Compressed Air Filters: What They Are, And Why They Matter

The first time I ever bought a brand new car was in 1995…it was a Ford Escort Wagon. My plan was to pay it off quick and run the tires off it. Well, I DID actually put new tires on it several times over the 11 years and 200,000 miles I had it. But, aside from fuel & tires, that car cost me less than $2,000 in repairs over all that time…an achievement that my mechanic said was due largely to the aforementioned planned maintenance, which largely consisted of regular oil changes, which, of course, included a new oil filter, every 3,000 miles. For the record, I didn’t run the wheels off it; I sold it when I took a job that included a company vehicle. Also for the record, I found out the fellow I sold my car to was still driving it after I left that job (and company vehicle.) He, too, believed in regular oil changes, and he might still have that 1995 Escort on the road for all I know.

So, yeah, I’m a big believer in the importance of fluid filtration.  If you’re a regular reader of the EXAIR Blog page, you likely are too.  The two main culprits that cause the most problems in a compressed air system are solid particulates and water.  These are easily addressed with a Filter Separator, like EXAIR Model 9004 Automatic Drain Filter Separator.  It has a 5 micron particulate element, and a centrifugal element that imparts a spinning motion to the air flow.  Since water is denser than air, any droplets of moisture are “flung” to the inside wall of the bowl, while the moisture-free air continues on through the discharge.

 

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

Another common impurity in compressed air is oil.  Since oil-less compressors came along, this is easy to eliminate at the source…literally.  However, for other types of compressors (piston types in particular,) as they age, the oil that lubricates the moving parts can seep by the piston rings and get to the air side.  Oil doesn’t carry the same wear and corrosion problems that dirt & water do, but it causes particular problems in air conveyance and blow off applications: anything in your air is going to get on your product.  Ask any paint booth operator, for example, what happens when a metal surface hasn’t been cleaned of all traces of oil.  It really does look a “fish eye.”

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 shown below, provide additional particulate filtration to 0.03 microns.  That’s some pretty clean air.

The coalescing element of an Oil Removal Filter catches oil and very fine particulate.

For best results, we recommend both the Filter Separator and Oil Removal Filter.  Make sure you install the Filter Separator upstream of the Oil Removal Filter…that way, its 5 micron element catches all the “big” particles that would quickly clog the very fine coalescing element, necessitating an element replacement.  In fact, this arrangement will allow the Oil Removal Filter to operate darn near indefinitely, maintenance free.

If you have questions about keeping your compressed air clean, moisture free, and oil free, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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How to Manage Condensate in Your Compressed Air System

If you operate an air compressor, you’re drawing water vapor into your compressed air system.  Factors like climate control (or lack thereof,) and humidity will dictate how much.  If (or more to the point, when) it condenses, it becomes an issue that must be addressed.  There are several types of dryer systems to choose from, usually when you buy your compressor…we’ve covered those in a number of blogs.  Some of these can leave a little more water vapor than others, but remain popular and effective, when considering the cost, and cost of operation, of the different types.

So, how do you handle the condensate that the dryer doesn’t remove?

  • Receivers, or storage tanks (like EXAIR Model 9500-60, shown to the right,) are commonly used for several reasons:
    • By providing an intermediate storage of compressed air close to the point of use, fluctuations across the system won’t adversely affect an application that needs a constant flow and pressure.
    • This also can keep the air compressor from cycling rapidly, which leads to wear & tear, and additional maintenance headaches.
    • When fitted with a condensate drain (more on those in a minute,) they can serve as a wet receiver.  Condensate collects in the bottom and is manually, or automatically emptied.
  • Condensate drains, while popularly installed on receivers, are oftentimes found throughout larger systems where the vapor is prone to condense (intercoolers, aftercoolers, filters and dryers) and where the condensation can be particularly problematic (drip legs or adjacent to points of use.) There are a couple of options to choose from, each with their own pros & cons:
    • Manual drains are self explanatory: they’re ball valves; cycled periodically by operators.  Pros: cheap & simple.  Cons: easy to blow down too often or for too long, which wastes compressed air.  It’s also just as easy to blow down not often enough, or not long enough, which doesn’t solve the condensate problem.
    • Timer drains are self explanatory too: they cycle when the timer tells them to. Pros: still fairly cheap, and no attention is required.  Cons: they’re going to open periodically (per the timer setting) whether there’s condensate or not.
    • Demand, or “zero loss” drains collect condensate until their reservoir is full, then they discharge the water.  Pros: “zero loss” means just that…they only actuate when condensate is present, and they stop before any compressed air gets out.  Cons: higher purchase price, more moving parts equals potential maintenance concerns.
  • The “last line of defense” (literally) is point-of-use condensate removal.  This is done with products like EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators.  They’re installed close to compressed air operated devices & products, oftentimes just upstream of the pressure regulator and/or flow controls…the particulate filter protects against debris in these devices, and the centrifugal element “spins” any last remaining moisture from the compressed air flow before it gets used.

Good engineering practice calls for point of use filtration and moisture removal, such as that provided by EXAIR Filter Separators.

Efficient and safe use of your compressed air includes maintaining the quality of your compressed air.  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
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Opportunities To Save On Compressed Air

If you’re a regular reader of the EXAIR blog, you’re likely familiar with our:

EXAIR Six Steps To Optimizing Your Compressed Air System

This guideline is as comprehensive as you want it to be.  It’s been applied, in small & large facilities, as the framework for a formal set of procedures, followed in order, with the goal of large scale reductions in the costs associated with the operation of compressed air systems…and it works like a charm.  Others have “stepped” in and out, knowing already where some of their larger problems were – if you can actually hear or see evidence of leaks, your first step doesn’t necessarily have to be the installation of a Digital Flowmeter.

Here are some ways you may be able to “step” in and out to realize opportunities for savings on your use of compressed air:

  • Power:  I’m not saying you need to run out & buy a new compressor, but if yours is

    Recent advances have made significant improvements in efficiency.

    aging, requires more frequent maintenance, doesn’t have any particular energy efficiency ratings, etc…you might need to run out & buy a new compressor.  Or at least consult with a reputable air compressor dealer about power consumption.  You might not need to replace the whole compressor system if it can be retrofitted with more efficient controls.

  • Pressure: Not every use of your compressed air requires full header pressure.  In fact, sometimes it’s downright detrimental for the pressure to be too high.  Depending on the layout of your compressed air supply lines, your header pressure may be set a little higher than the load with the highest required pressure, and that’s OK.  If it’s significantly higher, intermediate storage (like EXAIR’s Model 9500-60 Receiver Tank, shown on the right) may be worth looking into.  Keep in mind, every 2psi increase in your header pressure means a 1% increase (approximately) in electric cost for your compressor operation.  Higher than needed pressures also increase wear and tear on pneumatic tools, and increase the chances of leaks developing.
  • Consumption:  Much like newer technologies in compressor design contribute to higher efficiency & lower electric power consumption, engineered compressed air products will use much less air than other methods.  A 1/4″ copper tube is more than capable of blowing chips & debris away from a machine tool chuck, but it’s going to use as much as 33 SCFM.  A Model 1100 Super Air Nozzle (shown on the right) can do the same job and use only 14 SCFM.  This one was installed directly on to the end of the copper tube, quickly and easily, with a compression fitting.
  • Leaks: These are part of your consumption, whether you like it or not.  And you shouldn’t like it, because they’re not doing anything for you, AND they’re costing you money.  Fix all the leaks you can…and you can fix them all.  Our Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector (right) can be critical to your efforts in finding these leaks, wherever they may be.
  • Pressure, part 2: Not every use of your compressed air requires full header pressure (seems I’ve heard that before?)  Controlling the pressure required for individual applications, at the point of use, keeps your header pressure where it needs to be.  All EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Product Kits come with a Pressure Regulator (like the one shown on the right) for this exact purpose.
  • All of our engineered Compressed Air Product Kits include a Filter Separator, like this one, for point-of-use removal of solid debris & moisture.

    Air Quality: Dirty air isn’t good for anything.  It’ll clog (and eventually foul) the inner workings of pneumatic valves, motors, and cylinders.  It’s particularly detrimental to the operation of engineered compressed air products…it can obstruct the flow of Air Knives & Air Nozzles, hamper the cooling capacity of Vortex Tubes & Spot Cooling Products, and limit the vacuum (& vacuum flow) capacity of Vacuum Generators, Line Vacs, and Air Amplifiers.

Everyone here at EXAIR Corporation wants you to get the most out of your compressed air use.  If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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