Finding and Fixing Leaks in Your Compressed Air System

I had to find and fix some leaks this week – in my yard. See, my underground storm sewer pipe, that carries my basement sump pump discharge and my house’s gutter drains to the street, was leaking.

The evidence was clear…swampy puddles were developing in my neighbor’s yard.

The location was clear…several patches of grass in MY yard were WAY more green and vibrant than the rest.

The cause was NOT clear…until I dug up those patches of the best looking grass my lawn has ever seen. Turns out, my maple tree’s (the showpiece of my front yard) root system found a way to penetrate one of the couplings in the sewer pipe, where it prospered into this:

That’s about 8ft worth of root growth that was clogging my drain pipe, and causing leaks upstream. My maple tree is not shown in the picture because my maple tree is a real jerk.

Two days worth of digging up and reinstalling pipe later, and all is well.  I mean, except for filling the trench, sowing some new grass seed, watching the birds eat it, sowing some more, etc.  Ah, the joys of home ownership…

I tell you all this, dear reader, so you know that I. Don’t. Like. Leaks…whether they be in my storm sewer pipe or in your compressed air system…which brings me to the (real) subject of my blog today.

Unlike the visual indications of my yard leak, compressed air system leaks don’t really draw much attention to themselves.  Unless they grow quite large, they’re typically invisible and very quiet…much too quiet to be heard in a typical industrial environment, anyway.  Good news is, they’re not all that hard to find.

One way is to use a soap-and-water solution.  You just need a spray bottle, some dish soap, and water.  Spray it on the piping joints, and all but the smallest, most minute, of leaks will create soap bubbles…instant indication of air leakage.  This method is inexpensive and simple, but it does tend to leave little puddles all over.  Plus, if your header runs along the ceiling, you’re going to have to get up there to do it.  And unless you can easily maneuver all the way around the pipe, you can miss a leak on the other side of the joint. If you have a small and relatively simple compressed air system, and all your piping is accessible though, this method is tried and true.

For many industrial compressed air systems, though, the limitations of the soap bubble method make it impractical.  But I’ve got more good news: those silent (to us) air leaks are making a real racket, ultrasonically speaking.  And we’ve got something for that:

EXAIR Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector discovers and pinpoints leaks, quickly and easily.

See, when a pressurized gas finds its way through the narrow (and usually torturous) path out of a slightly loosened fitting, worn packing on a valve, etc., it creates sound waves.  Some of those ARE in audible frequencies, but they’re often so low as to be drowned out by everything else that’s happening in a typical industrial environment.  Those leaks, however, also create sound waves in ultrasonic frequencies…and EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector takes advantage of that ultrasonic racket to show you where those leaks are, as well as give you a qualitative indication of their magnitude.  Here’s how it works:

Find leaks and fix them.  This is Step #2 of our Six Steps To Optimizing Your Compressed Air System.  If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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A Unique Application for the Ultrasonic Leak Detector

Here on the EXAIR blog we post a ton of different applications for our products. We typically see similar applications each day and write about them so that you may identify potential points in your various processes that may benefit from an engineered compressed air solution. Many of these are typical blowoff or cooling applications that we see day in and day out. Sometimes, though, we see some applications that are outside the realm of typical operation. This can sometimes require the manufacturing of a specialized part or just getting a little creative with a stock product.

Our distributor in Argentina recently contacted me about a unique application for an Ultrasonic Leak Detector. The Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector is a hand-held instrument that allows you to locate costly leaks in a compressed air distribution system. As pressurized air exits a small orifice, an ultrasonic sound that is above human hearing is created. The Ultrasonic Leak Detector is able to pick up on these sound emissions and can convert it to an audible range that is able to be heard by the human ear. Typically, this product is used in conjunction with a leak prevention program to help save money and compressed air by identifying leaks in the distribution system.

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Model 9061 ULD detecting a leak

The customer is a manufacturer of plastic bottles used to hold a wide variety of different personal care products. The bottles were molded in two separate pieces, then brought together and sealed. After the two pieces of the bottle were sealed, they had to test each one to ensure that they remained watertight. Their current method involved filling the cavities with water and inspecting for leaks.

While this method was effective, when a leak was present water would get all over the machine and floor and needed to be cleaned up. This to them was considered a nuisance and they began to explore alternative methods of checking the seals on the bottles. They found EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector and wondered if they could use it to detect leaks on the bottles if they were to pressurize them with compressed air instead of filling them with water. We’ve handled similar applications in the past, this one here a customer used the ULD to detect leaks from poor welds on the roof of buses. They ordered one for testing and were very pleased with the results. The ULD had no problem detecting leaks in the bottles and allowed them to eliminate the mess and annoyance associated with using water.

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Operator testing for leaks using the ULD

Just because you can’t find a particular application in our Application Database on the website or here on the blog, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done! With our unconditional 30 day guarantee for all stock products you have plenty of time to test it out in your specific application. If for any reason it won’t work for you, just send it back and we’ll try something else.

If you have a unique application that could be served by an Intelligent Compressed Air Product, give us a call. Trust me when I say we absolutely LOVE tackling a new and exciting challenge with a creative solution!

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

Keys to an Efficient Compressed Air System

How do I make our compressed air system efficient?

This is a critical question which plagues facilities maintenance, engineering, and operational personnel.  There are concerns over what is most important, how to approach efficiency implementation, and available products/services to assist in implementation.  In order to address these concerns (and others), we must first look at what a compressed air system is designed to do and the common disruptions which lead to inefficiency.

The primary object of a compressed air system is to transport the compressed air from its point of production (the compressors) to its point of use (applications) in sufficient quantity and quality, and at adequate pressure for proper operation of air-driven devices.[1]  In order for a compressed air system to do so, the compressed air must be able to reach its intended destination in proper volume and pressure.  And, in order to do this, pressure drops due to improper plumbing must be eliminated, and compressed air leakage must be eliminated/kept to a minimum.

But, before these can be properly addressed, we must create a pressure profile to determine baseline operating pressures and system needs.  After developing a pressure profile and creating a target system operating pressure, we can move on to the items mentioned above – plumbing and leaks.

Proper plumbing and leakage elimination

The transportation of the compressed air happens primarily via piping, fittings, valves, and hoses – each of which must be properly sized for the compressed air-driven device at the point of use.  If the compressed air piping/plumbing is undersized, increased system (main line) pressures will be needed, which in-turn create an unnecessary increase in energy costs.

In addition to the increased energy costs mentioned above, operating the system at a higher pressure will cause all end use devices to consume more air and leakage rates to increase.  This increase is referred to as artificial demand, and can consume as much as 30% of the compressed air in an inefficient compressed air system.[2]

But, artificial demand isn’t limited to increased consumption due to higher system pressures.  Leaks in the compressed air system place a tremendous strain on maintaining proper pressures and end-use performance.  The more leaks in the system, the higher the main line pressure must be to provide proper pressure and flow to end use devices.  So, if we can reduce leakage in the system, we can reduce the overall system pressure, significantly reducing energy cost.

 

How to implement solutions

Understanding the impact of an efficient compressed air system is only half of the equation.  The other half comes down to implementation of the solutions mentioned above.  In order to maintain the desired system pressure we must have proper plumbing in place, reduce leaks, and perhaps most importantly, take advantage of engineered solutions for point-of-use compressed air demand.

The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector being used to check for leaks

Once proper plumbing is confirmed and no artificial demands are occurring due to elevated system pressures, leaks in the system should be addressed.  Compressed air leaks are common at connection points and can be found using an ultrasonic noise sensing device such as our Ultrasonic Leak Detector (ULD).  The ULD will reduce the ultrasonic sound to an audible level, allowing you to tag leaks and repair them.  We have a video showing the function and use of the ULD here, and an excellent writeup about the financial impact of finding and fixing leaks here.

The EXAIR catalog – full of engineered solutions for point-of-use compressed air products.

With proper plumbing in place and leaks fixed, we can now turn our attention to the biggest use of compressed air within the system – the intended point of use.  This is the end point in the compressed air system where the air is designed to be used.  This can be for blow off purposes, cleaning, conveying, cooling, or even static elimination.

These points of use are what we at EXAIR have spent the last 34 years engineering and perfecting.  We’ve developed designs which maximize the use of compressed air, reduce consumption to absolute minimums, and add safety for effected personnel.  All of our products meet OSHA dead end pressure requirements and are manufactured to RoHS, CE, UL, and REACH compliance.

If you’re interested in maximizing the efficiency of your compressed air system, contact one of our Application Engineers.  We’ll help walk you through the pressure profile, leak detection, and point-of-use engineered solutions.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE

 

[1] Compressed Air Handbook, Compressed Air & Gas Institute, pg. 204

[2] Energy Tips – Compressed Air, U.S. Department of Energy

Finding Leaks and Saving Money with the Ultrasonic Leak Detector

Locate costly leaks in your compressed air system!  Sounds like the right thing to do.

The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector is a hand-held, high quality instrument that is used to locate costly leaks in a compressed air system.

Ultrasonic sound is the term applied to sound that is above the frequencies of normal human hearing capacity.  This typically begins at sounds over 20,000 Hz in frequency.  The Ultrasonic Leak Detector can detect sounds in this upper range and convert them to a range that is audible to people.

When a leak is present, the compressed air moves from the high pressure condition through the opening to the low pressure environment.  As the air passes through the opening, it speeds up and becomes turbulent in flow, and generates ultrasonic sound components. Because the audible sound of a small leak is very low and quiet, it typically gets drowned out by by surrounding plant noises, making leak detection by the human ear difficult if not impossible.

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Detecting a Leak with the Ultrasonic Leak Detector

By using the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, the background noise can be filtered out and the ultrasonic noises can be detected, thus locating a leakage in the compressed air system. There are (3) sensitivity settings, x1, x10, and x100 along with an on/off thumb-wheel for fine sensitivity.  The unit comes with a parabola and tubular extension for added flexibility.

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Model 9061 – Ultrasonic Leak Detector and Included Accessories

Finding just one small leak can pay for the unit-

A small leak equivalent to a 1/16″ diameter hole will leak approx 3.8 SCFM at 80 PSIG of line pressure.  Using a reasonable average cost of $0.25 per 1000 SCF of compressed air generation, we can calculate the cost of the leak as follows-

Capture

It is easy to see that utilizing the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, and identifying and fixing leaks is the right thing to do.  It is possible to find and fix enough leaks that a new compressor purchase can be avoided or an auxiliary back-up is not needed any more.

If you have questions regarding the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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Intelligent Compressed Air: Save $$ With a Leak Prevention Program

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Don’t let leaks drive up your utility bill

The generation of compressed air accounts for approximately 1/3 of all energy costs in an industrial facility. According to the Compressed Air Challenge, about 30% of that compressed air is lost through leaks. This means nearly 10% of your facility’s energy costs are simply wasted through poor connections, faulty air valves, improper installation, etc. In addition to simply wasting money, compressed air leaks can also contribute to a variety of other operating losses. A leak can cause a drop in system pressure. When this occurs, end users may not operate as efficiently, having an adverse effect on production. This same drop in system pressure will also cause the equipment to cycle on/off more often, shortening the life of your compressor and other equipment. If the leaks cause an issue in supply volume, it may lead to the belief that more compressor capacity is necessary, further increasing your operating costs.

To put leaks in perspective (assuming energy costs of .10/ kWh), the Compressed Air Challenge states this:

  • A $200/year leak cannot be felt or heard
  • A $800/year leak can be felt, but not heard
  • A $1,400/year leak can be felt and heard.

If you walk through your facility, how many leaks can you hear?

We know that a large portion of the compressed air is being wasted, but what do we do about it? A proper leak prevention plan is the key to success. Since these leaks are impossible to see and some cannot even be heard, you need a tool to help assist you. EXAIR’s model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector is the right tool for the job. When compressed air leaks through a pipe, it creates an ultrasonic signature due to turbulence. While this sound is not always detectable by the human ear, this meter will allow you to locate leaks up to 20’ away.

 

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Model 9061 with parabola attachment

The first step will be locating the leaks using an Ultrasonic Leak Detector and tagging them throughout the facility. Don’t let this overwhelm you!! If you have a larger facility, break it up into sections that can be completed in 1 day. This will allow you to decide which areas of the plant should be looked at first. Once you’ve located and tagged all of the leaks, rate them under two separate criteria so that you can prioritize what to fix first. Rate them based on the difficulty that it will take to fix them and also by the severity of the leak. Those that are severe yet easy to fix would make sense to begin fixing first. Those that may require a period of shutdown can be planned to fix at a more appropriate time.

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Accessories that come with the Ultrasonic Leak Detector

When you’ve had the opportunity to fix them, don’t just forget about it. When new piping is installed, new lines are added, or anything involving compressed air is installed there is the potential for new leaks to develop. Set this as one of your regular PM activities and complete your own compressed air audit once a year. Implementing the process and maintaining it are the keys to your success.

If you have questions about developing a leak program or how to use the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, give us a call. An Application Engineer will be happy to help with the process and recommend additional methods to save on your compressed air supply.

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

An Ultrasonic Leak Detector Helps a Fire Marshal With a Dry Sprinkler System

A dry sprinkler system? How will that help in a fire? The fire marshal snickered as he told me that this type of system was designed for cold weather fire protection.  Most sprinkler systems that we see in the ceiling are designed with water in the lines.  But, if you have areas that get below 40 deg. F (4 deg. C), the fire department will have you install a dry sprinkler system.  It uses compressed air to hold a valve shut to not allow the water to be inside the cold pipes. So, if you have an unheated crawl space, uninsulated attics, or an outside storage facility, you won’t have to worry about the water freezing and bursting your pipes or sprinkler heads.

The reason that the fire marshal contacted me was to help find a leak in a dry sprinkler system. A facility in his jurisdiction noticed that the air compressor that was assigned to the dry sprinkling system was cycling more often.  This was an indication of a leak, and just like any compressed air system, leaks occur over time at the connection points.  This facility had their pipes located in a crawl space, and there wasn’t much room for maneuvering.  Typically the normal protocol for a leak would be to go to each joint and spray it with soapy water.  If they saw bubbles, then they would fix that connection.  With the small space and the number of connections, he had to find a better way.

Model 9061

Whenever a leak occurs, it will generate an ultrasonic noise. The model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector can pick up these high frequencies in the range of 20 Khz to 100 Khz, above human hearing.  This device makes the inaudible leaks, audible.  With three sensitivity ranges and LED display, you can find very small leaks, and with the two attachments, it can locate them up to 20 feet (6.1 meters) away.  When he started using it, he was amazed with the performance.  The Ultrasonic Leak Detector cut his time in the field and ensured that all the leaks were found.  In this instance, he was able to use the parabola attachment to locate the area of the leak from a distance.  He then crawled to that area and used the tube attachment to locate the exact location.  He found the leak and had it fixed.  If he did not have the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, he would have to maneuver his way throughout the small crawl space and spray soapy water on each fitting.

If you ever get stuck with a huge task with your compressed air system, like our fire marshal above, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR to see if we can improve your situation.

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

Lost In The Din? Not With An Ultrasonic Leak Detector!

Have you ever found yourself in a noisy environment, trying to hear what someone is saying to you? They could speak up, but sometimes that’s not enough. You might find yourself cupping your hand to your ear…this does two things:

*It blocks a lot of the noise from the environment.  This could also be called “filtering” – more on that in a minute.
*It focuses the sound of the speaker’s voice towards your ear.

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“What? They’re ALL still RIGHT behind me?”

Now, this isn’t a perfect solution, but you’ll likely have much better luck with this in a busy restaurant than, say, at a rock concert. Especially if it’s The Who…those guys are LOUD (vintage loud). If you’re at one of their concerts, whatever your friend has to say can probably wait.

You know what else can be loud?  Industrial workplaces.  Heavy machinery, compressed air leaks, cranes, forklifts, power tools, cranky supervisors/personnel…there are lots of unpleasant but necessary (mostly) sources of sound and noise, right here, where we work.

In the middle of all this, your supervisor might just task you with finding – and eliminating – compressed air leaks…like the person I talked to on the phone this morning.  This is where our Ultrasonic Leak Detector comes in: in places with high noise levels, it could be difficult (if not downright impossible) to hear air leaks.

Most of that noise from the machinery, cranes, etc., is in the “audible” range, which simply means that it’s of a frequency that our ears can pick up.  In a quiet room, you could likely hear an air leak…all but the very smallest ones will make a certain amount of noise…but when a compressed fluid makes its way out of a tortuous path to atmospheric pressure, gets turbulent, and creates an ultrasonic sound it is a frequency that our ears CAN’T pick up on.

Not only does the Ultrasonic Leak Detector pick up on this ultrasonic sound, it can also block (or “filter”) the audible sound out.  It comes with a parabola and a tubular extension so you can hone right in on the area, and then the exact location, of the leak.

If you’d like to find out more about compressed air leak detection, how much you might be able to save by fixing leaks, or how this could make your supervisor a bit less cranky (no guarantees on that last one,) give us a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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IMG_1339 courtesy of Rich Hanley  Creative Commons License