1521-0.0478=0.1043 gallons. Since the demand (e.g., the air flow rate out of the receiver) is 500 SCFM, that’s:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.1043 gallons/1,000 SCF = 25 gallons of condensate

That’s 25 gallons that has to be drained from the receiver tank over the course of every eight hours, so a properly operating condensate drain is crucial. There are a few types to choose from, and the appropriate one is oftentimes included by the air compressor supplier.

So, you’ve got a condensate drain on your compressor’s receiver, and it’s working properly. Crisis averted, right? Well, not so fast…that 100°F compressed air is very likely going to cool down as it flows through the distribution header. Remember all that moisture that the hot air holds? Assuming the compressed air cools to 70°F in the header (a reasonable assumption in most industrial settings), a bunch of it is going to condense, and make its way to your air tools, cylinders, blow off devices, etc., which can cause a host of problems.

Reversible Drum Vacs have tight passages where contaminants (like pipe rust) can accumulate and hamper performance. Fortunately, they are designed to be easy to clean and returned to peak performance.

And…I trust you saw this coming…we’re going to calculate just how much condensation we have to worry about. Using table 3.4 again, we see that the header’s air (at 100psig & 70°F) can only hold 0.0182 gallons per 1,000 SCF. So, after cooling down from 100°F (where the air holds 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 SCF) to 70°F, that means 0.0296 gallons per 1,000 SCF will condense. So:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.0296 gal/1,000 SCF = 7.1 gallons of condensate

Qualified installers will have sloped the piping away from the compressor, with drip legs strategically placed at low points, so that condensate can drain, collect, and be disposed of…oftentimes via similar devices to the condensate drains you’ll find on the compressor’s main receiver. Good engineering practice, of course, dictates point-of-use filtration – EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators, with 5-micron particulate elements, and centrifugal elements for moisture removal, are also essential to prevent water problems for your compressed air operated products.

Good engineering practice calls for point of use filtration and moisture removal, such as that provided by EXAIR Filter Separators.

EXAIR Corporation remains dedicated to helping you get the most out of your compressed air system. If you have questions, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Compressed Air System Equipment – What You Need To Know

The use of compressed air in industry is so widespread that it’s long been called “the fourth utility” (along with electricity, water, and natural gas). As a function of energy consumption (running an air compressor) to energy generated (operation of pneumatic equipment), only 10-15% of the energy consumed is converted to usable energy stored as compressed air. Its “bang for the buck”, however, comes when you consider the total cost of ownership – yes, it costs a lot to generate, but:

  • It’s relatively safe, when compared to the risks of electrocution, combustion, and explosion associated with electricity & natural gas.
  • Air operated tools, equipment, and products are generally much cheaper than their electric, gas, or hydraulic powered counterparts.
  • Air operated products, like anything, require periodic maintenance, but oftentimes, that maintenance simply comes down to keeping the air supply clean and moisture free, unlike the extensive (and expensive) maintenance requirements of other industrial machinery.

Even with these advantages, though, it’s still critical to get all you can out of that 10-15% of the energy you’re consuming to make that compressed air, and that starts with having the right stuff in the right place. Now, all of the following “stuff” might not apply to every compressed air system. I once worked in a repair shop, for example, with a small compressor that was used for a couple of blow off guns, impact drivers, and a sidearm grinder. I’ve also done field service in facilities with hundreds of pneumatic cylinders & air motors that operated their machinery. Those places had even more “stuff” than I’m devoting space to in this blog, but here’s a list of the “usual suspects” that you’ll encounter in a properly designed compressed air system:

  • Air compressor. I mean, of course you need a compressor, but the size and type will be determined by how you’re going to use your air. The small repair shop I worked in had a 5HP reciprocating positive displacement compressor with a 50 gallon tank, and that was fine. The larger facilities I visited often had several 100 + HP dynamic centrifugal or axial compressors, which get more efficient with size.
  • Air preparation. This includes a number of components that can be used to cool, clean, and dry the air your compressor is generating:
    • Pressurizing a gas raises its temperature as well. Hot compressed air could cause unsafe surface temperatures and can damage gaskets, seals, and other components in the system. Smaller compressors might not have this problem, as the heat of compression is often dissipated through the wall of the receiver tank and the piping at a rate sufficient to keep the relatively low (and often intermittent) flow at a reasonable temperature. Larger compressors usually come with an aftercooler.
    • The air you compress likely has a certain amount of moisture in it…after nitrogen and oxygen, water vapor usually makes up more of the content of atmospheric air than all other trace gases combined. There are a number of air dryer types; selection will be dictated by the specifics of your facility.
    • Your air is going to have other contaminants in it too. We did welding & grinding in the repair shop where our compressor sat in the corner. We kept a few spare intake filters handy, and replaced them regularly. In conjunction with the aftercooler & dryer, larger industrial compressors will also have particulate filters for these solids. For extra protection, coalescing filters for oil vapor, and adsorption filters for other gases & liquid vapors, are specified.
  • Distribution. In the repair shop, we had a 3/4″ black iron pipe that ran across the ceiling, with a few tees & piping that brought the air down to the individual stations where we used it. The larger facilities I visited had larger variations of this “trunk and branch” type network, and some were even big enough to make use of a loop layout…these were especially popular when multiple air compressors were located throughout the facility. In addition to black iron, copper & aluminum pipe (but NEVER PVC) are commonly used too.
  • Condensate removal. The small repair shop compressor had a valve on the bottom of the tank with a small hose that we’d blow down into a plastic jug periodically. Larger systems will have more complex, and oftentimes automated condensate management systems.

So, that’s the system-wide “stuff” you’ll usually encounter in a properly designed compressed air system. After that, we’ll find a number of point-of-use components:

  • Air preparation, part 2. The compressor intake & discharge filtration mentioned above make sure that you’re putting clean air in the distribution piping. That’s fine if your distribution piping is corrosion resistant, like aluminum or copper, but black iron WILL corrode, and that’s why you need point-of-use filters. EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators have 5 micron particulate elements, and centrifugal elements that ‘spin’ any moisture out. If oil is an issue, our Oil Removal Filters have coalescing elements for oil/oil vapor removal, and they provide additional particulate protection to 0.03 microns.
  • Pressure control. Your compressor’s discharge pressure needs to be high enough to operate your pneumatic device(s) with the highest pressure demand. Odds are, though, that not everything in your plant needs to be operated at that pressure. EXAIR Pressure Regulators are a quick & easy way to ‘dial in’ the precise supply pressure needed for specific products so they can get the job done, without wasting compressed air.
  • Storage. This could also be considered system “stuff”, but I’m including it under point-of-use because that’s oftentimes the reason for intermediate storage. Having a ready supply of compressed air near an intermittent and/or large consumption device can ensure proper operation of that device, as well as others in the system that might be “robbed” when that device is actuated. They’re good for the system, too, as they can eliminate the need for higher header pressures, which cause higher operating costs, and increased potential for leaks. EXAIR Model 9500-60 60 Gallon Receiver Tanks are an ideal solution for these situations.

For more information on proper installation and use of compressed air system “stuff” like this, the Compressed Air & Gas Institute’s Compressed Air and Gas Handbook has a good deal of detailed information. The Air Data section of EXAIR’s own Knowledge Base is a great resource as well.

Of course, all the attention you can pay to efficiency on the supply side doesn’t matter near as much if you’re not paying attention to HOW you’re using your compressed air. EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Products are designed with efficiency, safety, and noise reduction in mind. Among the other ways my fellow Application Engineers and I can help you get the most out of your compressed air system, we’re also here to make sure you get the right products for your job. To find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Compressed Air Purity Classes & ISO 8573-1. What Does it Mean for You?

The compressed air coming directly from your air compressor will usually require further treatment & preparation before it can be used. It’ll contain particulate matter, moisture, and hydrocarbons that the intake filter won’t remove…remember, it’s there to protect the compressor itself against damage from larger particulate. Smaller particulate and other contaminants that can affect air operated products & tools will still need to be addressed, after compression. The degree to which this additional treatment is necessary is dictated by what you’re using your compressed air for.

ISO 8573-1:2010 – Compressed air – Part 1: Contaminants and Purity Classes quantifies the quality of the air according to three properties, into different classes:

Per the descriptions above, here are the criteria by which compressed air purity is classified in these three categories. Certain applications can call for different classes for these three categories (more on that in a minute).
  • Maximum particle size & concentration of solid contaminants. These can come from rust on the inside of the distribution piping, particulate generated by wear of air system components, and atmospheric contamination that the compressor’s intake filter doesn’t catch.
  • Maximum pressure dew point. No matter where your compressor is located, the air it pulls in contains some amount of water vapor. Dew point is the temperature at which it will condense at a given pressure. As long as the compressed air temperature is above that dew point, there won’t be any water (in liquid form) in it.
  • Maximum oil content. This most often is due to carryover from oil lubricated compressors, but can come from atmospheric oil (or other hydrocarbon) vapor drawn into the compressor’s intake.

So…what does this mean to you, relating to your use of compressed air? Well, it largely comes down to the nature of your application. Whatever is in your compressed air supply will be in contact with whatever the air comes in contact with. If a machinist is using a Safety Air Gun to blow chips & coolant from machined parts, they’re not going to be particularly concerned with this specification from a regulatory standpoint. If those parts are going straight from the machine shop to a paint booth, they’re certainly going to want to use air that’s free of particulate, moisture, and oil. All of those things will, quite noticeably, affect the quality of the painted finish. Filter Separators and Oil Removal Filters installed at the point of use will take care of that. A case could be made for a purity specification and regular testing of their compressed air, but this really just falls under the confines of good engineering practice.

Compressed air use in applications where it can come in contact with food or beverages intended for consumption (by people AND animals, according to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) is considered a critical factor for cleanliness. They reference guidelines from the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) to specify purity classes for both direct and indirect contact with food and beverage products:

Direct contact requires testing and compliance to Class 2:2:1 per the above table means:

  • Particulate Class 2 – particle concentration, by particle size, in concentrations no greater than:
    • 400,000 particles sized 0.1-0.5 microns, per cubic meter
    • 6,000 particles sized 0.5-1.0 microns, per cubic meter
    • 100 particles sizes 1.0-5.0 microns, per cubic meter
  • Maximum pressure dew point Class 2 – vapor pressure dew point must be less than 40°F (40°C) at the maximum pressure of the compressed air system.
  • Oil content Class 1 – concentration must be less that 0.001 milligrams per cubic meter

Examples of direct contact applicable to the use of EXAIR Engineered Compressed Air Products include blowing air for cooling, moisture removal, coating layer distribution, etc., of unpackaged food product.

EXAIR Stainless Steel Super Air Knives are popular in food processing applications (left to right): removing excess moisture prior to flash freezing of fish filets, preventing clumping while packaging shredded cheese, and (my personal favorite) ensuring a consistent and even glazing of fresh, delicious doughnuts.

Line Vac Air Operated Conveyors and Vortex Tubes are also used in direct contact applications in the food industry:

316SS Threaded Line Vac conveys bulk grain in a distillery (left). Vortex Tube rapidly sets melted chocolate in a mold (right).

Indirect contact is slightly (but JUST slightly) less restrictive: those are Class 2.4.2. Particulate and oil content classes remain the same, but dew point can be as high as 37°F (3°C). This is where the air the air is coming into contact not with the consumable product itself, but, for example, the packaging or container:

Atomizing Spray Nozzles rinse bottles prior to labeling (left), 1″ Flat Super Air Nozzle blows off label to ensure proper scanning by sensor (center), Line Vac conveys canned goods (right).

EXAIR Corporation is committed to helping you get the most out of our products – and your compressed air system. If you have questions, I can talk about compressed air all day – and oftentimes I do! Let’s talk.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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ISO 8573-1 Chart by Compressed Air Best Practice.