Proper Compressed Air Supply Plumbing Equals Success

EXAIR manufactures and stocks Super Air Knives in lengths ranging from 3”-108”. They’re designed to dramatically reduce compressed air usage when compared to similar blowoffs while still maximizing both force and flow. With an air entrainment ratio of 40:1, it’s the ideal solution for a variety of applications that necessitate a wide, laminar sheet of high velocity airflow.

I recently worked with a customer who makes wooden pallets. They were using a Model 110048 48” Super Air Knife to remove sawdust from the pallets prior to stacking them. When the grooves are cut into the pallet to accommodate the forks from a forklift or pallet-jack, there’s a good amount of sawdust that remains on the pallet. They would prefer to not have sawdust all over the finished pallets that they send to customers, so they looked towards a Super Air Knife to provide a curtain of air capable of removing that sawdust just prior to stacking them.

They purchased the Model 110048, but after installing it they didn’t get the level of force they had been hoping for. After some initial discussions, we identified that the issue lied with the plumbing of the air supplied to the knife. A 48” Super Air Knife will need to be fed with compressed air to (3) of the ¼ NPT air inlets. This ensures that an adequate volume of air is fed to the full length of the knife, keeping a consistent airflow.

Not only had they been plumbing compressed air to just (1) air inlet, but they were also using a restrictive quick-disconnect fitting. The I.D. of a quick connect fitting restricts the overall volume of air that can be passed through it. Length of the pipe or hose is also critical as the diameter of the pipe will need to be larger for longer runs or greater volumes. Accompanying any Super Air Knife is our Installation & Maintenance Guide which outlines the necessary requirements for each available length that we have available as well as how many air inlets need to be supplied with compressed air.

SAK pipe sizing

To confirm that air supply was the issue, they installed a pressure gauge directly at the air inlet to the knife. Line pressure was around 90 PSIG, but when they opened the valve and supplied air to the knife the pressure gauge dropped all the way to 35 PSIG. We’ve talked about pressure drop before here on the EXAIR Blog, the only way to confirm this is to take a pressure reading directly at the air inlet.

They removed the quick disconnect fitting, increased to a 1/2″ supply hose in place of 1/4″, and plumbed compressed air to each end and the center air inlet. On all Super Air Knives, compressed air inlets are available on either end as well as on the bottom. After fixing their plumbing, they noticed a dramatic increase in both force and flow and the pressure directly at the air inlet increased to 85 PSIG. The sawdust was easily blown off of the pallets and the customer was pleased that their pallets were free of sawdust.

sak pallet

At EXAIR, we stand by our products with the Unconditional 30 Day Guarantee. If you’ve just purchased a new product and aren’t seeing the results that you were hoping for give us a call. Our highly-trained team of Application Engineers is ready and standing by to investigate the application and provide support to help make sure you’re getting the most out of our products. Most of the times the solution is simple, but we won’t be satisfied until we find a resolution!

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

Understanding Compressed Air Supply Piping

An important component of your compressed air system is the supply piping. The piping will be the middle man that connects your entire facility to the compressor. Before installing pipe, it is important to consider how the compressed air will be consumed at the point of use.  You’ll also need to consider the types of fittings you’ll use, the size of the distribution piping, and whether you plan to add additional equipment in the next few years. If so, it is important that the system is designed to accommodate any potential expansion. This also helps to compensate for potential scale build-up (depending on the material of construction) that will restrict airflow through the pipe.

Air Compressor
Air Compressor and Storage Tanks

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine your air compressor’s maximum CFM and the necessary operating pressure for your point of use products. Keep in mind, operating at a lower pressure can dramatically reduce overall operating costs. Depending on a variety of factors (elevation, temperature, relative humidity) this can be different than what is listed on directly on the compressor. (For a discussion of how this impacts the capacity of your compressor, check out one of our previous blogs – Intelligent Compressed Air: SCFM, ACFM, ICFM, CFM – What do these terms mean?)

Once you’ve determined your compressor’s maximum CFM, draw a schematic of the necessary piping and list out the length of each straight pipe run. Determine the total length of pipe needed for the system. Using a graph or chart, such as this one from Engineering Toolbox. Locate your compressor’s capacity on the y-axis and the required operating pressure along the x-axis. The point at which these values meet will be the recommended MINIMUM pipe size. If you plan on future expansion, now is a good time to move up to the next pipe size to avoid any potential headache.

After determining the appropriate pipe size, you’ll need to consider how everything will begin to fit together. According to the Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems from the Compressed Air Challenge, the air should enter the compressed air header at a 45° angle, in the direction of flow and always through wide-radius elbows. A sharp angle anywhere in the piping system will result in an unnecessary pressure drop. When the air must make a sharp turn, it is forced to slow down. This causes turbulence within the pipe as the air slams into the insides of the pipe and wastes energy. A 90° bend can cause as much as 3-5 psi of pressure loss. Replacing 90° bends with 45° bends instead eliminates unnecessary pressure loss across the system.

Pressure drop through the pipe is caused by the friction of the air mass making contact with the inside walls of the pipe. This is a function of the volume of flow through the pipe. Larger diameter pipes will result in a lower pressure drop, and vice versa for smaller diameter pipes. The chart below from the Compressed Air and Gas Institute Handbook provides the pressure drop that can be expected at varying CFM for 2”, 3”, and 4” ID pipe.

ccfdfcfdddfcvgdsdfzxcv.png
Air Pressure Drop

To discuss your application and how an EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Product can help your process, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge and thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.

Proper Air Supply Line Size Equals Proper Performance

Pipe_460top
Properly sized piping will allow your compressed air operated equipment to operate efficiently!

On any given day myself and my Application Engineering Brethren here at EXAIR have discussions with customers on air starvation of any given EXAIR Product.  The calls generally start off the same, “The Line Vac is not performing like it should”.  We at EXAIR absolutely want to help you get the most out of our products and we certainly want them to perform to your expectation.  However they must be supplied with clean/dry compressed air at sufficient pressure and volume.

Just the other day I was discussing a performance issue with a customer on a 1″ Line Vac.  The customer thought he needed a larger Line Vac.  I asked the questions regarding the diameter of his Supply Line and if he was using Quick Connect or Push Lock connectors.  He was attempting to feed this Line Vac with 1/4″ Poly Tubing through a elbow Push to Loc fitting.

This 1″ Line Vac was being severely starved for air and therefore not performing as expected.  The 1″ Line Vac require’s 14.7 SCFM @ 80PSI to reach the rated performance of 42″ of water column.

Below is a table for Pipe/Hose sizing from the Line Vac installation manual that you can use as a reference guide.  It is recommended that if using hose for the supply air to go up to the next size over the pipe recommendation.

Chart2

Don’t forget that quick connects and Push Lock fittings are not recommended and could restrict the air flow which will have a negative impact on performance.

If you would like to discuss Line Vacs or any EXAIR product,  I would enjoy hearing from you…give me a call.

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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Designing a Compressed Air Distribution System

Compressed air is used to operate pneumatic systems in a facility, and it can be segregated into three sections; the supply side, the demand side, and the distribution system.  The supply side is the air compressor, after-cooler, dryer, and receiver tank that produce and treat the compressed air.  They are generally located in a compressor room somewhere in the corner of the plant.  The demand side are the collection of end-use devices that will use the compressed air to do “work”.  These pneumatic components are generally scattered throughout the facility.  To connect the supply side to the demand side, a compressed air distribution system is required.  Distribution systems are pipes which carry the compressed air from the compressor to the pneumatic devices.  For a sound compressed air system, the three sections have to work together to make an effective and efficient system.

An analogy, I like to compare to the compressed air system, is an electrical system.  The air compressor will be considered the voltage source, and the pneumatic devices will be marked as light bulbs.  To connect the light bulbs to the voltage source, electrical wires are needed.  The distribution system will represent the electrical wires.  If the wire gauge is too small to supply the light bulbs, the wire will heat up and the voltage will drop.  This heat is given off as wasted energy, and the light bulbs will dim.

The same thing happens within a compressed air system.  If the piping size is too small, a pressure drop will occur.  This is also wasted energy.   In both types of systems, wasted energy is wasted money.  One of the largest systematic problems with compressed air systems is pressure drop.  If too large of a pressure loss occurs, the pneumatic equipment will not have enough power to operate effectively.  As shown in the illustration below, you can see how the pressure decreases from the supply side to the demand side.  With a properly designed distribution system, energy can be saved, and in reference to my analogy, it will keep the lights on.

Source: Compressed Air Challenge Organization

To optimize the compressed air system, we need to reduce the amount of wasted energy; pressure drop.   Pressure drop is based on restrictions, obstructions, and piping surface.  If we evaluate each one, a properly designed distribution system can limit the unnecessary problems that can rob the “power” from your pneumatic equipment.

  1. Restriction: This is the most common type of pressure drop. The air flow is forced into small areas, causing high velocities.  The high velocity creates turbulent flow which increases the losses in air pressure.  Flow within the pipe is directly related to the velocity times the square of the diameter.  So, if you cut the I.D. of the pipe by one-half, the flow rating will be reduced to 25% of the original rating; or the velocity will increase by four times.  Restriction can come in different forms like small diameter pipes or tubing; restrictive fittings like quick disconnects and needle valves, and undersized filters and regulators.
  2. Obstruction: This is generally caused by the type of fittings that are used.  To help reduce additional pressure drops use sweeping elbows and 45-degree fittings instead of 90 deg. elbows.  Another option is to use full flow ball valves and butterfly valves instead of seated valves and needle valves.  If a blocking valve or cap is used for future expansion, try and extend the pipe an additional 10 times the diameter of the pipe to help remove any turbulence caused from air flow disruptions.  Removing sharp turns and abrupt stops will keep the velocity in a more laminar state.
  3. Roughness: With long runs of pipe, the piping surface can affect the compressed air stream. As an example, carbon steel piping has a relative rough texture.  But, over time, the surface will start to rust creating even a rougher surface.  This roughness will restrain the flow, creating the pressure to drop.  Aluminum and stainless steel tubing have much smoother surfaces and are not as susceptible to pressure drops caused by roughness or corrosion.

As a rule, air velocities will determine the correct pipe size.  It is beneficial to oversize the pipe to accommodate for any expansions in the future.  For header pipes, the velocities should not be more than 20 feet/min (6 meter/min).  For the distribution lines, the velocities should not exceed 30 feet/min (9 meter/min).  In following these simple rules, the distribution system can effectively supply the necessary compressed air from the supply side to the demand side.

To have a properly designed distribution system, the pressure drop should be less than 10% from the reservoir tank to the point-of-use.  By following the tips above, you can reach that goal and have the supply side, demand side, and distribution system working at peak efficiency.  If you would like to reduce waste even more, EXAIR offers a variety of efficient, safe, and effective compressed air products to fit within the demand side.  This would be the pneumatic equivalent of changing those light bulbs at the point-of-use into LEDs.

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

 

Photo: Light Bulb by qimonoCreative Commons CC0

 

3 Common Mistakes in Your Compressed Air System

Every day I speak with engineers who are having trouble using compressed air products. A common problem they have is not providing an adequate air supply to their unit. I go through a basic troubleshooting technique to ensure that their pressure and flow rate is adequate. I ask them to install tee on the inlet to the compressed air product in order to install a pressure gauge right at the inlet to the pipe. This allows us to know exactly what pressure we are supplying to the product. Customers are always surprised how the gauge on the compressor or the regulator may read 120 PSIG, but the gage on the inlet to the compressed air product is significantly less.

Last year, my colleague, Russell Bowman, made an excellent video showing how the inlet pressure at the knife will have a significant impact on the performance of the Super Air Knife.  In the video, he changes the length and ID of the compressed air supply to illustrate the difference a proper supply line will have on the performance of a compressed air products.

Not providing adequate air supply is commonly caused by these three mistakes, when plumbing compressed air systems.

1. Incorrectly Sized Piping – This can be the single biggest problem. A lack of planning before installing a compressed air product. Not all compressed air systems are created equal. Though a 1/4″ shop air hose may work for a number our products, some of our products require a larger air line because they require more volume of air to be effective. We often speak with customers an illustrate this problem by stating small air lines are like trying to feed a fire hose with a garden hose – there simply is not enough volume to create the pressure necessary to reach the fire, or solve the application in our scenarios. We publish the flow rates for all of our products and make inlet pipe size recommendation in the installation and maintenance guide furnish with the products so you may avoid this common problem. We also have air data tables in our Knowledge Base or  you may consult an application engineer who will be happy to make the proper recommendation.

2. Quick Disconnects – These handy connectors are great when operating a brad nailer, or a small blow gun, but the small through diameter can severely limit the flow rate into a long air knife, large diameter air operated conveyor, or big vortex tubes.  Due to this fact it is strongly advised to use threaded fittings or over-sized quick disconnects.

3. Adding extra hose or pipe – Extra hose is never a bad thing, right? No, an extra 30 feet of air hose can significantly drop the pressure of a compressed air system. 20 feet of ½ Pipe can flow 70 CFM with a 5 PSI pressure drop.  50 feet of ½” pipe will only flow 42 SCFM with the same 5 PSIG pressure drop. Keep your hose or pipe lengths to a minimum to improve the volume of air you can deliver to a compressed air product.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
DaveWoerner@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_DW

When Is A Half Inch Not A Half Inch? When It’s Half Inch Pipe, Of Course!

People have been using pipe to transport fluids for thousands of years. Archeologists have discovered evidence that the Chinese were using pipes made of reeds for irrigation as early as 2,000 B.C. Lead pipe began to supplement, and eventually replace, the Roman aqueducts in the first century A.D. In the early 1800’s, someone got the idea to use gas burning lamps to light city streets, and, over the next few years, men like James Russell and Cornelius Whitehouse came up with better and better methods of mass producing metal tubing and pipes.

Over the course of the 19th Century and the Industrial Revolution, iron pipe came to be manufactured in standard sizes, which were called out by the inside diameter of the pipe. ¼” pipe had a ¼” ID, ½” pipe had a ½” ID, ¾” pipe had a ¾” ID, etc. Iron pipe could be found in any facility that needed to move a gas or a liquid: factories, power generating stations, chemical plants…you name it.

As engineers and metallurgists came up with new ways to produce pipe, technological advances led to the ability to decrease the wall thickness and still maintain high structural integrity. This was a HUGE improvement: not only could piping manufacturers make more pipe with less material, bringing down the cost, it was also lighter in weight, making it easier to transport, handle, and install. Because of the massive amount of existing piping already in place, it made sense to keep the outside diameter the same, so that all the fittings would match when these facilities went to replace worn out or damaged pipe. So, the inside diameter was increased. That’s why, today, ¼” pipe has a 0.36” ID, ½” pipe has a 0.62” ID, ¾” pipe has a 0.82” ID, etc. Lower cost, lighter weight, more flow capacity…it’s all good, right?

Well, yes, but sometimes, it can lead to confusion, especially when we’re talking about properly sized compressed air lines. See, we know how much compressed air will flow through certain sized pipes of specific lengths. The Installation & Operation Instructions for all of our products contain recommended infeed pipe sizes to ensure sufficient air flow. Keep in mind, these are Schedule 40 pipe sizes, and should not be confused with hose or tubing sizes, which usually report the outside diameter but could also report the inside diameter, depending on the source.

Consider this example: you want to install an 6” Super Air Knife in a location 10 feet from the compressed air header. Following the “Infeed Pipe Size Length of Run” column (10’) down, we see that this will require a ¼” SCH40 pipe, which has an ID of 0.36”. If you want to use hose or tubing to supply it, that’s fine – it’ll have to have a 3/8” ID, though, or you’re going to risk “starving” the Air Knife for air. If you choose a 3/8″ tube remember that dimension is usually referring to the outside diameter of the tube and automatically means your inside diameter is smaller than we would recommend.

SuperAirKnifeInfeedPipe

If you’d like to learn more, it’s actually been a pretty popular blog topic as well:

The Importance of Proper Compressed Air Supply Lines

Video Blog: Proper Supply Plumbing For Compressed Air Products

Top 6 Compressed Air Plumbing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

…and that’s just to name a few.  If you have specific questions about how to properly supply your EXAIR product(s), you can give us a call – we’re eager to help!

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
(513)671-3322 local
(800)923-9247 toll free
(513)671-3363 fax
Web: www.exair.com
Twitter: twitter.com/exair_rb
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/exair

Have You Ever Had a Bad Hookup?

Now that I have your attention I can assure you I am only going to talk about compressed air.  At a compressed air seminar I attended yesterday, I saw many images of poorly connected air lines and fittings. The majority of the cases I saw all boiled down to one common denominator.  See if you can find anything wrong with the pictures below and then we’ll get into it.

The first picture shows the easy way to hook up a regulator and make it easy to take apart.   The issue is the quick disconnects may make it easy to hook something up or take the regulator out for maintenance but you are also restricting your flow considerably.  If you were to hook a Soft Grip Safety Air Gun up at the end of the line you would be limiting the amount of air you can flow to the gun before it even gets to the regulator.   The correct way to plumb this system would be to have a larger supply line and then have the regulator as close to the point of use as possible.  Also if you are setting all the regulators throughout your facility to the same point, i.e. 80 PSIG, then why pay to generate more at the source.  Reduce your compressor output to 80-90 PSIG.

The second picture has a lot going on and again the main problem here is all the leech hoses from the manifold are the same size, if not bigger than the supply line.  Not to mention the line that goes from one port on the manifold back to another port on it.  This means as soon as you turn on one leg of that manifold you might be at the capacity for that line and starving other processes.

The answer isn’t installing more compressors, the answer is to utilize the compressed air wisely making sure your system is plumbed properly.   We preach it every day here and can’t stress it enough.  If you have questions about your compressed air application or how to approach it, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Enjoy the weekend everybody!

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF