Compressed Air Regulators: The Design and Function

Regulator

Compressed air regulators are a pressure reducing valve that are used to maintain a proper downstream pressure for pneumatic systems.  There are a variety of styles but the concept is very similar; “maintain a downstream pressure regardless of the variations in flow”.  Regulators are very important in protecting downstream pneumatic systems as well as a useful tool in saving compressed air in blow-off applications.

The basic design of a regulator includes a diaphragm, a stem, a poppet valve, an orifice, compression springs and an adjusting screw.  I will break down the function of each item as follows:

  1. Diaphragm – it separates the internal air pressure from the ambient pressure. They are typically made of a rubber material so that it can stretch and deflect.  They come in two different styles, relieving and non-relieving.  Relieving style has a small hole in the diaphragm to allow the downstream pressure to escape to atmosphere when you need to decrease the output pressure.  The non-relieving style does not allow this, and they are mainly used for gases that are expensive or dangerous.
  2. Stem – It connects the poppet valve to the diaphragm. This is the “linkage” to move the poppet valve to allow compressed air to pass.  As the diaphragm flexes up and down, the stem will close and open the poppet valve.
  3. Poppet valve – it is used to block the orifice inside the regulator. It has a sealing surface to stop the flowing of compressed air during zero-flow conditions.  The poppet valve is assisted by a spring to help “squeeze” the seal against the orifice face.
  4. Orifice – it is an opening that determines the maximum amount of air flow that can be supplied by the regulator. The bigger the orifice, the more air that can pass and be supplied to downstream equipment.
  5. Compression springs – they create the forces to balance between zero pressure to maximum downstream pressure. One spring is below the poppet valve to keep it closed and sealed. The other spring sits on top of the diaphragm and is called the adjusting spring.  This spring is much larger than the poppet valve spring, and it is the main component to determine the downstream pressure ranges.  The higher the spring force, the higher the downstream pressure.
  6. Adjusting screw – it is the mechanism that “squeezes” the adjusting spring. To increase downstream pressure, the adjusting screw decreases the overall length of the adjusting spring.  The compression force increases, allowing for the poppet valve to stay open for a higher pressure.  It works in the opposite direction to decrease the downstream pressure.

With the above items working together, the regulator is designed to keep the downstream pressure at a constant rate.  This constant rate is maintained during zero flow to max flow demands.  But, it does have some inefficiencies.  One of those issues is called “droop”.  Droop is the amount of loss in downstream pressure when air starts flowing through a regulator.  At steady state (the downstream system is not requiring any air flow), the regulator will produce the adjusted pressure (If you have a gage on the regulator, it will show you the downstream pressure).  Once the regulator starts flowing, the downstream pressure will fall.  The amount that it falls is dependent on the size of the orifice inside the regulator and the stem diameter.  Charts are created to show the amount of droop at different set pressures and flow ranges (reference chart below).  This is very important in sizing the correct regulator.  If the regulator is too small, it will affect the performance of the pneumatic system.

The basic ideology on how a regulator works can be explained by the forces created by the springs and the downstream air pressures.  The downstream air pressure is acting against the surface area of the diaphragm creating a force.  (Force is pressure times area).  The adjusting spring force is working against the diaphragm and the spring force under the poppet valve.  A simple balanced force equation can be written as:

Fa  ≡ Fp + (P2 * SA)

Fa – Adjusting Spring Force

Fp – Poppet Valve Spring Force

P2 – Downstream pressure

SA – Surface Area of diaphragm

If we look at the forces as a vector, the left side of the Equation 1 will indicate a positive force vector.  This indicates that the poppet valve is open and compressed air is allowed to pass through the regulator.  The right side of Equation 1 will show a negative vector.  With a negative force vector, the poppet valve is closed, and the compressed air is unable to pass through the regulator (zero flow).

Let’s start at an initial condition where the force of the adjusting spring is at zero (the adjusting screw is not compressing the spring), the downstream pressure will be zero.  Then the equation above will show a value of only Fp.  This is a negative force vector and the poppet valve is closed. To increase the downstream pressure, the adjusting screw is turned to compress the adjusting spring.  The additional spring force pushes down on the diaphragm.  The diaphragm will deflect to push the stem and open the poppet valve.  This will allow the compressed air to flow through the regulator.  The equation will show a positive force vector: Fa > Fp + (P2 * SA).  As the pressure downstream builds, the force under the diaphragm will build, counteracting the force of the adjusting spring.  The diaphragm will start to close the poppet valve.  When a pneumatic system calls for compressed air, the downstream pressure will begin to drop.  The adjusting spring force will become dominant, and it will push the diaphragm again into a positive force vector.  The poppet valve will open, allowing the air to flow to the pneumatic device.  If we want to decrease the downstream air pressure, the adjusting screw is turned to reduce the adjusting spring force.  This now becomes a negative force vector; Fa < Fp + (P2 * SA).  The diaphragm will deflect in the opposite direction.  This is important for relieving style diaphragms.  This deflection will open a small hole in the diaphragm to allow the downstream air pressure to escape until it reaches an equal force vector, Fa = Fp + (P2 * SA).  As the pneumatic system operates, the components of the regulator work together to open and close the poppet valve to supply pressurized air downstream.

Compressed air is expensive to make; and for a system that is unregulated, the inefficiencies are much greater, wasting money in your company.  For blow-off applications, you can over-use the amount of compressed air required to “do the job”.  EXAIR offers a line of regulators to control the amount of compressed air to our products.  EXAIR is a leader in manufacturing very efficient products for compressed air use, but in conjunction with a regulator, you will be able to save even more money.  Also, to make it easy for you to purchase, EXAIR offer kits with our products which will include a regulator.  The regulators are already properly sized to provide the correct amount of compressed air with very little droop.   If you need help in finding the correct kit for your blow-off application, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be able to help you.

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

Pressure Profile: Where to Measure Your Air Pressure

Generic Layout drawing of compressed air piping system.

In order to fully understand how efficient your compressed air system may be, you will need to generate a system pressure profile at some point.   This is a list or diagram of what pressures you have in your compressed air system at specific locations, as well as the pressure required by all the demand devices on your compressed air system.

One of the reasons for the pressure profile is that you may have an application that is far away from the compressor but also highly dependent on a specific operating pressure.   You may also find an application that, due to pressure losses within the system, causes an artificially high pressure demand.

The list below gives the critical points for measuring your compressed air system profile.

  1. At the air compressor discharge. (If using multiple compressors, measure at each.)
  2. If dryers of any type are being used after the compressor measure downstream from the dryer.
  3. Downstream of each filter. (If a particulate filter and oil removal filter are being used it is best to measure downstream of each individual device.   This is to tell when you have more than a 5 psig pressure drop or a clogged filter.)
  4. After each intermediate storage device, such as receiver tanks.
  5. At the point just before the main line from your compressor room branches off to distribution.
  6. The furthest point of each header line you have installed.
  7. On both sides of every filter/regulator units that are at high pressure point of use applications.

To give you an idea of why it is so important to measure these locations, take a look at the blogs we have posted on pressure drop. (Link Here)  As you can tell by the list of blogs that comes up, pressure drop through piping can really cause a lot of wasted energy in your compressed air system.   If you can get a good base line measurement by utilizing a pressure profile then you can start the process to optimizing your compressed air system.

6 steps
The EXAIR Six Steps To Optimizing Your Compressed Air System.

 

If you would like to discuss this or any of the other 6 steps to compressed air optimization, feel free to contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

Back To The Basics (of compressed air)…And The Track

The past several weeks I have been finding myself doing things the more complicated way (I  know how that sounds odd – an engineer that prefers to do things the hard way). Over the weekend I took a brief ride on the motorcycle for a short 15 minute trip that I found to be satisfying, even if it is less direct and a more out-of-the-way route for getting my errands complete.   The route runs past the local university of Mount Saint Joseph, down a winding road that has no houses and only one business, the rest is all woods and a creek.  Finally, this route runs along the mighty Ohio river and back up a steep winding road near my house.

While I have been worrying about all the projects and errands which need to be completed, this more complicated route gives me a moment to decompress and remember that my family at home and few other things are all I need.  Once  I was reminded of that and got some perspective which allowed me to “keep calm and carry on” I proceeded to break my projects and errands down into smaller pieces and everything will start to come together.

I now have a to do list at home as well as a refreshed list at EXAIR of all the items I need to do.   The list at home is considerably more fun as it all involves getting my “new to me” track bike ready for this season.  20140506_134512That’s right, it’s right around the corner, the first track weekend of 2014.  So expect to see some more motorcycle blogs coming and hopefully more ways to use EXAIR products while working on them. It was these newly developed lists that helped me reorganize and get back on track for the new season, sometimes a list is necessary in order to gain perspective, prioritize and begin to take action.

On that note, EXAIR has a list to help you gain perspective, prioritize and take some action toward getting your compressed air system optimized. Our systematic approach using the Six Steps To Compressed Air Optimization has been developed to help you save your compressed air,your hearing, and your money. By following these steps you can lower your compressed air use, minimize workplace noise exposure (OSHA will be happy) and save money on this important utility.

6 steps

 

If you have ever thought of reducing your compressed air costs, use our list to help you gain perspective on this simple process and take some positive steps toward saving your facility some money.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Compressed Air Calculations, Optimization, and Tips

EXAIR uses our blog platform to communicate everything from new product announcements to personal interests to safe and efficient use of compressed air. We have recently passed our 5 year anniversary of posting blogs (hard for us to believe) and I thought it appropriate to share a few of the entries which explain some more of the technical aspects of compressed air.

Here is a good blog explaining EXAIR’s 6 steps to optimization, a useful process for improving your compressed air efficiency:


One of the Above 6 steps is to provide secondary storage, a receiver tank, to eliminate pressure drops from high use intermittent applications. This blog entry addresses how to size a receiver tank properly:

Here are 5 things everyone should know about compressed air, including how to calculate the cost of compressed air:

These next few entries address a common issue we regularly assist customers with, compressed air plumbing:

In a recent blog post we discuss how to improve the efficiency of your point of use applications:

Thanks for supporting our blog over the past 5 years, we appreciate it. If you need any support with your sustainability or safety initiatives, or with your compressed air applications please contact us.  

Have a great day,
Kirk Edwards
@EXAIR_KE

Improve Your Compressed Air System: Improve Point of Use Applications

While compressor controls and efficiency are an important part of any comprehensive compressed air audit, so too, are your point of use applications. Many times these point of use locations are quickly and inexpensively improved. The first step is to identify which area of your system you would like to improve first. Certainly you will have that “problem area”, the part of the plant you know is using compressed air more than it should. This area of your plant is usually outfitted with open tubes that have the ends crimped down as a homemade nozzle or the operators are using blow-guns with commercial grade nozzles or worse yet, no nozzle at all. It’s the area of the plant that may require hearing protection due to the loud hissing of air or where that pipe with drilled holes was the quickest and cheapest fix for the application (or so you thought).

Document these areas of the plant and address these points of use by measuring the current consumption. Many times, we find, the volume of air provided by open tubes, inefficient nozzles and drilled pipes is much more than is required for the application.  Accurate compressed air measurement will be important to properly calculate the compressed air cost and savings. These points of use can be retrofitted or optimized in a couple of ways. First, you can retrofit open tubes by placing a compression fitting and engineered air nozzle on it. This will both reduce the air consumption and noise levels within the plant. Drilled pipes have holes, or slots, along the length to provide a wide area blow off. These applications can show dramatic improvement by using compressed air knives or air amplifiers which are engineered to reduce air consumption, reduce noise and maintain OSHA Compliance for dead end pressure. The second way to improve these end use applications is to install pressure regulators and lower the end use pressure which will result in lower air use.

Don’t let these end use applications go unchallenged, just because they were this way when you joined the firm does not mean they should not, or cannot be improved upon. If you get the right folks involved and keep them updated about the actions or changes you are making, you will find advocates for the projects. Remember that quantifying the savings is key so don’t start without measuring how much air you are currently using at these problem areas. Flow meters on each leg of your system or at specific high use areas of the plant will prove invaluable to providing data expressed in dollars of savings to those making decisions within your firm. The compressed air supply side personnel will also be helpful in locating or prioritizing where to start saving compressed air. Keep employees and management informed of savings and improvements and the savings ball will have more potential to keep on rolling.

Remember:

  • Measure – baseline the current conditions of compressed air use with flow meters
  • Upgrade – retrofit inefficient open blow offs, commercial grade nozzles, drilled pipes etc. with engineered  and intelligent compressed air products
  • Control air pressure – lower pressure results in lower air consumption

If you would like any assistance or support to improve your compressed air system, we’re here to help.

Kirk Edwards
Application Engineer
@exair_ke