What’s So Great About Compressed Air?

Compressed air is commonly known as “the fourth utility” – along with electricity, water, and gas – due to its ubiquitous use in modern industry. But…why? If you compare the power required to make it, versus the work you can get out of it, it’s abysmally inefficient. And, while it won’t electrocute you, drown you, or blow you up (like the “first three” utilities, respectively), purposely depressurizing a compressed air line comes with its own particular set of risk factors.

Of course, benefits outweigh inefficiencies and risks in many things most of us do every day. Over half of the energy released in your car’s engine goes to heat & friction, instead of turning the wheels. Insurance companies say the typical American driver has a 77% chance of getting into an automobile accident EVERY YEAR, and that most of us will be in up to THREE traffic accidents in our lifetimes. Looking at the number of fellow commuters I saw on my way to work this morning, it’s clear, though, that most of us are ready to accept that inefficiency and risk. And that’s not so surprising, considering they’re mitigated greatly by ever improving technology in fuel efficiency, and safety.

It’s, of course, the same with compressed air use, and the “first three” utilities as well: regulation, training, and engineering lower the aforementioned risks to broadly accepted levels. These disciplines also provide for the most efficient use, in spite of the inherent inefficiencies (no engine is 100% efficient) – getting the most out of what you have is “the name of the game”. So, how does all of this apply to industrial use of compressed air?

SAFETY

  • Regulation: In the United States, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) limits the nozzle pressure or or opening of a gun, pipe, cleaning lance, etc., when used for cleaning to 30psi, to protect against dead-ending such a device against your skin, which can cause a deadly condition known as an air embolism. This same directive mandates “effective chip guarding” to keep the blown off debris from hitting the operator. EXAIR Corporation has been in the business of making engineered compressed air products that comply with this directive for almost forty years now.
  • Training: There are companies whose sole purpose is to train & certify personnel in both the management, and operation, of industrial equipment in a safe manner. At EXAIR Corporation, our Safety Manager maintains certification from such an agency, which qualifies him to conduct regular training to ensure safe operation of tools, equipment, and chemicals used in the manufacture of our engineered compressed air products.
  • Engineering: In the “Hierarchy of Controls” established by the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), “Engineering Controls” is considered to be less effective than “Elimination” or “Substitution” of the hazard, but more effective than “Administrative Controls” or “Personal Protective Equipment”. THAT’S why EXAIR Corporation has been doing what we do – and why we’re so successful at it – for all this time.
For more on this, I can’t recommend my colleague Jordan Shouse’s recent blog on the subject highly enough. Go read it now…this blog will wait.

EFFICIENCY

  • Regulation: Since the energy crisis of the 1970’s, the United States Department of Energy has implemented numerous initiatives directed at improving energy efficiency. If you’ve ever shopped for a home appliance, you’re likely familiar with EnergyStar ratings. They have a similar program for commercial and industrial air compressors. While they’re not a government body with powers to mandate regulations, the Compressed Air Challenge membership consists of manufacturers & distributors, users, research & development agencies, energy efficiency organizations, and utilities, with key focus on providing direction for the most efficient operation of compressed air systems…from generation to point of use.
  • Training: Speaking of the Compressed Air Challenge, they, and other organizations like the Compressed Air & Gas Institute (CAGI) conduct formal training sessions, in addition to the documented direction I mentioned above. CAGI also has a personnel certification program for those interested in developing credibility and confidence by demonstrating knowledge, understanding, and expertise in the design & operation of compressed air equipment. You can even get a cool logo to put on your business cards and in your signature line.
  • Engineering: While there are multiple avenues to engineer SAFE compressed air products, not all of them are necessarily efficient as well. At EXAIR Corporation, we set ourselves above the fray by maintaining focus on safety AND efficiency. In their discussion of controls that I mentioned above, NIOSH has this to add on the subject of Engineering Controls: “The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or PPE, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.” (emphasis mine)

To answer the question I posed in this blog’s title, there are many considerations that make compressed air great to use…among them are:

  • Pneumatic tools are lighter, cheaper, more mobile, and lower maintenance than their electrical counterparts. The risk of electrocution is also avoided.
  • Compressed air distribution systems are easier and less costly to install than electrical grids or natural gas lines.
  • Compressed air doesn’t lose energy over distance like steam.
  • Compressed air leaks, while potentially costly, don’t present an inherent safety risk to plant personnel like gas leaks or electrical “leaks” (aka electrocution hazards).

Add in safety and efficiency, and THAT’S what’s so great about compressed air. If you’d like to find out how EXAIR Corporation can help YOU get the most out of our compressed air use, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

Cold Gun Aircoolant Systems Eliminate Mist & Breathing Problems In Machine Shops

Some machine tool operations require flood coolant. Not only does the liquid remove heat of friction from the tool and the work piece, it also provides lubrication that the cutting of some materials require. For other machining operations, mist coolant removes heat, provides a measure of lubricity, and minimizes (to a degree) the volume of liquid used in a flood coolant application.

This high speed photograph illustrates how flood coolant gets atomized by a machine cutting tool.

Whether you flood or mist liquid right onto a tool cutting metal, some of it’s going airborne. CNC machines are oftentimes equipped with collection systems for coolant mist, and it’s not unusual to see ambient mist collectors installed in machine shops to take care of the mist that escapes individual machines.

These mist collectors play an essential role in these facilities, as there are considerable health risks associated with exposure to these fluids, both oil- and water-based. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health (NIH) compiles & analyzes risks associated with skin contact & inhalation of metalworking fluids. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has comprehensive recommendations of limitations on exposure to them. In England, the Health & Safety Executive agency likewise published a document geared toward helping machine shops and their employees work safely with them.

Speaking of NIOSH, they strategize a Hierarchy of Controls that can be applied to most any industrial process:

Elimination of the hazard isn’t always possible, but when it is, it’s the most effective option.

While mist collectors (Engineering Controls) are reasonably effective (and essential in the large number of applications where metalworking fluids are necessary), there are still a fair amount of applications where liquid coolant CAN be eliminated. For those applications, consider the EXAIR Cold Gun Aircoolant Systems.

Cold Guns not only eliminate messy and potentially hazardous liquid coolants, but also have been proven to improve cutting tool life.

Using Vortex Tube technology, EXAIR Cold Guns generate cold air flow from a supply of compressed air, instantly & on demand, with no moving parts to wear or electrical components to burn out. They’re safe, quiet, effective, and install in minutes, using a built-in bar magnet and 1/4 NPT compressed air connection.

Both Standard & High Power Systems come with Filter Separators, and are available with Single or Dual Point Hose Kits.

We know we can’t replace liquid coolant in every machining application, but if you’d like to explore elimination of it in your processes, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

Mufflers to Protect Manufacturing Workers Hearing

Mufflers

Many manufacturing plants have a strong focus on safety for their workers.  One major safety concern that is overlooked is noise.   OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has a directive that defines the noise exposure over time; 29CFR 1910.95(a).   For an eight-hour day, the maximum noise level is 90 dBA.  Hearing loss is irreversible, but it can be preventable.  The CDC, Center for Disease Control, and NIOSH, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, report that “approximately 18% of all manufacturing workers have hearing difficulty”1

EXAIR manufactures engineered products to reduce noise levels in the work environment.  We offer Super Air Nozzles and Safety Air Guns for blow-off applications and pneumatic mufflers for discharge exhaust.  In this blog, I will cover the different types of EXAIR Mufflers that we offer.   

  1. Reclassifying Mufflers are designed to have two functions. They can cut noise levels by 35 dB and remove oil mist from the exhaust air.  Cylinders and valves that exhaust pressurized air may have oil in the line to keep the seals from sticking.  When exhausted, it can create a fine mist which is dangerous for operators.  The Reclassifying Mufflers can reduce the loud noise as well as collect any contamination from the exhaust air.
  2. Sintered Bronze Mufflers are simple in design, cost effective, and easy to install. They have a minimal back pressure to not restrict operations of the pneumatic device.  They come in sizes from #10-32 thread to 1-1/2” NPT.  For a quick and simple way to reduce noise, the Sintered Bronze Mufflers are in stock for fast delivery.
  3. Straight-Through Mufflers offer a way to reduce noise levels without worrying about clogging. They have an aluminum shell lined with sound absorbing foam, and they can reduce the noise level by 20 dB.  EXAIR offers them with ports of ¼” NPT, 3/8” NPT, and ¾” NPT.  One side has a female thread while the opposite side will have a male thread.  This can allow you to connect other items like hose kits to reduce noise.
  4. Heavy Duty Mufflers are used within aggressive environments.  They have an outer aluminum shell with an internal stainless-steel screen.  They protect components like valves and cylinders from contamination entering into the part.  And, the Heavy Duty Muffler can keep contaminant like rust from being ejected at high speed into the work area. They have a typical noise reduction of 14 dB.

Here is a test for you.  If you go and stand in your plant, you can probably hear loud noises coming from your compressed air system.  EXAIR has an engineered product to solve most of them.  On the Hierarchy of Controls for NIOSH, Personal Protection Equipment, PPE, is the least effective.  A better control would be to isolate your operators from the hazard with an engineered product.  EXAIR can offer that solution for many of your blow-offs and pneumatic discharges to reduce noise levels.  This would include; and not limited to; Super Air Nozzles, Safety Air Guns, Super Air Knives, and Mufflers.  If you wish to discuss further the safety improvements that EXAIR can provide, you can contact an Application Engineer.  We will be happy to help. 

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

Note 1: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ohl/manufacturing.html

NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls

Last year I hosted a Webinar about the NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls and compressed air safety! You can watch that here on our website!

The hierarchy of controls is a strategy that originates from NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. This hierarchy is their recommendation for increasing safety for personnel by taking specific steps and how each step increases safety moving from bottom to top of the pyramid. In this blog I will explain the main elements of the HIERARCHY OF CONTROLS and illustrate how to reach the highest level of control with important compressed air safety standards.

The least effective methods are Administrative Controls and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Administrative Controls involve making changes to the way people perform the work and promoting safe practices through training. The training could be related to correct operating procedures, keeping the workplace clean, emergency response to incidents, and personal hygiene practices, such as proper hand washing after handling hazardous materials. PPE is the least effective method because the personnel themselves make the choice to wear them or not wear them in any particular situation. They can be trained on the risks of not using PPE equipment (ear plugs, gloves, respirators, etc.) but we all know it does not always get used. PPE can also become damaged, may be uncomfortable and not used, or used incorrectly.

In the middle range of effectiveness is Engineering Controls. These controls are implemented by design changes to the equipment or process to reduce or eliminate the hazard. Good engineering controls can be very effective in protecting people regardless of the the actions and behaviors of the workers. While higher in initial cost than Administrative controls or PPE, typically operating costs are lower, and a cost saving may be realized in the long run.

The final two, Elimination and Substitution are the most effective but can be the most difficult to integrate into an existing process. If the process is still in the design phase, it may be easier and less expensive to eliminate or substitute the hazard. Elimination of the hazard would be the ultimate and most effective method, either by removing the hazard altogether, or changing the work process so the hazard is no longer part of the process.

EXAIR can help your company follow the Hierarchy of Controls, and eliminate, or substitute the hazards of compressed air use with relative ease. 

Home of Intelligent Compressed Air Products

Engineers can eliminate loud and unsafe pressure nozzles with designs that utilize quiet and intelligent compressed air products such as Air NozzlesAir Knives and Air Amplifiers. Also, unsafe existing products such as air guns, can be substituted with EXAIR engineered solutions that meet the OSHA standards 29 CFR 1910.242(b) and 29 CFR 1910.95(a).

Elimination and Substitution are the most effective methods and should be used whenever possible to reduce or eliminate the hazard and keep people safe in the workplace. EXAIR products can be easily substituted for existing, unsafe compressed air products in many cases. And to avoid the hazard altogether, remember EXAIR when designing products  or processes which require compressed air use for cooling, cleaning, ejection, and more. 

If you have questions about the Hierarchy of Controls and safe compressed air usage from any of the 15 different EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product lines, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

Send me an Email
Find us on the Web 
Like us on Facebook
Twitter: @EXAIR_JS

Hierarchy of Controls Image:  used from  Public Domain