Is PVC Pipe Alright to Use with Compressed Air?

A question arises every now and then on whether or not PVC pipe, yes the stuff from your local hardware store that says it is rated for 200 psi, is safe to use as compressed air supply line.   The answer is always the same,  NO! OSHA agrees – see their statement here.

Schedule 40 PVC pipe is not designed nor rated for use with compressed air or other gases.  PVC pipe will explode under pressure, it is impacted significantly by temperature and can be difficult to get airtight.

PVC pipe was originally designed and tested for conveyance of liquids or products that cannot be compressed, rather they can be pressurized.   The largest concern is the failure method of the piping itself.   When being used with a liquid that cannot be compressed, if there is a failure (crack or hole) then the piping will spring a leak and not shatter.   When introducing a compressed gas, such as compressed air, if there is a failure the method ends up being shrapnel.  This YouTube video does a good job of illustrating how the pipe shatters.

While it may seem that it takes a good amount of pressure to cause a failure in the pipe, that is often not the case.  I have chatted with some local shop owners who decided to run PVC as a quick and cheap alternative to get their machines up and running.

They each experienced the same failures at different points in time as well.  The worst one was a section of PVC pipe installed over a workbench failed where an operator would normally be standing. Luckily the failure happened at night when no one was there.  Even though no one got injured this still caused a considerable expense to the company because the compressor ran overnight trying to pressurize a ruptured line.

Temperature will impact the PVC as well. Schedule 40 PVC is generally rated for use between 70°F and 140°F (21°-60°C). Pipes that are installed outside or in non temperature controlled buildings can freeze the pipes and make them brittle.

If you haven’t worked with PVC before or do not let the sealant set, it can be hard to get a good seal, leading to leaks and a weak spot in the system.

The point of this is the cheapest, quick, and easy solutions are more often , the ones that will cost the most in the long run.

If you would like to discuss proper compressed air piping and how to save compressed air on your systems, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Image courtesy of: Dennis Hill, Creative Commons License

Proper Supply Line Size And Fittings Provide Peak Performance

Many times when we provide the air consumption of an EXAIR product, we get a response like…. “I’ve got plenty of pressure, we run at around 100 PSIG”. While having the correct pressure available is important, it doesn’t make up for the volume requirement or SCFM (Standard Cubic Feet per Minute) needed to maintain that pressure. We commonly reference trying to supply water to a fire hose with a garden hose, it is the same principle, in regards to compressed air.

When looking to maintain an efficient compressed air system, it’s important that you use properly sized supply lines and fittings to  support the air demand (SCFM) of the point-of-use device. The smaller the ID and the longer the length of run, it becomes more difficult for the air to travel through the system. Undersized supply lines or piping can sometimes be the biggest culprit in a compressed air system as they can lead to severe pressure drops or the loss of pressure from the compressor to the end use product.

Take for example our 18″ Super Air Knife. A 18″ Super Air Knife will consume 52.2 SCFM at 80 PSIG. We recommend using 1/2″ Schedule 40 pipe up to 10′ or 3/4″ pipe up to 50′. The reason you need to increase the pipe size after 10′ of run is that 1/2″ pipe can flow close to 100 SCFM up to 10′ but for a 50′ length it can only flow 42 SCFM. On the other hand, 3/4″ pipe is able to flow 100 SCFM up to 50′ so this will allow you to carry the volume needed to the inlet of the knife, without losing pressure through the line.

Pipe size chart for the Super Air Knife

We also explain how performance can be negatively affected by improper plumbing in the following short video:

 

Another problem area is using restrictive fittings, like quick disconnects. While this may be useful with common everyday pneumatic tools, like an impact wrench or nail gun, they can severely limit the volumetric flow to a device requiring more air , like a longer length air knife.

1/4″ Quick Connect

For example, looking at the above 1/4″ quick disconnect, the ID of the fitting is much smaller than the NPT connection size. In this case, it is measuring close to .192″. If you were using a device like our Super Air Knife that features 1/4″ FNPT inlets, even though you are providing the correct thread size, the small inside diameter of the quick disconnect causes too much of a restriction for the volume (SCFM) required to properly support the knife, resulting in a pressure drop through the line, reducing the overall performance.

If you have any questions about compressed air applications or supply lines, please contact one of our application engineers for assistance.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN