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.

cat32_500p
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

 

About Sliding Vane Air Compressors

In positive-displacement type compressors, a given quantity of air or gas is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of this air is then mechanically reduced, causing an increase in pressure. A sliding-vane compressor will consist of a circular stator that is housed in a cylindrical rotor. The rotor then has radially positioned slots where the vanes reside. While the rotor turns on its axis, the vanes will slide out and contact the bore of the stator wall. This creates compression in these “cells”.

An inlet port is positioned to allow the air flow into each cell, allowing the cells to reach their maximum volume before reaching the discharge port. After passing by the inlet port, the size of the cell is reduced as rotation continues and each vane is then pushed back into its original slot in the rotor.  Compression will continue until the cell reaches the discharge port. The most common form of sliding-vane compressor is the lubricant injected variety. In these compressors, a lubricant is injected into the compression chamber to act as a lubricant between the vanes and the stator wall, remove the heat of compression, as well as to provide a seal. Lubricant injected sliding-vane compressors are generally sold in the range of 10-200 HP, with capacities ranging from 40-800 acfm.

 

Sliding Vane
Air enters from the right, and as the compression chamber volume reduces due to counterclockwise rotation, the pressure increases until the air discharges to the left

Advantages of a lubricant injected sliding-vane compressor include:

  • Compact size
  • Relatively low purchase cost
  • Vibration-free operation does not require special foundations
  • Routine maintenance includes lubricant and filter changes

Some of the disadvantages that come with this type of compressor:

  • Less efficient than the rotary screw type
  • Lubricant carryover into the delivered air will require proper maintenance of an oil-removal filtration system
  • Will require periodic lubricant changes

With the host of different options in compressor types available on the market, EXAIR recommends talking to a reputable air compressor dealer in your area to help determine the most suitable setup based on your requirements. Once your system is up and running, be sure to contact an EXAIR Application Engineer to make sure you’re using that compressed air efficiently and intelligently!

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Photo Credit to Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

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 Air Compressors: Air Intake Best Practices

Take a second and think about where the air compressor is located within your facility.  It is more than likely not a major focal point displayed prominently in the floor layout. There is a better chance it is tucked away in a corner of the facility where operators seldom travel.  No matter the type of air compressor, it still has an intake where it pulls in the ambient air from around the compressor then sends it through some process and on the demand side of your compressed air system.  These intakes can easily be placed out of sight and out of mind especially in older facilities that were designed when compressors were loud and the piping layout kept them away from operators due to sound level restrictions.

Air Compressor
Antique Air Compressor (Not safe for use!)

That’s why your compressor manufacturer supplies a specific grade of air inlet/intake filter, and this is your first line of defense. If it’s dirty, your compressor is running harder, and costs you more to operate it.  If it’s damaged, you’re not only letting dirt into your system; you’re letting it foul & damage your compressor. It’s just like changing the air filter on your car, your car needs clean air to run correctly, so does your compressor and the entire demand side of your compressed air system.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, as a compressor inlet filter becomes dirty, the pressure drop across the inlet increases, this is very similar to the point of use compressed air filters.  The inlet filter on the compressor is the only path the compressor has to pull in the air, when restricted the compressor can begin to starve for air very similar to if you only had a small straw to breath through and told to run a marathon.  A clogged inlet filter can give false symptoms to compressor technicians as well.

The effects can mimic inlet valve modulation which result in increased compression ratios. If we were to form an example based on a compressor with a positive displacement, if the filter pressure drop increases by 20″ H2O, a 5% reduction of the mass flow of air will be present without a reduction in the power being drawn by the compressor. This all leads to inefficiency which easily amounts to more than the cost to replace the depleted inlet air filter.

compressor
Compressed Air System

Where you place the filter is just as important as how often you replace it.  There are some tips to be used when mounting the inlet filter.

  1. The filter can be placed on the compressor, but the inlet pipe should be coming from an external area to the compressor room or even the building if possible. The inlet should be free from any contaminants as well.  Some examples that are easy to overlook are nearby condensate discharges, other system exhausts and precipitation.
  2. Depending on the type of compressor being used, a lower intake air temperature can increase the mass flow of air due to the air density.  A compressor that is lubricant injected is not susceptible to this due to the air mixing with the warmer lubricant before being compressed.

If you would like to discuss improving your compressed air efficiency or any of EXAIR’s engineered solutions, I would enjoy hearing from you…give me a call.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge and thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.

How a Centrifugal Compressor Works

Continuing our series on different types of air compressors, today’s blog will feature the centrifugal compressor.  The centrifugal compressor is classified as a dynamic compressor.  Dynamic compressors are designed to work with  a continuous flow of air that has its velocity increased by an impeller rotating at a very high speed.

The centrifugal compressor works by transforming the kinetic energy and velocity into pressure energy in the diffuser.  The air passes through the inlet guide vanes being drawn into the center of a rotating Impeller with radial blades and is then pushed outward from the center by centrifugal force. This radial movement of air results in a pressure rise and the generation of kinetic energy.  The kinetic energy is also converted into pressure by passing through the diffuser.

Centrifugal Pic 1
Sample Centrifugal Compressor

Multiple stages are required to raise the pressure to a sufficient level for typical industrial plant requirements.  Each stage takes up a part of the overall pressure rise of the compressor unit.  Depending on the pressure required for the application, a number of stages can be arranged in a series to achieve a higher pressure.

The most common centrifugal air compressor has two to four stages to generate pressures of 100 to 150 PSIG and incorporates a water cooled inter-cooler and separator between each stage to remove condensation and cool the air prior to entering the next stage.

Centrifugal compressors are the near middle of the road regarding efficiency, their typical operating cost is 16 to 20 kW/100 CFM.  The most efficient compressor type is the double-acting reciprocating and costs 15 to 16 kW/100 SCFM and the least is the Sliding Vane which costs 21 to 23 kW/100 SCFM.

Advantages of the centrifugal air compressor:

  • Up to 1500 HP systems are available
  • Price per HP drops as system size increases
  • Supplies lubricant-free air
  • Special installation pads are not required for installation

Disadvantages of the centrifugal air compressor

  • Costs more Initially
  • Requires specialized maintenance
  • Due to high rotational speeds (can exceed 50,000 RPM) precision high speed bearings and vibration monitoring are required

EXAIR recommends contacting a reputable air compressor dealer in your area to discuss your volume and pressure requirements to determine the best size & type air compressor for your needs.

Regardless of the type of air compressor you have, EXAIR’s Intelligent Compressed Air Products® can minimize your compressed air consumption, potentially reducing the size of compressor needed, reduce noise and still deliver powerful results!   If you would like to discuss highly efficient and quiet point of use compressed air products or any EXAIR product, we would enjoy hearing from you. 

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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Image Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge

About Compressed Air Dryers – What Are They and Why Use Them

All atmospheric air contains some amount of water vapor.  When air is then cooled to saturation point, the vapor will begin to condense into liquid water. The saturation point is the condition where the the air can hold no more water vapor. The temperature at which this occurs is knows as the dew point.

When ambient air is compressed, heat is generated and the air becomes warmer. In industrial compressed air systems, the air is then routed to an aftercooler, and condensation  begins to take place. To remove the condensation, the air then goes into separator which traps the liquid water. The air leaving the aftercooler is typically saturated at the temperature of the discharge, and any additional cooling that occurs as the air is piped further downstream will cause more liquid to condense out of the air. To address this condensation, compressed air dryers are used.

It is important to dry the air and prevent condensation in the air. Many usages of the compressed air are impacted by liquid water being present. Rust and corrosion can occur in the compressed air piping, leading to scale and contamination at point -of -use processes. Processes such as drying operations and painting would see lower quality if water was deposited onto the parts.

dryers.png

There are many types of dryers – (see recent blogs for more information)

  • Refrigerant Dryer – most commonly used type, air is cooled in an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger.
  • Regenerative-Desiccant Type – use a porous desiccant that adsorbs (adsorb means the moisture adheres to the desiccant, the desiccant does not change, and the moisture can then be driven off during a regeneration process).
  • Deliquescent Type – use a hygroscopic desiccant medium that absorbs (as opposed to adsorbs) moisture. The desiccant is dissolved into the liquid that is drawn out. Desiccant is used up, and needs to be replaced periodically.
  • Heat of Compression Type – are regenerative desiccant dryers that use the heat generated during compression to accomplish the desiccant regeneration.
  • Membrane Type– use special membranes that allow the water vapor to pass through faster than the dry air, reducing the amount water vapor in air stream.

The air should not be dried any more than is needed for the most stringent application, to reduce the costs associated with the drying process. A pressure dew point of 35°F to 38°F (1.7°C to 3.3°C) often is adequate for many industrial applications.  Lower dew points result in higher operating costs.

If you have questions about compressed air systems and dryers or any of the 15 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.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
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About Rotary Scroll Compressors

The Rotary Scroll compressor is a popular style compressor and is used primarily for air conditioning refrigerant systems.  Recently, since it is very efficient, quiet and reliable it has been adopted by industrial air compressor manufacturer’s to expand their product offering for their smaller, high-efficiency product line.

They operate on the principle of two intermeshing spirals or scrolls with one being stationary while the other rotates or orbits in relation to it.  They are mounted with 180° phase displacement between them which forms air pockets having different volumes.  Air enters through the inlet port located in the rotating/orbiting scroll which fills the chambers and as is moved along and compressed along the scroll surfaces.

scroll compressor finalSome of the key advantages of a Rotary Scroll Compressor are:

  • Pulsation free delivery due to the continuous flow from the suction port to the outlet port.
  • No metal to metal contact thereby eliminating the need for lubrication
  • Low noise levels
  • Fewer moving parts means less maintenance
  • Energy Efficient
  • Air cooled

The largest disadvantage is they are available in a limited range of sizes and the largest SCFM outputs are around 100 SCFM.

This is exactly where EXAIR shines, we offer 15 product lines of highly efficient & quiet point of use compressed air products and accessories to compliment their limited output volume of air.  All EXAIR products are designed to use compressed air efficiently and quietly, many of which reduce the demand on your air compressor which will help control utility costs and possibly delay the need to add additional compressed air capacity.

As an example, EXAIR’s Super Air Knives deliver exceptional efficiency by entraining ambient air at ratios of up to 40:1 and they are able to deliver an even laminar flow of air ranging from a gentle breeze to exceptionally hard-hitting force.

Super Air Knife
EXAIR’s Super Air Knife entrains ambient air at a 40:1 ratio!

EXAIR’s Super Air Amplifiers are able to entrain ambient air at ratio’s up to 25:1.  The model 120024 – 4″ Super Air Amplifier developes output volumes up to 2,190 SCFM while consuming only 29.2 SCFM of compressed air @ 80 PSI which can easily be operated on a 100 SCFM output compressor.

Super Air Amplifier
EXAIR Air Amplifiers use a small amount of compressed air to create a tremendous amount of air flow.

For your blow off needs EXAIR’s Super Air Nozzle lineup has an offering that will fit nearly any need or application you may have.  Nozzles are available in sizes from M4 x 0.5 to  1 1/4 NPT and forces that range from 2 ounces of force up to 23 Lbs at 12″ from the discharge.  We offer sixty two nozzles that could all be operated easily from the limited discharge or a rotary scroll compressor.

nozzlescascadeosha
Family of Nozzles

If you need to reduce your compressed air consumption or you are looking for expert advice on safe, quiet and efficient point of use compressed air products give us a call.  We would enjoy hearing from you!

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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