Intelligent Compressed Air: Piping and Pressure Drop

Pressure drop is an unavoidable occurrence in compressed air systems. It’s caused by restrictions or obstructions to flow in your system, and that includes…well, everything:

  • No matter how big your header, drops, supply lines, etc. are, pressurized fluid encounters friction with the inside diameter of the conduit through which it flows.
  • Odds are, your header has at least a few elbows, wyes, tees, reducers, etc. Individually, the restrictions from these are usually quite small, but when you look at a system full of them, they can add up.
  • The type of piping your header is made of matters as well. Iron pipe WILL rust, which roughs up the inside wall of the pipe, which adds friction. Copper and aluminum aren’t near as bad, but there’s no such thing as a zero coefficient of friction.
  • Filters force the air flow through very small passages, torturous paths, or directional changes to remove particulates, moisture, and oil/oil vapor.
  • While not a restriction or obstruction, leaks in your system DO let out perfectly good compressed air before it can be used, so they can be included in our discussion.

Before you go off and redesign your air distribution header or remove your filters (DON’T do that!), it’s important to point that, historically, the highest pressure drops occur at or near the points of use:

  • Undersized hoses. The friction mentioned in the first ‘bullet’ above is compounded by increasing length, and decreasing diameter, of your air operated products’ supply lines. If your product’s performance is suffering, look up its rated air consumption and compare that to the flow rating of the length & diameter of the supply line.
  • Quick connect fittings. The push-to-connect types are particularly notorious for this…the air has to flow around the plug that stops flow when it’s disconnected. You can either replace them with threaded fittings, or if you still want the convenience of the quick connect, consider bushing up a size or two. A 3/8 NPT push to connect fitting will flow twice as much as a 1/4 NPT, and a 1/2 NPT will flow over three times as much as a 1/4 NPT fitting. In the EXAIR R&D room, Efficiency Lab, and shop, we actually use 3/4 NPT quick connects for a wide range of testing, demonstration, performance, etc.
  • Leaks. Even if they’re not big enough to cause a pressure drop, they’re still wasting compressed air. And if they ARE causing pressure drops, please stop reading this and go fix them, right now. Yeah; it’s that important.

Now, there are culprits on the supply side too: aftercoolers, dryers, and system filters can all contribute to pressure drops if they’re improperly sized, or, more often, improperly maintained. For troubleshooting, your first and best shot is to have pressure gauges at strategic locations…you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And not managing it can get costly:

  • Let’s say your compressor discharge header pressure is set to 100psig, but an undersized hose is only letting you get 65psig to an air operated product that really needs 80psig. You can increase your header pressure to 115-120psig to “push” more air through that hose, but keep in mind that all your other unregulated loads will get that pressure increase as well: pneumatic cylinders would operate faster, impact drivers will generate more torque, blow off devices will use more air (and get louder), etc.
  • Even if those things weren’t a problem, it’s going to cost you more. For every 2psi increase in your compressor’s discharge pressure, its power consumption increases by 1 percent. So, for the 20psi increase, it’s going to cost you about 10% more to operate that compressor. A larger diameter air hose, on the other hand, is a one time investment that doesn’t affect the rest of your compressed air system.
  • If you haven’t fixed the leaks I mentioned above yet, increasing your supply pressure will increase the leakage flow rate and, especially if the leak’s in a hose or hose fitting, it can tear that opening wider, compounding the leakage flow rate further.

EXAIR Corporation is keen on making sure you get the most out of our products, and your compressed air system. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got knowledge, and a wealth of resources to help…give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Reduce Sound Levels In Less Than A Minute

Okay, I will admit, the title may be a tad bit leading.  The fact is, it can be done.  I speak to customers almost daily who are struggling with the noise levels produced from open pipe blowoffs.  With Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) a significant problem among manufacturing workers, reducing the noise form compressed air can be a simple solution and contribute toward reducing overall noise exposure levels. Many of these calls and emails revolve around reducing these exact noise levels, sometimes the open pipes have existing threads on them to install the solution immediately.

To reduce these noise levels, we need to simply reduce the amount of energy that is being expelled through the pipe. How do we do this you might ask?  The use of an air nozzle will reduce the energy being dispersed from an open pipe.  This will result in lower air consumption as well as lower sound levels while actually increasing velocity as the pipe will maintain higher operating pressures. Be cautious about the air nozzle you choose, however, they are not all created equal. EXAIR’s engineered air nozzles are among the quietest and most efficient air nozzles available.

Family of Nozzles

What size pipes can we fit nozzles to?  That’s a great question.  We have nozzles that range from a 4mm straight thread all the way up to 1-1/4″ NPT thread.  This also includes nearly any size in between especially the standard compressed air piping sizes.  For instance, a 1/4″ Sched. 40 pipe that has 1/4″ MNPT threads on it can easily produce over a 100 dBA noise level from 3 feet away.  This can easily be reduced to below 80 dBA from 3′ away by utilizing one of our model 1100 Super Air Nozzles.  All it takes is a deep well socket and ratchet with some thread sealant.

This doesn’t just lower the sound level though, it reduces the amount of compressed air expelled through that open pipe by creating a restriction on the exit point.  This permits the compressed air to reach a higher line pressure causing a higher exit velocity and due to the engineering within the nozzle, this will also eliminate dangerous dead-end pressure and complies with OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.242(b).

Easy Install

All in all, a 30-second install can make an operator’s work station considerably quieter and potentially remove the need for hearing protection.  If you would like to discuss how to lower noise levels in your facility, contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

Torque Values and Tapered Threads – Do They Go Together?

IMG_20200202_155004_377.jpg

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on various cars in the garage with some good friends. We generally get together and help each other out to make the jobs go easier as well as help each other learn more about keeping our family’s vehicles safe and even helping out some others that don’t have the means to work on their own vehicles. Throughout these repairs, we always end up in some type of discussion over something fairly technical. Sometimes it is the proper installation of a part such as take the bolts to snug, back them out, then torque to half the total torque value, back off again, then finally tighten to the complete torque.

We also share different ways of doing the jobs, such as how to lessen the amount of hot oil you are about to pour all over your hand, or how to get that rusted bolt out without a torch and without breaking it. One discussion that comes up quite frequently is torque specs and then the torque spec for a tapered thread.

In case you were not aware, the NPT or BSPT (male) inlets on EXAIR products are both a tapered thread. Tapered threads are generally used on pipe fittings under pressure to seal better and provide a secure engagement. When comparing this to a standard bolt, or straight thread, one is generally accustomed to receiving a torque spec on just how tight to get the fitting or threaded product. For example, the 1/4-20 bolts used in our Super Air Knives are torqued to 7.5 ft-lbs. in order to properly seal the cap, shim, and body together. These are straight threads and thus a torque spec is often driven by the material, size, and thread of the bolt. Torque on tapered threads such as NPT or BSPT fittings is not as easy to find, and not really reliable.

For tapered threads, the engagement of the thread is not always at the same point due to differing tolerances on thread dimensions. These differences create different points of thread engagement with the corresponding thread it is tightening into. For these scenarios, the torque specification is not always best suited as a numeric value. If you search hard enough you can find a table like the one shown below, but again, not the best value to use when installing a tapered thread.

Size in-lbs N-m
1/16″ 5 0.57
1/8″ 7 0.79
1/4″ 16 1.81
3/8″ 23 2.6
1/2″ 30 3.39
3/4″ 54 6.1
1″ 78 8.81

I personally would not use a straight numeric torque when tightening something with stainless steel thread into a brass fitting, or other dissimilar materials together. For this scenario, I would recommend using something like the table below. The TPFT value is, turns past finger tight. This means you would snug the super air nozzle, vortex tube, or other fittings by hand to finger tight. Then using a wrench or two if needed, turn the fitting to the correct number of revolutions for the given thread size. By utilizing this method and the correct amount of thread sealant, see John Ball’s video blog below, you can ensure there will not be a concern on whether or not the joint will leak and also if the fitting is tight enough.

NPT Size TPFT
1/8″ 2-3
1/4″ 2-3
3/8″ 2-3
1/2″ 2-3
3/4″ 2-3
1″ 1.5-2.5

If you would like to discuss torque settings, installation of your engineered compressed air solution, or even what might be wrong with your minivan, contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer/Garage Mechanic Extraordinaire
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

How to Calculate and Avoid Compressed Air Pressure Drop in Systems

EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983.  They are engineered with the highest of quality, efficiency, safety, and effectiveness in mind.  Since compressed air is the source for operation, the limitations can be defined by its supply.  With EXAIR products and pneumatic equipment, you will need a way to transfer the compressed air from the air compressor.  There are three main ways; pipes, hoses and tubes.  In this blog, I will compare the difference between compressed air hoses and compressed air tubes.

The basic difference between a compressed air hose and a compressed air tube is the way the diameter is defined.    A hose is measured by the inner diameter while a tube is measured by the outer diameter.  As an example, a 3/8” compressed air hose has an inner diameter of 3/8”.  While a 3/8” compressed air tube has an outer diameter that measures 3/8”.  Thus, for the same dimensional reference, the inner diameter for the tube will be smaller than the hose.

Why do I bring this up?  Pressure drop…  Pressure Drop is a waste of energy, and it reduces the ability of your compressed air system to do work.  To reduce waste, we need to reduce pressure drop.  If we look at the equation for pressure drop, DP, we can find the factors that play an important role.  Equation 1 shows a reference equation for pressure drop.

Equation 1:

DP = Sx * f * Q1.85 * L / (ID5 * P)

DP – Pressure Drop

Sx – Scalar value

f – friction factor

Q – Flow at standard conditions

L – Length of pipe

ID – Inside Diameter

P – Absolute Pressure

 

From Equation 1, differential pressure is controlled by the friction of the wall surface, the flow of compressed air, the length of the pipe, the diameter of the pipe, and the inlet pressure.  As you can see, the pressure drop, DP, is inversely affected by the inner diameter to the fifth power.  So, if the inner diameter of the pipe is twice as small, the pressure drop will increase by 25, or 32 times.

Let’s revisit the 3/8” hose and 3/8” tube.  The 3/8” hose has an inner diameter of 0.375”, and the 3/8” tube has an inner diameter of 0.25”.  In keeping the same variables except for the diameter, we can make a pressure drop comparison.  In Equation 2, I will use DPt and DPh for the pressure drop within the tube and hose respectively.

Equation 2:

DPt / DPh = (Dh)5 / (Dt)5

DPt – Pressure drop of tube

DPh – Pressure Drop of hose

Dh – Inner Diameter of hose

Dt – Inner Diameter of tube

Thus, DPt / DPh = (0.375”)5 / (0.25”)5 = 7.6

As you can see, by using a 3/8” tube in the process instead of the 3/8” hose, the pressure drop will be 7.6 times higher.

Diameters: 3/8″ Pipe vs. 3/8″ tube

At EXAIR, we want to make sure that our customers are able to get the most from our products.  To do this, we need to properly size the compressed air lines.  Within our installation sheets for our Super Air Knives, we recommend the infeed pipe sizes for each air knife at different lengths.

There is also an excerpt about replacing schedule 40 pipe with a compressed air hose.  We state; “If compressed air hose is used, always go one size larger than the recommended pipe size due to the smaller I.D. of hose”.  Here is the reason.  The 1/4” NPT Schedule 40 pipe has an inner diameter of 0.364” (9.2mm).  Since the 3/8” compressed air hose has an inner diameter of 0.375” (9.5mm), the diameter will not create any additional pressure drop.  Some industrial facilities like to use compressed air tubing instead of hoses.  This is fine as long as the inner diameters match appropriately with the recommended pipe in the installation sheets.  Then you can reduce any waste from pressure drop and get the most from the EXAIR products.

With the diameter being such a significant role in creating pressure drop, it is very important to understand the type of connections to your pneumatic devices; i.e. hoses, pipes, or tubes.  In most cases, this is the reason for pneumatic products to underperform, as well as wasting energy within your compressed air system.  If you would like to discuss further the ways to save energy and reduce pressure drop, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to assist you.

 

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