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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Video Blog: Importance of Point-of-Use Filtration

When operating any of your Intelligent Compressed Air Products, something that often gets overlooked is the importance of delivering clean, dry air to those point-of-use products. Many of our products have very tight orifices to help reduce the volume of compressed air they consume. In addition, most have no moving parts to wear out and require no maintenance. That is, unless you’re using unfiltered compressed air.

Rust and scale are commonly found within the distribution system inside your facility. Old iron pipe and receiver tanks are the common culprits. A common misconception is that the air is already filtered as it exits the compressor. While this may be true, there’s still places in the distribution system that can cause issues downstream.

To eliminate the hassle of taking things apart to periodically clean, EXAIR recommends installing a point-of-use filter for all of our Intelligent Compressed Air Products. Kits are available for purchase that come with a properly sized filter to ensure your air is sufficiently clean. To see how quickly debris can clog your products, check out my video below demonstrating the difference between dirty and clean air with a Model 110006 6″ Super Air Knife.

If you’ve already purchased and installed products without filters, it’s never to late to go back and install one. Contact an EXAIR Application Engineer today and we’ll be happy to help you determine the proper size for the volume of air you’re products need.

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

Comparing the Different Styles of Compressed Air Filters

Most of EXAIR’s line of Intelligent Compressed Air Products have no moving parts and require no maintenance. The caveat to the “no maintenance” aspect is proper filtration at the point of use. Many products have very tight orifices that could get clogged from any contaminants such as particulate, condensate, and lubricant. EXAIR recommends point of use filtration to be installed just upstream of any EXAIR Product for this purpose.

There are three primary types of compressed air filters: particulate, coalescing, and adsorption. Each have their own inherent characteristics and can be used in conjunction with one another. Each style is used to handle a different form of contaminant that’s present within the distribution system of your compressed air supply.

9001
EXAIR Model 9001 Auto-Drain Filter

Particulate filters – Particulate filters are available with different filtering mechanisms that allow you to control the particulate size that will be filtered out. The higher the level of filtration, the greater the pressure drop you’ll experience at the outlet of the filter. Styles are also available with either a polycarbonate bowl or metal bowls, depending on the application and environment.

Any filter with a polycarbonate bowl should have a metal guard on the outside to provide protection for personnel should a failure occur. In these styles of filters, compressed air is forced through a filter element that blocks any particulate contained within the air supply.

These filter elements are generally a sintered bronze material with filtration levels from 40-5 micron possible. Over time, the filter elements can clog and increase the pressure drop at the discharge of the filter. They’re relatively inexpensive and should be replaced yearly to maintain optimum performance and mitigate pressure drop. They also remove liquid drops as well from the air supply, containing them within the bowl. Styles with both manual-drains and automatic-drains are available that will drain the bowl of excess moisture automatically through the bottom of the filter.

9005
EXAIR Model 9005 Oil Removal Filter

Coalescing Filters – The coalescing filter is used to remove very fine water vapor as well as any residual oil. These filters are highly recommended to be installed just prior to any dryer that contains a media that would be compromised by any lubricant passing through it. Coalescing filters utilize an element typically made up of glass fibers that “coalesce”, or combine, the fine water vapor and oil aerosols until the droplet size becomes large enough that it drops off into the bowl or filter housing. With a coalescing filter, the most common cause of pressure drop increase is due to particulate clogging the filter element. Because of this, a particulate filter should always be installed just prior to any coalescing filters.

Adsorption Filters – The final type of compressed air filter is the adsorption filter. Where the particulate filters can remove the majority of contaminants and the coalescing filters the residual oil, they are not capable of removing lubricant vapors or oil. That’s where the adsorption filter comes in. In addition to removing the finest oil vapors, they also can eliminate odors from the compressed air supply. The oil vapors and odors adhere to activated carbon within the filter, removing them from the air supply. These filters are commonly found within the food processing industry, where any contaminants in the air supply could impact the integrity of the product.

EXAIR has a line of Automatic Drain Filter Separators and Oil Removal Filters, available from stock, to make sure the quality of your air supply is sufficient for proper operation of any EXAIR product. Feel free to give us a call and any of our Application Engineers will be happy to assist you.

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

What’s The Big Deal About Clean Air?

Compressed air isn’t called manufacturing’s “Fourth Utility” (the first three being electricity, water, and natural gas) for nothing. Pneumatic tools are popular because they’re often so much lighter than their electric counterparts. Compressed air can be stored in receiver tanks for use when other power supplies are unavailable or not feasible. Many compressed air operated products can be made to withstand environmental factors (high/low temperature, corrosive elements, atmospheric dust, oil, other contaminants, etc.,) that would make electric devices very expensive, unwieldy, or impractical.

One of the most valuable considerations, though, is that your compressed air system is, by and large, under your control.  The type and capacity of your air compressor can be determined by your specific operational needs.  The header pressure in your supply lines is based on the applications that your air-operated devices are used for.  And the performance & lifespan of every single component in your compressed air system is determined by the care you take in maintaining it.

I covered the importance of compressed air system maintenance in a blog a while back…today, I want to focus on clean air.  And, like the title (hopefully) makes you think, it’s a REALLY big deal.  Consider the effects of the following:

Debris: solid particulates can enter your air system through the compressor intake, during maintenance, or if lines are undone and remade.  If you have moisture in your air (more on that in a minute,) that can promote corrosion inside your pipes, and rust can flake off in there.  Almost all of your air operated products have moving parts, tight passages, or both…debris is just plain bad for them.  And if you use air for blow off (cleaning, drying, etc.,) keep in mind that anything in your compressed air system will almost certainly get on your product.

Your compressed air system may be equipped with a main filter at the compressor discharge.  This is fine, but since there is indeed potential for downstream ingress (as mentioned above,) point-of-use filtration is good engineering practice.  EXAIR recommends particulate filtration to 5 microns for most of our products.

Water: moisture is almost always a product of condensation, but it can also be introduced through faulty maintenance, or by failure of the compressor’s drying or cooling systems.  Any way it happens, it’s also easy to combat with point-of-use filtration.

EXAIR includes an Automatic Drain Filter Separator in our product kits to address both of these concerns.  A particulate filter element traps solids, and a centrifugal element “spins” any moisture out, collecting it in the bowl, which is periodically drained (automatically, as the name implies) by a float.

Point of use filtration is key to the performance of your compressed air products, and their effectiveness. Regardless of your application, EXAIR has Filter Separators to meet most any need.

Oil: many pneumatic tools require oil for proper operation, so, instead of removing it, there’s going to be a dedicated lubricator, putting oil in the air on purpose.  Optimally, this will be as close to the tool as possible, because not all of your compressed air loads need oil…especially your blow offs.  If, however, a blow off device is installed downstream of a lubricator (perhaps due to convenience or necessity,) you’ll want to do something about that oil. Remember, anything in your system will get blown onto your product.

If this is the case, or you just want to have the cleanest air possible (keep in mind there is no downside to that,) consider an EXAIR Oil Removal Filter.  They come in a range of capacities, up to 310 SCFM (8,773 SLPM,) and the coalescing element also offers additional particulate filtration to 0.03 microns.

In closing, here’s a video that shows you, up close and personal, the difference that proper filtration can make:

If you’d like to discuss or debate (spoiler alert: I’ll win) the importance of clean air, and how EXAIR can help, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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