Manufacturing’s 4th Utility: Compressed Air System Components

In any manufacturing environment, compressed air is critical to the operation of many processes. You will often hear compressed air referred to as a “4th utility” in a manufacturing environment. The makeup of a compressed air system is usually divided into two primary parts: the supply side and the demand side. The supply side consists of components before and including the pressure/flow controller. The demand side then consists of all the components after the pressure/flow controller.

The first primary component in the system is the air compressor itself. There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy.

Still on the supply side, but installed after the compressor, are aftercoolers, and compressed air dryers. An aftercooler is designed to cool the air down upon exiting from the compressor. During the compression, heat is generated that carries into the air supply. An aftercooler uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature.

When air leaves the aftercooler, it is typically saturated since atmospheric air contains moisture. In higher temperatures, the air is capable of holding even more moisture. When this air is then cooled, it can no longer contain all of that moisture and is lost as condensation. The temperature at which the moisture can no longer be held is referred to as the dewpoint. Dryers are installed in the system to remove unwanted moisture from the air supply. Types of dryers available include: refrigerant dryers, desiccant dryers, and membrane dryers.

Also downstream of the compressor are filters used to remove particulate, condensate, and lubricant. Desiccant and deliquescent-type dryers require a pre-filter to protect the drying media from contamination that can quickly render it useless. A refrigerant-type dryer may not require a filter before/after, but any processes or components downstream can be impacted by contaminants in the compressed air system.

Moving on to the demand side, we have the distribution system made up of a network of compressed air piping, receiver tanks when necessary, and point of use filters/regulators. Compressed air piping is commonly available as schedule 40 steel pipe, copper pipe, and aluminum pipe. Some composite plastics are available as well, however PVC should NEVER be used for compressed air as some lubricants present in the air can act as a solvent and degrade the pipe over time.

Receiver tanks are installed in the distribution system to provide a source of compressed air close to the point of use, rather than relying on the output of the compressor. The receiver tank acts as a “battery” for the system, storing compressed air energy to be used in periods of peak demand. This helps to maintain a stable compressed air pressure. It improves the overall performance of the system and helps to prevent pressure drop.

Finally, we move on to the point-of-use. While particulate and oil removal filters may be installed at the compressor output, it is still often required to install secondary filtration immediately at the point-of-use to remove any residual debris, particulate, and oil. Receiver tanks and old piping are both notorious for delivering contaminants downstream, after the initial filters.

Regulator and filter

In any application necessitating the use of compressed air, pressure should be controlled to minimize the air consumption at the point of use. Pressure regulators are available to control the air pressure within the system and throttle the appropriate supply of air to any pneumatic device. While one advantage of a pressure regulator is certainly maintaining consistent pressure to your compressed air devices, using them to minimize your pressure can result in dramatic savings to your costs of compressed air. As pressure and flow are directly related, lowering the pressure supplied results in less compressed air usage.

EXAIR manufactures a wide variety of products utilizing this compressed air to help you with your process problems. If you’d like to discuss your compressed air system, or have an application that necessitates an Intelligent Compressed Air Product, give us a call.

Tyler Daniel, CCASS

Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Compressor Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License

Intelligent Compressed Air®: Common Compressor Room Mistakes, And How To Avoid Them

While we don’t sell, install, or service air compressors, EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Products run on compressed air, so helping you get the most out of your compressed air system is important to us. Today, we’re starting where it all begins: the compressor room.

Some of the mistakes that are commonly made in the compressor room are by design, and others are operational. My colleague Tyler Daniel wrote a great blog on design considerations recently, so I’m going to focus on the operational aspects, which include maintenance…and maybe some minor design stuff:

  • Poor ventilation: Air compressors get hot. They’ve got a lot of moving parts, and many of those parts are moving under a great amount of force (pressure is literally defined as force per unit area), and at a high rate of speed. Add in the heat of compression (it takes energy to compress air, and that energy has to go somewhere, something another colleague, John Ball, explains here), to all that friction and you come up with a TREMENDOUS amount of heat. An industry thumbrule, in fact, states that over 2500 Btu/hr of heat is generated, PER HORSEPOWER, by a typical industrial air compressor. If the compressor room isn’t big enough, you’ll need an exhaust fan capable of removing all that heat.
  • Lack of filtration: Take a good, full breath in through your nose, right now. Did you smell anything unpleasant or irritating? I hope not…clean air is a “must” for your lungs (and the rest of your body), and the same is true for your air compressor (and the rest of your compressed air system). Keeping up with the maintenance on the intake filter is literally “starting where it all begins”…from the 1st paragraph.
  • Not removing moisture: Water & water vapor will have an adverse effect on many components of your compressed air system: it’ll cause rust in iron pipes, damage the seals in air cylinders, motors, tools, etc., and if you use it for blow off or conveying, it’ll contaminate your product. We’ve writtenagain and again…about the importance of dryers, and which type might be best for you.
  • Tolerating leaks: The compressor room is loud, so leaks are going to be pretty big before you can hear them. And to add insult to injury, the vibration of a running compressor makes the compressor room a prime location for them to occur. Even one small leak that you couldn’t hear in a quieter area will cost you over $100 over the course of the year, and maybe only take minutes to fix. Good news is, even if you can’t hear them, they ALL make an ultrasonic signature, and we’ve got something for that.
EXAIR Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector “finds them all, big or small!”
  • Ignoring maintenance. If you don’t schedule planned maintenance, your equipment will schedule corrective maintenance for you…oftentimes at greater expense, and with no regard to your schedule.
    • Moving metal parts that make metal-to-metal contact (or that have very tight spacing tolerances) HAVE to be lubricated properly. If you run low on oil, or let it get dirty or emulsified, severe damage will follow. Keeping an eye on the oil level, and changing it (and the filter) at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals, is critical.
    • Emulsified or otherwise contaminated oil can damage seals, gaskets, and o-rings. That’s obviously a big problem for the compressor, and when it carries over into the header, it’s a big problem for pneumatic cylinders & tools as well. Periodic sampling & analysis of your oil can provide timely notice of issues that can be corrected before they become catastrophic failures.
    • Depending on the type of compressor, and its drive system, the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations may also include:
      • Checking coupling or belt alignment of the drive.
      • Checking bolts for loosening due to vibration (a “necessary evil”, especially with reciprocating compressors).
      • Adjusting the pistons to maintain valve plate clearance.
      • Tightening or replacing the mounts & vibration pads.

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.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Image courtesy of PEO ACWA Some rights reserved Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Take It All In – Just Filter It

The Nose – Only the Nose Knows

Take a nice deep breath as you read this. In through the nose. If you are like me right now, due to Fall allergies you’ll have a little bit of a restriction, hold it for just a second and then breathe out through the mouth. The body is an amazing thing, when we breathe in through our nose the body has some natural filtration built in that is also known as nose hair. While not the most attractive thing to most, it is important. The hairs in the nose help to filter out allergens and catch foreign debris.

An Improperly maintained Cabin Air Filter on a car makes a great bed for mice

Other items you interact with daily have similar air intake filtration. A car often has both an intake air filter and even an in-cabin air filter, these both protect various parts. The engine air filter is vital to prevent dust, debris and even excessive water from entering into the precision machined and assembled motor. The HVAC system in every business or home generally has an intake air filter in order to protect the coils and heater box.

There’s another system in most manufacturing facilities that should always have a filter on it, and that is the compressed air system. Properly maintaining and filtering the incoming ambient air feed before it is compressed starts the process of on the right foot to optimize performance and insure efficiency is maintained from the start of the entire process. These filters are like many others and can be part of a preventative maintenance program. The air compressor manufacturer will have a recommendation on frequency for the various types.

Old Piston driven air compressor intake air filter.

If these filters are left unchanged then the compressor begins to have restricted flow on the intake which then results in less air being pulled in or maybe the filter is removed and then the debris all gets pulled in and sent through to become foreign debris inside the compressor. Both of these will cause the compressor to wear or overheat and work harder to compress the air and send it into the storage tank. This results in premature maintenance needed on the compressors and or point of use devices.

Thus, always filter your incoming air. Whether for your air compressor, car engine, or house, start with a fresh intake and then keep it optimized from there. The payback will be longer lasting equipment that operates at a higher efficiency. And remember, breathe in through your nose.

If you would like to discuss your filtration setups, feel free to reach out to an Application Engineer.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer

Filtered Compressed Air is the Best Compressed Air: Three Filter Types

When you are using compressed air to Clean, Cool, and or Dry products in production the quality of compressed air you are using is very important. You wouldn’t want to be blowing oil or condensation from your compressed air onto a surface you are trying to dry. Or blowing debris on a surface you are trying to clean.

The most common type of oil removal filter uses a coalescing element.  Oil entrained in pressurized gas flow isn’t as dense as water – so centrifugal elements won’t remove it – and it tends to act like particulate…but very fine particulate – so typical sintered particulate elements won’t remove it.  Coalescing elements, however, are made of a tight fiber mesh.  This not only catches any trace of oil in the air flow, but also much finer particulate than those sintered elements.  EXAIR Oil Removal Filters, like the Model 9027 , provide additional particulate filtration to 0.03 microns.  That’s some pretty clean air.

Dry Particulate Filters: Dry particulate filters are usually employed to remove desiccant particles after an adsorption dryer. They can also be implemented at point of use to remove any corrosion particles from the compressed air. Dry particulate filters operate in a similar manner as a coalescing filter, capturing and retaining particles within the filter media.

The particulate element captures solids larger than 5 microns, and the centrifugal element eliminates moisture.

Coalescing Filters: Coalescing filters are used for removing water and aerosols. Small droplets are caught in a filter media and merged into larger droplets that are then taken out of the filter. A re-entrainment barrier prevents these droplets from reentering the air. Most of the liquid coalescing filters remove is water and oil. These filters also remove particulates from compressed air, trapping them within the filter media, which can lead to pressure drops if not changed regularly. Coalescing filters remove most contaminants very well.

The coalescing element catches oil and very fine particulate

Adsorption Filters: Vapor removal filters are typically used to remove gaseous lubricants that will go through the coalescing filter. Because they use an adsorption process, vapor removal filters should not be used to capture lubricant aerosols. Aerosols will quickly saturate the filter, rendering it useless in a matter of hours. Sending air through a coalescing filter prior to the vapor removal filter will prevent this damage. The adsorption process uses activated carbon granules, carbon cloth or paper to capture and remove contaminants. Activated charcoal is the most common filter media because it has a large open pore structure; a handful of activated charcoal has the surface area of a football field.

Knowing the needs of your compressed air system can help you chose the right filter. If your air needs a high level of filtration or basic contaminants removed, cleaning your air is an important step in the compressed air process. Check out EXAIRS filter options here!

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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