What is Laminar Flow and Turbulent Flow?

Fluid mechanics is the field that studies the properties of fluids in various states.  There are two areas, fluid statics and fluid dynamics.  Fluid dynamics studies the forces in a fluid, either as a liquid or a gas, during motion.  Osborne Reynolds, an Irish innovator, popularized this dynamic with a dimensionless number, Reyonlds number. This number can indicate the different states that the fluid is moving; either in laminar flow or turbulent flow.  The equation below shows the relationship between the inertial forces of the fluid as compared to the viscous forces.  Reynolds number, Re, can be calculated by Equation 1:

Equation 1:  Re = V * Dh/u

Re – Reynolds Number (no dimensions)

V – Velocity (feet/sec or meters/sec)

Dh – hydraulic diameter (feet or meters)

u – Kinematic Viscosity (feet^2/sec or meter^2/sec)

The value of Re will mark the region in which the fluid (liquid or gas) is moving.  If the Reynolds number, Re, is below 2300, then it is considered to be laminar (streamline and predictable).  If Re is greater than 4000, then the fluid is considered to be turbulent (chaotic and violent).  The area between these two numbers is called the transitional area where you can have small eddy currents and some non-linear velocities.  To better show the differences between each state, I have a picture below that shows water flowing from a drain pipe into a channel.  The water in the channel is loud and disorderly; traveling in different directions, even upstream.  With the high speed coming from the drain pipe, the inertial forces are greater than the viscous forces of the water.  The Reynolds number is larger than 4000 which indicates turbulent flow.  As the water travels into the mouth of the river after the channel, the waves transform from a disorderly mess into a more uniform stream.  This is the transitional region.  A bit further downstream, the stream becomes calm and quiet, flowing in the same direction.  This is the laminar flow region where Re is less than 2300.  Air, like the water in the picture, is also a fluid, and it will behave exactly in the same way depending on the Reynolds number.

Turbulent to Laminar Flows

Why is this important to know?  In certain applications, one state may be better suited than the other.  For mixing, particle suspension and heat transfer; turbulent flows are needed.  But, when it comes to effective blowing, lower pressure drops and lower noise levels; laminar flows are required.  In many compressed air applications, the laminar flow region is the best area to use compressed air.  EXAIR offers a large line of products, including the Super Air Knives and Super Air Nozzles that uses that laminar flow to generate a strong force efficiently and quietly.  If you would like to discuss further how laminar flows could benefit your process, an EXAIR Application Engineer will be happy to assist you.

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

Air: What is it?

Air Balloons

What is Air? Air is an invisible gas that supports life on earth. Dry air is made from a mixture of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% of remaining gases like carbon dioxide and other inert gases.  Ambient air contains an average of 1% water vapor, and it has a density of 0.0749 Lbs./cubic foot (1.22 Kg/cubic meter) at standard conditions.  Air that surrounds us does not have a smell, color, or taste, but it is considered a fluid as it follows the rules of fluid dynamics. But unlike liquids, gases like air are compressible.  Once we discovered the potential of compressing the surrounding air, we were able to advance many technologies.

Bellows

Guess when the earliest air compressor was used?  Believe it or not, it was when we started to breathe air.  Our diaphragms are like compressors.  It pulls and pushes the air in and out of our lungs.  We can generate up to 1.2 PSI (80 mbar) of air pressure.  During the iron age, hotter fires were required for smelting.  Around 1500 B.C., a new type of air compressor was created, called a bellows.  You probably seen them hanging by the fireplaces.  It is a hand-held device with a flexible bag that you squeeze together to compress the air.  The high stream of air was able to get higher temperature fires to melt metals.

Then we started to move into the industrial era.  Air compressors were used in mining industries to move air into deep caverns and shafts.  Then as the manufacturing technologies advanced, the requirements for higher air pressures were needed.  The stored energy created by compressing the air allowed us to develop better pneumatic systems for manufacturing, automation, and construction.  I do not know what the future holds in compressed air systems, but I am excited to find out.

Since air is a gas, it will follow the basic rules of the ideal gas law;

PV = nRT  (Equation 1)

P – Pressure

V – Volume

n – Amount of gas in moles

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Temperature

If we express the equation in an isothermal process (same temperature), we can see how the volume and pressure are related.  The equation for two different states of a gas can be written as follows:

P1 * V1 = P2 * V2  (Equation 2)

P1 – Pressure at initial state 1

V1 – Volume at initial state 1

P2 – Pressure at changed state 2

V2 – Volume at changed state 2

If we solve for P2, we have:

P2 = (P1 * V1)/V2  (Equation 3)

In looking at Equation 3, if the volume, V2, gets smaller, the pressure, P2, gets higher.  This is the idea behind how air compressors work.  They decrease the volume inside a chamber to increase the pressure of the air.  Most industrial compressors will compress the air to about 125 PSI (8.5 bar).  A PSI is a pound of force over a square inch.  For metric pressure, a bar is a kg of force over a square centimeter.  So, at 125 PSI, there will be 125 pounds of force over a 1” X 1” square.  This amount of potential energy is very useful to do work for pneumatic equipment.  To simplify the system, the air gets compressed, stored as energy, released as work and is ready to be used again in the cycle.

Air Compressor

Compressed air is a clean utility that is used in many different applications.  It is much safer than electrical or hydraulic systems.  Since air is all around us, it is an abundant commodity for air compressors to use.  But because of the compressibility factor of air, much energy is required to create enough pressure in a typical system.  It takes roughly 1 horsepower (746 watts) of power to compress 4 cubic feet of air (113L) to 125 PSI (8.5 bar) every minute.  With almost every manufacturing plant in the world utilizing compressed air in one form or another, the amount of energy used to compress air is extraordinary.  So, utilizing compressed air as efficiently as possible is mandatory.  Air is free, but making compressed air is expensive

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.

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

 

Picture: Hot Air Rises by Paul VanDerWerf. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Picture: Bellows by Joanna Bourne. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Picture: Air Compressor by Chris Bartle. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Taking Professional Advice

I have an old house, turn of the last century, plaster and lath walls, remnants of knob and tube wiring, blocked over fireplaces in every room – old! Wiring in houses this old can be brittle which can make installing new ceiling fans tricky. First the ceiling is ten feet so you may be high on the ladder, and every time you need something from below you have to get a helper, carry a tool belt or climb down the ladder. Now if you are an experienced electrician, you have a tool belt filled with exactly what you need and a little extra. Cooks call this Mise en Place. My old man called it having your stuff together.

I don’t do it very well, so I have to climb down the ladder often. I tried to get a helper, but my nine month old son had trouble differentiating between a flat head screw driver and chew toy and wire nuts are clearly a choking hazard. Speaking of wire nuts. They seem to be such an innocuous widget. A wire nut is a wire nut. I have never thought much about them. Well it turns out that after the brittle wire has broken inside the wall. And then you drop the fifteenth wire nut, because it wouldn’t grab your old brittle wire. You spend some time thinking about the wire nuts as you are writing the check to the electrician. He might recommend an expensive brand of wire nuts that he uses that work great in these old houses. He gave me about twenty extra for my next attempt at electrical work, so I have a start on my electrical Mise en Place, but the next problem will probably involve plumbing…

Ceiling fan
Not my house, but similar.

Wire nuts remind me of air nozzles to some degree. They are such simple products but provide tremendous protection, and utility. There is also an incredible amount of brands, styles, and sizes. It is easy to think that the nozzle that comes installed on the thumb gun works great for home use, why should you spend time or money in investing in an upgrade. For the professional electrician, the expensive wire nuts made his day easier, more productive and his final installation safe. If you need to use compressed air to clean, dry or cool your parts, investing in an intelligent compressed air product will make the application quieter, more efficient and more effective.

Nozzle Lineup
EXAIR Engineered Solutions

EXAIR Super Air Nozzles are engineered solutions that meet OSHA requirements for dead end pressure – this makes them safe. The air nozzles utilize the Coanda effect to amplify compressed air flow up to 25 times – this makes them more effective. The small orifices build up pressure inside the supply the line in order to produce higher velocities – this makes the engineered air nozzles more efficient. Stop using cheap inefficient nozzles, think about your tools, and use what the professionals use.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
@EXAIR_DW
DaveWoerner@EXAIR.com

 

Ceiling Fan Photo Courtesy of Kevin GalensCreative Commons License