Air compressors are extremely proficient at compressing anything in the air they are intaking. With that air that is taken in, moisture is going to be present. The amount of moisture will all depend on where you are located geographically and the ambient conditions in the area. Here in Ohio, we experience all 4 seasons so the moisture content is higher in the air during the summer months, rather than the winter months. When this air is saturated with water vapor and the conditions are right, the air reaches a point it cannot hold any additional water vapor. This point is known as the dew point of the air and water vapor will begin to condense to form droplets.
When ambient air is compressed, heat is generated and the air increases in temperature. In most industrial compressed air systems, the air is then processed to an aftercooler, and that is where condensation begins to form. To remove the condensation, the air then goes into a 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 transferred will cause more liquid to condense out of the air. To address this moisture, compressed air dryers are used.
It is critical to the quality of the system and components downstream that actions are taken to prevent this condensation in the air. Condensation is generally detrimental to any point of use application and or the piping that conveys the air. Rust and/or corrosion can occur anywhere in the piping, leading to scale and contamination of the compressed air and processes. When trying to dry products off using compressed air or using the air to atomize a liquid such as paint, adding in these contaminants and moisture will cost production losses.
There are several options when it comes to the type of dryer that one may consider installing on their compressed air supply side.
• Refrigerant Dryer – the most commonly used type, the 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 of water vapor in the 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 I or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.
If you operate an air compressor, you’re drawing water vapor into your compressed air system. Factors like climate control (or lack thereof,) and humidity will dictate how much. If (or more to the point, when) it condenses, it becomes an issue that must be addressed. There are several types of dryer systems to choose from, usually when you buy your compressor…we’ve covered those in a number of blogs. Some of these can leave a little more water vapor than others, but remain popular and effective, when considering the cost, and cost of operation, of the different types.
So, how do you handle the condensate that the dryer doesn’t remove?
Receivers, or storage tanks (like EXAIR Model 9500-60, shown to the right,) are commonly used for several reasons:
By providing an intermediate storage of compressed air close to the point of use, fluctuations across the system won’t adversely affect an application that needs a constant flow and pressure.
This also can keep the air compressor from cycling rapidly, which leads to wear & tear, and additional maintenance headaches.
When fitted with a condensate drain (more on those in a minute,) they can serve as a wet receiver. Condensate collects in the bottom and is manually, or automatically emptied.
Condensate drains, while popularly installed on receivers, are oftentimes found throughout larger systems where the vapor is prone to condense (intercoolers, aftercoolers, filters and dryers) and where the condensation can be particularly problematic (drip legs or adjacent to points of use.) There are a couple of options to choose from, each with their own pros & cons:
Manual drains are self explanatory: they’re ball valves; cycled periodically by operators. Pros: cheap & simple. Cons: easy to blow down too often or for too long, which wastes compressed air. It’s also just as easy to blow down not often enough, or not long enough, which doesn’t solve the condensate problem.
Timer drains are self explanatory too: they cycle when the timer tells them to. Pros: still fairly cheap, and no attention is required. Cons: they’re going to open periodically (per the timer setting) whether there’s condensate or not.
Demand, or “zero loss” drains collect condensate until their reservoir is full, then they discharge the water. Pros: “zero loss” means just that…they only actuate when condensate is present, and they stop before any compressed air gets out. Cons: higher purchase price, more moving parts equals potential maintenance concerns.
The “last line of defense” (literally) is point-of-use condensate removal. This is done with products like EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators. They’re installed close to compressed air operated devices & products, oftentimes just upstream of the pressure regulator and/or flow controls…the particulate filter protects against debris in these devices, and the centrifugal element “spins” any last remaining moisture from the compressed air flow before it gets used.
Efficient and safe use of your compressed air includes maintaining the quality of your compressed air. If you’d like to find out more about how EXAIR Corporation can help you get the most out of your compressed air system, give me a call.
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