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
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
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)

Intelligent Compressed Air®: The Double-Acting Reciprocating Air Compressor

Evaluating all of the different types of compressors and which is right for you can seem like a daunting task. Today, I’d like to take some time to talk about the Double-Acting Reciprocating type of air compressor.

double acting compressor
Cut-out of a double-acting reciprocating compressor

Double-Acting Reciprocating compressors are a subset of the larger family of positive displacement compressor types. In positive displacement compressors, air is drawn into a chamber where the volume is then mechanically reduced. The energy used to displace the air volume is converted to an increase in air pressure. Dynamic compressors operate a little differently. They utilize an increase in air velocity to create the change in pressure. Air is accelerated to a high velocity through an impeller. The kinetic energy of the air is converted to an increase in potential (pressure) energy.

The Double-Acting Reciprocating compressor is a close relative to the Single-Acting Reciprocating compressor. In these types of compressors, an “automotive-type” piston driven by a crankshaft provides the compression. In a Double-Acting Reciprocating compressor, air is compressed as the piston moves in each direction. Hence the name, “double-acting”. In a Single-Acting Reciprocating compressor, air is only compressed on each full revolution of the piston. This makes the Double-Acting Reciprocating compressor much more efficient than its brethren.

Double Acting Recip
Double Acting Reciprocating Air Compressor

Double-Acting Reciprocating compressors are also available in much larger sizes. While Single-Acting compressors can be found up to 150HP, generally they’re much less common any larger than 25HP. Whereas a Double-Acting compressor is available from 10HP-1,000HP, making it a better choice for larger plants that require a significantly greater volume of compressed air. While they’re a bit more expensive due to the added mechanisms to produce the double-action compression, this cost is quickly offset by the increase in efficiency. At a performance of 15-16 kW/100 cfm, they’re 32% more efficient than a single-acting reciprocating compressor.

If you’re in the market for a new compressor and are struggling to determine the most suitable compressor, talk with your local compressor sales representative. Once you’re up an running, EXAIR has a wide-range of products that’ll make sure you’re using your compressed air safely and efficiently!

Tyler Daniel, CCASS

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


Images courtesy of Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems – second edition

Coanda Profiles: Who, What and How

Henri Coanda was a Romanian aeronautical engineer most known for his work developing what is today known as the Coanda effect. The Coanda effect is the propensity of a fluid to adhere to the walls of a curved surface. A moving stream of fluid will follow the curvature of the surface rather than continuing to travel in a straight line.  This effect is used in the design of an airplane wing to produce lift. The top of the wing is curved whereas the bottom of the wing remains straight. As the air comes across the wing, it adheres to the curved surface, causing it to slow down and create a higher pressure on the underside of the wing. This  is referred to as lift and is what allows an airplane to fly.

The Coanda effect is also the driving force behind many of EXAIR’s Intelligent Compressed Air Products. Throughout our catalog and website you’ll see us talking about air amplification ratios. EXAIR products are designed to take advantage of this phenomenon and entrain ambient air into the primary air stream. Compressed air is ejected through the small orifices creating air motion in their surroundings. Using just a small amount of compressed air as the power source, Super Air KnivesAir Nozzles, and Air Amplifiers all draw in “free” ambient air amplifying both the force and the volume of airflow.

Entrainment
EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Products such as (left to right) the Air Wipe, Super Air Knife, Super Air Nozzle, and Air Amplifier are engineered to entrain enormous amounts of air from the surrounding environment.

Super Air Knives provide the greatest amount of air amplification at a rate of 40:1, one part being the compressed air supply and 40 parts ambient air from the environment. The design of the Super Air Knife allows air to be entrained at the top and bottom of the knife, maximizing the overall volume of air. Super Air Nozzles and Super Air Amplifiers also use this effect to provide air amplification ratios of up to 25:1, depending on the model.

HowItWorks
Air Amplifiers use the Coanda Effect to generate high flow with low consumption.

The patented shim design of the Super Air Amplifier allows it to pull in dramatic amounts of free surrounding air while keeping sound levels as low as 69 dBA at 80 psig! The compressed air adheres to the Coanda profile of the plug and is directed at a high velocity through a ring-shaped nozzle. It adheres to the inside of the plug and is directed towards the outlet, inducing a high volume of surrounding air into the primary air stream.

Utilizing the Coanda effect allows for massive compressed air savings. If you would like to discuss further how this effect is applied to our Super Air Knives, Air Amplifiers, and Air Nozzles give us a call. We’d be happy to help you replace an inefficient solution with an Engineered Intelligent Compressed Air Product.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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