Determining Leakage Rate and Cost of Compressed Air Leaks

The electricity costs associated with the generation of compressed air make it the most expensive utility within an industrial environment. In a   poorly maintained compressor system, up to 30% of the total operational costs can be attributed simply to compressed air leaks. While this wasted energy is much like throwing money into the air, it can also cause your compressed air system to lose pressure. This can reduce the ability of the end use products to function properly, negatively impacting production rates and overall quality. Luckily, it’s quite easy to estimate the leakage rate and is something that you should be including in your regular PM schedule.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, a well-maintained system should have a leakage rate of less than 5-10% of the average system demand. To estimate what your leakage rate is across the facility, first start by shutting off all of the point of use compressed air products so that there’s no demand on the system. Then, start the compressor and record the average time it takes for the compressor to cycle on/off. The compressor will load and unload as the air leaks cause a pressure drop from air escaping. The percentage of total leakage can be calculated using the following formula:

Leakage % = [(T x 100) / (T + t)]

Where:

T = loaded time (seconds)

T = unloaded time (seconds)

The leakage rate will be given in a percentage of total compressor capacity lost. This value should be less than 10% for a well-maintained system. It is not uncommon within a poorly maintained system to experience losses as high as 20-40% of the total capacity and power.

A leak that is equivalent to the size of a 1/16” diameter hole will consume roughly 3.8 SCFM at a line pressure of 80 PSIG. If you don’t know your company’s air cost, a reasonable average is $0.25 per 1,000 SCF. Let’s calculate what the cost would be for a plant operating 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.

3.8 SCFM x 60 minutes x $0.25/1,000 SCFM =

$0.06/hour

$0.06 x 24 hours =

$1.44/ day

$1.44 x 7 days x 52 weeks =

$524.16 per year

A small leak of just 3.8 SCFM would end up costing $524.16. This is just ONE small leak! Odds are there’s several throughout the facility, quickly escalating your operating costs. If you can hear a leak, it’s a pretty severe one. Most leaks aren’t detectable by the human ear and require a special instrument to convert the ultrasonic sound created into something that we can pick up. For that, EXAIR has our Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector.

ULD_Pr
Model 9061 ULD w/ parabola attachment checking for compressed air leaks

Implementing a regular procedure to determine your leakage rate in the facility as well as a compressed air audit to locate, tag, and fix any known leaks should be a priority. The savings that you can experience can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s not something that has ever been done before!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Sliding Vane Air Compressors

Over the last few months, my EXAIR colleagues have blogged about several different types of air compressor types including single and double acting reciprocating and rotary screw. (You can select the links above to check those out.) Today I will review the basics of the sliding vane type, specifically the oil/lubricant injected sliding vane compressor.

The lubricant injected sliding vane compressor falls under the positive displacement-type, the same as the other types previously discussed.  A positive displacement type operates under the premise that a given quantity of air is taken in, trapped in a compression chamber and the physical space of the chamber is mechanically reduced.  When a given amount of air occupies a smaller volume, the pressure of the air increases.

Each of the previous positive displacement type compressors use a different mechanism for the reduction in size of the compression chamber.  The single and double acting reciprocating use a piston that cycles up and down to reduce the compression chamber size. The rotary screw uses two inter-meshing rotors, where the compression chamber volume reduces as the air approaches the discharge end.  For the lubricant sliding vane type, the basic design is shown below.

Sliding Vane2
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

The compressor consist of an external housing or stator, and the internal circular rotor, which is eccentrically offset.  The rotor has radially positioned (and occasionally offset) slots in which vanes reside.  As the rotor rotates, the centrifugal forces on the vanes cause them to move outwards and contact the inner surface of the stator bore.  This creates the compression areas, formed by the vanes, rotor surface and the stator bore.  Because the rotor is eccentrically offset, the volume of the compression area reduces as the distance between the rotor surface and the stator reduces.  As the rotor turns counterclockwise, the vanes are pushed back into the rotor slots, all the while in contact with the stator surface.  The shrinking of the compression area leads to the increase in air pressure.

Oil is injected into compression chamber to act as a lubricant, to assist is sealing, and to help to remove some of the heat of compression.

The advantages of the lubricant sliding vane compressor type is very similar to the lubricant injected rotary screw.  A few key advantages include:

  • Compact size
  • Relatively low initial cost
  • Vibration free operation- no special foundation needed
  • Routine maintenance includes basic lubricant and filter changes

A few of the disadvantages include:

  • Lubricant gets into the compressed air stream, requires an air/lubricant separation system
  • Requires periodic lubricant change and disposal
  • Less efficient than rotary screw type
  • Not as flexible as rotary screw in terms of capacity control in meeting changing demands

EXAIR recommends consulting with a reputable air compressor dealer in your area, to fully review all of the parameters associated with the selection and installation of a compressed air system.

If you would like to talk about compressed air or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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Twitter: @EXAIR_JS

Photo Credit to Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

Intelligent Compressed Air: Distribution Piping and Pressure Drop

An important step you must take after determining your compressed air requirements is the distribution piping for the system. The piping will be the “veins” that connect your entire facility to the compressor. Before installing pipe, it is important to consider how the compressed air will be consumed at the point of use. In order to ensure optimal performance of any compressed air operated device, you must ensure sufficient compressed air flow is delivered. Simply put, inadequate air flow won’t allow you to get the job done.

Pressure drop through the pipe is caused by the friction of the air mass making contact with the inside walls of the pipe. This is a function of the volume of flow through the pipe. Larger diameter pipes will result in a lower pressure drop, and vice versa for smaller diameter pipes. The chart below from the “Compressed Air and Gas Institute Handbook” provides the pressure drop that can be expected at varying CFM for 2”, 3”, and 4” ID pipe.

Once you’ve determined the appropriate piping size for your system, you’ll need to consider the different materials that are available. Some different materials that you’ll find as options are: steel piping (Schedule 40) both with or without galvanizing, stainless steel, copper, and even some plastic piping systems are available.

Plastic piping is not generally recommended to be used for compressed air. Some lubricants that are present in the air can act as a solvent and degrade the pipe over time. PVC should NEVER be used as a compressed air distribution pipe. Take a look at this inspection report an automotive supply store received fines totaling $13,200 as a result of an injury caused by shrapnel from a PVC pipe bursting. However, there are some composite plastics that are suitable for use with compressed air. PVC is most certainly not one of them.  

Steel pipe is a traditional material used in many compressed air distribution systems. It’s strong and durable on the outside and is a familiar material for many to work with. Its strength comes at a price, steel pipe is very heavy and requires anchors to properly suspend it. Steel pipe (not galvanized) is also susceptible to corrosion. This corrosion ends up in your supply air and can wreak havoc on your point-of-use products and can even contaminate your product. While galvanized steel pipe does reduce the potential for corrosion, this galvanizing coating can flake off over time and result in the exact same potential issues. Stainless Steel pipe eliminates the corrosion and rusting concerns while still maintaining the strength and durability of steel pipe. They can be more difficult to install as stainless steel pipe threads can be difficult to work with

Copper piping is another potential option. Copper pipe is corrosion-free, easy to cut, and lightweight making it easy to suspend. These factors come at a significant increase in costs, however, which can prevent it from being a suitable solution for longer runs or larger ID pipe installations. Soldering of the connecting joints can be time consuming and does require a skilled laborer to do so.

Another lightweight material that is increasingly more common in industry is aluminum piping. Like copper, aluminum is lightweight and anti-corrosion. They’re easy to connect with push-to-lock connectors and are ideal for clean air applications. Aluminum pipe remains leak-free over time and can dramatically reduce compressed air costs. While the initial cost can be high, eliminating potential leaks can help to recoup some of the initial investment.

When designing and maintaining your compressed air system, pressure measurements should be taken across varying points to identify (and fix) any issues before they create a greater problem down the road. According to the Compressed Air Challenge, these are the places you should take regular pressure measurements to determine your system operating pressure:

  • Inlet to compressor (to monitor inlet air filter) vs. atmospheric pressure
  • Differential across air/lubricant separator
  • Interstage on multistage compressors
  • Aftercooler
  • At treatment equipment (dryers, filters, etc.)
  • Various points across the distribution system
  • Check pressure differentials against manufacturers’ specifications, if high pressure drops are noticed this indicates a need for service

*More recent compressors will measure pressure at the package discharge, which would include the separator and aftercooler.

Once you’ve taken these measurements, simply add the pressure drops measured and subtract that value from the operating range of your compressor. That figure is your true operating pressure at the point of use.

If your distribution system is properly sized and the pressure drops measured across your various equipment are within specifications, any pressure drop noticed at the point of use is indicative of an inadequate volume of air. This could be due to restrictive fittings or undersized air lines, hose, or tube. Check that the point of use product is properly plumbed to compressed air per the manufacturer’s specifications.

EXAIR Products are designed to minimize this pressure drop by restricting the flow of compressed air. The more energy (pressure) that we’re able to bring to the point of use, the more efficient and effective that energy will be. If you’re looking to improve on how compressed air is used within your manufacturing processes, give us a call.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Image courtesy of Tampere Hacklab via Flickr Creative Commons License

Intelligent Compressed Air: 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
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Compressor Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License