Oil Removal Filters: Never First, Sometimes Last

If you have been around compressed air systems, our blogs, or even optimized installations of point of use compressed air products, you will see point of use filtration in place. These filters come in a plethora of sizes, shapes, and specifications. Here at EXAIR we recommend to always keep a point of use filtration solution in place. This would include an auto-drain filter separator, as well as an oil removal filter.

Oil Removal Filters

So why do we have two instead of one? Could you use just the oil removal filter rather than two? Well, the answer lies in an optimized installation that will also carry with it a lower total cost of ownership. The auto-drain filter separators from EXAIR have a filter element which takes the air to a 5 micron level of filtration. (Except for the model 9004 which filters down to 20 micron.) The Oil Removal Filters have a coalescing filter element which filters to a 0.3 micron level for the finest debris/mists that may be contained within the compressed air stream. One reason for the separation is when a system is oil-free, the finer filtration level may not be needed. Also, by catching the bulk of material with the standard auto-drain filter and then leaving the finer filter to catch the residual amounts liquid that had been finely atomized within the stream of compressed air. This finer filter costs more so using it to catch larger particulate and risking it becoming clogged quicker will increase the total cost of ownership of the point of use compressed air product it is hooked to, hence never first and sometimes last. After the point of use filtration then placing the point of use pressure regulator and solenoid valves are next. This is all a better way to reduce risk of these being damaged from dirt and contaminants in the air lines. Total cost of ownership reductions all point to a better sustainability of any product.

To better showcase the importance of filtration, here’s a brief video I did a while back that visualizes just what one can see out of a compressed air line with minimal moisture introduced.

As you can see, keeping the point of use air filtered protects your process and decreases the total cost of ownership for your compressed air point of use product. If you would like to discuss other ways we can improve efficiency within your facility and help ensure you are getting the longest life out of your products, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

Compressed Air Quality and ISO 8573-1 Purity Classes

Airborne particles surround us everywhere.   In a general work environment, nearly four million particles per cubic foot is floating around us at any given time.  When a compressor compresses this air, the concentration increases substantially.  So, compressed air is not only expensive to make, but very dirty.  As the air exits your air compressor and travels into your pneumatic system, there is so much contamination that the International Standard Organization, ISO, created an Air Quality chart with Purity Classes.

ISO8573-1-2010

This chart is easy to follow and can be found in the ISO8573-1 standard for Air Quality.  It is used to select a cleanliness level for your compressed air system.  The contamination is categorized into three areas; Particles, Water, and Oil (reference above).  A Class is associated with a number for each category ranging from 0 (most stringent) to 9 (most relaxed).  As an example, an Air Quality value of ISO8573-1:2010 [1.2.4] has a Class 1 for Particles, Class 2 for Water, and Class 4 for Oil.  These Class values will show the maximum value in each category.

To define the categories in more detail, I will separate the three to discuss the origins and solutions.

  • Particles: For solid particles, this part comes from many different areas.  The surrounding ambient air that is being drawn into the air compressor is filtered; but the intake filter will only remove large diameter particles.  The smaller diameter particles will go through the filter and into the compressed air system.  Another part is rust particles that occur from steel air pipes and receiver tanks.  Over time, rust will flake off and create particles that can affect pneumatic equipment.  Other particles can come from components inside the air compressor, valves, etc., that wear and breakdown.  In the ISO column for Particles, it is separated into three different micron ranges and concentrations.  The removal of particles from the compressed air is done by traps and compressed air filters.  EXAIR offers two types; Filter Separators with 5-micron filtration and Oil Removal Filters with 0.03-micron filtration.  There are other types of filtration systems depending on your ISO requirement.
  • Water:  Humidity is a natural occurrence as water vapor in the surrounding air.  It can be measured as a dew point temperature.  This is the temperature at which water will condense and make rain.  Inside an air compressor, the air is ‘squeezed”, and the amount of space for water vapor is reduced.  So, it will condense into liquid form as “rain” inside the pipes.  Air that comes out from an air compressor will always be saturated with water.  To remove liquid water, a mechanical device can be used.  Inside a Filter Separator, a centrifugal separator will spin the air and remove the liquid water.  To remove water vapor, a compressed air dryer is required like a refrigerant, desiccant, deliquescent, or membrane type.  Each type will have a dew point range that they can reach.  As an example, a refrigerant type will reduce the dew point near 37 oF (3 oC).  That means that water will not condense until the temperature reaches below 37 oF (3 oC).
  • Oil: This category can be found as a liquid, aerosol or vapor, and it includes more than just oil. It contains small hydrocarbons, CO, CO2, SO2, and NOX.  Oil mainly comes from inside an oil-flooded air compressor.  As the air passes through the compressor, it will pick up remnants of oil aerosols and carry it downstream.  With high temperatures inside the air compressor, some of the oil will vaporize.  Even with oil-less type air compressors, carbon vapor can still be an issue.  Small hydrocarbons can come through the air intake and condense inside the system like water vapor above.  To remove the liquid and aerosol type of oil, Oil Removal Filters can be used.  They are designed to “coalesce” the small particles into larger particles for gravity to remove.  Oil vapor requires an activated carbon to remove.  These types of filter units will adsorb the vapor.  This helps to remove odors as well as dangerous chemical vapors that may be in the compressed air line.

There are a variety of pneumatic systems that use the ISO8573-1 standard.  This will include breathing air operations, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and the electronic industries.  If you need stringent requirement for your compressed air system, the Air Quality standard should be used by referring to the Class numbers above.  This helps to dictate the types of filtration and air dryers that should be used within your pneumatic system.  If you have any questions about your compressed air system, an Application Engineer at EXAIR can help.

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

 

ISO 8573-1 Chart by Compressed Air Best Practice.

Oil Removal Filters – Keeping Compressed Air Clean

Compressed air filters help to keep the air clean and condensate free to protect equipment from dust, dirt, pipe scale, oil and water. Even though the compressed air system will typically have a main dryer, additional treatment is often necessary. For this discussion, we will focus on the oil removal process and filter type.

After the compressed air has passed through a particulate filter, the dirt, dust and water droplets have been removed.  Oil that is present is much smaller in size, and mostly passes though the particulate filter.  The installation of a coalescing filter will provide for the removal of the majority of the fine oil aerosols that remain. The coalescing filter works differently than the particulate filters. The compressed air flows from inside to outside through the coalescing filter media. The term ‘coalesce’ means to ‘come together’ or ‘form one mass.’  The process of coalescing filtration is a continuous process where the small aerosols of oil come in contact with fibers of the filter media. As other aerosols are collected, they will join up and ‘come together’ and grow to become an oil droplet, on the downstream or outside surface of the media.  Gravity will then cause the droplet to drain away and fall off the filter element.

9005
Example of a 0.03 Micron Coalescing Oil Removal Filter

Some important information to keep in mind –

  • Change the filter regularly, not just when the differential pressures exceeds recommended limits, typically 5 PSI
  • Coalescing filters will remove solids too, at a higher capture rate due to the fine level of filtration, using a pre-filter for solids will extend the life
  • Oil free compressors do not provide oil free air, as the atmospheric air drawn in for compression contains oil vapors that will cool and condense in the compressed air system.

If you would like to talk about oil removal filters or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, 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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The Importance Of Air Compressor System Maintenance

It should go without saying, but proper operation of anything that has moving parts will depend on how well it’s maintained.  Compressed air systems are certainly no exception; in fact; they’re a critical example of the importance of proper maintenance, for two big reasons:

*Cost: compressed air, “the fourth utility,” is expensive to generate.  And it’s more expensive if it’s generated by a system that’s not operating as efficiently as it could.

*Reliability: Many industrial processes rely on clean or clean & dry air, at the right pressure, being readily available:

  • When a CNC machine trips offline in the middle of making a part because it loses air pressure, it has to be reset.  That means time that tight schedules may not afford, and maybe a wasted part.
  • The speed of pneumatic cylinders and tools are proportional to supply pressure.  Lower pressure means processes take longer.  Loss of pressure means they stop.
  • Dirt & debris in the supply lines will clog tight passages in air operated products.  It’ll foul and scratch cylinder bores.  And if you’re blowing off products to clean them, anything in your air flow is going to get on your products too.

Good news is, the preventive maintenance necessary to ensure optimal performance isn’t all that hard to perform.  If you drive a car, you’re already familiar with most of the basics:

*Filtration: air compressors don’t “make” compressed air, they compress air that already exists…this is called the atmosphere, and, technically, your air compressor is drawing from the very bottom of the “ocean” of air that blankets the planet.  Scientifically speaking, it’s filthy down here.  That’s why your compressor has an inlet/intake filter, and this is your first line of defense. If it’s dirty, your compressor is running harder, and costs you more to operate it.  If it’s damaged, you’re not only letting dirt into your system; you’re letting it foul & damage your compressor.  Just like a car’s intake air filter (which I replace every other time I change the oil,) you need to clean or replace your compressor’s intake air filter on a regular basis as well.

*Moisture removal: another common “impurity” here on the floor of the atmospheric “ocean” is water vapor, or humidity.  This causes rust in iron pipe supply lines (which is why we preach the importance of point-of-use filtration) and will also impact the operation of your compressed air tools & products.

  • Most industrial compressed air systems have a dryer to address this…refrigerated and desiccant are the two most popular types.  Refrigerant systems have coils & filters that need to be kept clean, and leaks are bad news not only for the dryer’s operation, but for the environment.  Desiccant systems almost always have some sort of regeneration cycle, but it’ll have to be replaced sooner or later.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on these.
  • Drain traps in your system collect trace amounts of moisture that even the best dryer systems miss.  These are typically float-operated, and work just fine until one sticks open (which…good news…you can usually hear quite well) or sticks closed (which…bad news…won’t make a sound.)  Check these regularly and, in conjunction with your dryers, will keep your air supply dry.

*Lubrication: the number one cause of rotating equipment failure is loss of lubrication.  Don’t let this happen to you:

  • A lot of today’s electric motors have sealed bearings.  If yours has grease fittings, though, use them per the manufacturer’s directions.  Either way, the first symptom of impending bearing failure is heat.  This is a GREAT way to use an infrared heat gun.  You’re still going to have to fix it, but if you know it’s coming, you at least get to say when.
  • Oil-free compressors have been around for years, and are very popular in industries where oil contamination is an unacceptable risk (paint makers, I’m looking at you.)  In oiled compressors, though, the oil not only lubricates the moving parts; it also serves as a seal, and heat removal medium for the compression cycle.  Change the oil as directed, with the exact type of oil the manufacturer calls out.  This is not only key to proper operation, but the validity of your warranty as well.

*Cooling:  the larger the system, the more likely there’s a cooler installed.  For systems with water-cooled heat exchangers, the water quality…and chemistry…is critical.  pH and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) should be checked regularly to determine if chemical additives, or flushing, are necessary.

*Belts & couplings: these transmit the power of the motor to the compressor, and you will not have compressed air without them, period.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  Keeping spares on hand isn’t a bad idea either.

Optimal performance of your compressed air products literally starts with your compressor system.  Proper preventive maintenance is key to maximizing it.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to shut down any system to replace a moving (or wear) part.  With a sound preventive maintenance plan in place, you have a good chance of getting to say when.

If you’d like to talk about other ways to optimize the performance of your compressed air system,  give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Image courtesy of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet, Creative Commons License