Intelligent Compressed Air®: Compressor Motors And Controls

Use of compressed air has gone hand in hand with manufacturing for centuries. From manually operated bellows devices that stoked fires to generate the high temperatures needed for forging metals in ancient times, to the massive steam or oil driven compressors used in the 1800’s on projects like the Mont Cenis Tunnel drills, to the sophisticated electric-powered compressors used widely across modern industry, compressed air has actually been “the fourth utility” longer than the other three (electricity, gas, and water) have been in existence.

Diesel & gas powered compressors offer advantages like higher power ratings, portability, and freedom from reliance on local electric power grids, but most air compressors in industrial use are powered by electric motors. They’re plentiful, reliable, and easily adaptable to a range of control schemes that offer efficient operation across a wide variety of operations.

Which control method is right for you will depend on a number of factors specific to your operation. Here’s a brief run-down that may help you narrow down the selection:

  • Compressors in smaller facilities that supply intermittent loads like air guns, paint sprayers, tire inflators, etc. (like the one shown on the right) are oftentimes controlled via Start/Stop. This turns the compressor motor on and off, in response to a pressure signal. This is the simplest, least expensive method, and is just fine for smaller reciprocating compressors that aren’t adversely affected by cycling on & off.
  • Some compressors ARE adversely affected by Start/Stop control…like rotary screw models. These take a finite amount of time to start back up, which could allow header pressure to drop below usable levels. If they cycle too often, heat from the starting current can build up & overheat the motor. If that’s not bad enough, the screw elements & bearings of the compressor itself are oil lubricated…every time they start up, there’s a finite amount of time where metal-to-metal contact occurs before the oil flow is providing rated lubrication. With Load/Unload control, the motor turns continuously, while a valve on the intake of the compressor is cycled by the compressor discharge pressure: it opens (loads) to build or maintain pressure, and closes (unloads) when rated pressure is achieved. When unloaded, the motor uses about 1/3 of the energy it uses while loaded.
  • While turning down energy use to 1/3 of full load is a great way to cut operating cost while maintaining operational integrity of your compressed air system, and physical integrity of your compressor, it doesn’t necessarily make sense when demand may be low enough to be serviced by existing system storage over long periods of time. That’s where Dual/Auto Dual control comes in. It allows you to select between Start/Stop and Load /Unload control modes.  Automatic Dual Control incorporates an over-run timer, so that the motor is stopped after a certain period of time without a demand. This method is most often used in facilities where different shifts have substantially different compressed air load requirements.

When any of the above control schemes are used, they will necessarily rely on having an adequate storage capacity…the compressor’s receiver, and intermediate storage (like EXAIR’s Model 9500-60 60 Gallon Receiver Tank, shown on right) must be adequately sized (and strategically located) to ensure adequate point-of-use pressures are maintained while the compressor’s motor or intake valve cycle. Other methods use variable controls to “tighten up” the cycle bands…these don’t rely on as much storage volume, and in some (but not all) cases, result in higher energy efficiency:

  • A variation of Load/Unload control, called Modulation, throttles the intake valve instead of opening & closing it, to maintain a specific system pressure. This method is limited in range from 100% to 40% of rated capacity, though, so it’s fairly inefficient in many cases.
  • Slide, spiral, or turn valves are built in to certain compressor designs to control output by a method called Variable Displacement, which (as advertised) changes the physical displacement volume of the air end. When header pressure rises, it sends a signal which repositions the valve progressively, reducing the working length of the rotors. This allows some bypass at the inlet, limiting the volume of air that’s being compressed with each turn of the rotor. Since the inlet pressure & compression ratio remain constant, the power draw from the partial load is considerably lower…so it costs less to operate. The normal operating range for this method is from 100% to 40% of rated capacity, but when used in conjunction with inlet valve Modulation, it’s effective & efficient down to 20% of rated capacity.
  • Of course, the most significant advance in efficient control of rotating industrial equipment since Nikola Tesla invented 3-phase AC is the Variable Speed Drive. When the frequency of the AC power supplied to an electric motor is changed, the speed at which it rotates changes in direct proportion. By applying this type of control to an air compressor, the motor’s speed is continuously controlled to match the air demand. Energy costs can be greatly reduced, as this method allows efficient turn down to as low as 20% of rated capacity.

As mentioned a couple times above, multiple control schemes can be applied, depending on user specific needs. Adding accessories, of course, adds cost to your capital purchase, but discussions with your air compressor dealer will lay out the pros, cons, and return on investment. While we don’t sell, service, or even recommend specific air compressors, EXAIR Corporation is in the business of helping you get the most out of your compressed air system. If you’d like to talk more about it, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Manufacturing’s 4th Utility: Compressed Air System Components

In any manufacturing environment, compressed air is critical to the operation of many processes. You will often hear compressed air referred to as a “4th utility” in a manufacturing environment. The makeup of a compressed air system is usually divided into two primary parts: the supply side and the demand side. The supply side consists of components before and including the pressure/flow controller. The demand side then consists of all the components after the pressure/flow controller.

The first primary component in the system is the air compressor itself. There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy.

Still on the supply side, but installed after the compressor, are aftercoolers, and compressed air dryers. An aftercooler is designed to cool the air down upon exiting from the compressor. During the compression, heat is generated that carries into the air supply. An aftercooler uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature.

When air leaves the aftercooler, it is typically saturated since atmospheric air contains moisture. In higher temperatures, the air is capable of holding even more moisture. When this air is then cooled, it can no longer contain all of that moisture and is lost as condensation. The temperature at which the moisture can no longer be held is referred to as the dewpoint. Dryers are installed in the system to remove unwanted moisture from the air supply. Types of dryers available include: refrigerant dryers, desiccant dryers, and membrane dryers.

Also downstream of the compressor are filters used to remove particulate, condensate, and lubricant. Desiccant and deliquescent-type dryers require a pre-filter to protect the drying media from contamination that can quickly render it useless. A refrigerant-type dryer may not require a filter before/after, but any processes or components downstream can be impacted by contaminants in the compressed air system.

Moving on to the demand side, we have the distribution system made up of a network of compressed air piping, receiver tanks when necessary, and point of use filters/regulators. Compressed air piping is commonly available as schedule 40 steel pipe, copper pipe, and aluminum pipe. Some composite plastics are available as well, however PVC should NEVER be used for compressed air as some lubricants present in the air can act as a solvent and degrade the pipe over time.

Receiver tanks are installed in the distribution system to provide a source of compressed air close to the point of use, rather than relying on the output of the compressor. The receiver tank acts as a “battery” for the system, storing compressed air energy to be used in periods of peak demand. This helps to maintain a stable compressed air pressure. It improves the overall performance of the system and helps to prevent pressure drop.

Finally, we move on to the point-of-use. While particulate and oil removal filters may be installed at the compressor output, it is still often required to install secondary filtration immediately at the point-of-use to remove any residual debris, particulate, and oil. Receiver tanks and old piping are both notorious for delivering contaminants downstream, after the initial filters.

Regulator and filter

In any application necessitating the use of compressed air, pressure should be controlled to minimize the air consumption at the point of use. Pressure regulators are available to control the air pressure within the system and throttle the appropriate supply of air to any pneumatic device. While one advantage of a pressure regulator is certainly maintaining consistent pressure to your compressed air devices, using them to minimize your pressure can result in dramatic savings to your costs of compressed air. As pressure and flow are directly related, lowering the pressure supplied results in less compressed air usage.

EXAIR manufactures a wide variety of products utilizing this compressed air to help you with your process problems. If you’d like to discuss your compressed air system, or have an application that necessitates an Intelligent Compressed Air Product, give us a call.

Tyler Daniel, CCASS

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

Compressor Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License

6 STEPS To Optimizing Compressed Air: Step 5 – Install Secondary Receiver Tanks

Since air compressors require electricity to make compressed air, it is important to optimize your compressed air system. EXAIR has six simple steps, and following these steps will help you cut electrical costs, reduce overhead, and improve your bottom line.  In this blog, I will cover the fifth step –intermediate storage of compressed air near the point-of-use. 

I had a customer that was looking at a model 1122108, 108” (2,743mm) Super Ion Air Knife Kit.  The application was removing static and debris from insulated panels which they used for large refrigerated trailers.  They were worried about how much compressed air that it would use; and they were considering a blower-type system.  I went through the negative aspects like noise, cost, maintenance, and ineffectiveness with turbulent air flows.  But, when you are limited in the amount of compressed air, I had to look at another way.  Since the process was intermittent, I used the fifth step to optimize their system to use a much better solution for their application.  The cycle rate was 2 minutes on and 10 minutes off.  I was able to calculate the size of a secondary tank to help their compressed air system.   

Model 9500-60

I would like to expand a bit more about secondary receiver tanks.  They can be strategically placed throughout the plant to improve the “ebbs and flows” of pneumatic demands.  The primary receiver tanks help to protect the supply side when demands are high, and the secondary receiver tanks help pneumatic systems on the demand side.  They give additional capacity at the end of distribution lines.  Essentially, it is easier and more efficient for compressed air to travel out from a nearby source and into an application rather than traveling through long lengths of pipes from the distribution system.

For calculating the volume size for your secondary receiver tank, we can use Equation 1 below.  It is the same for sizing a primary receiver tank, but the scalars are slightly different.  The supply line for air drops will typically come from a header pipe and are generally smaller in diameter.  So, we have to look at the air restriction that can feed into the tank.  For example, a 1” NPT Schedule 40 Pipe at 100 PSIG can supply a maximum of 150 SCFM of air flow.  This value is used for Cap below in Equation 1.  C is the largest air demand for the machine or targeted area that will be using the tank.  If the C value is less than the Cap value, then a secondary tank is not needed.  If the Cap is below the C value, then we can calculate the tank volume that would be needed.  The other value in the equation is the minimum tank pressure.  In most cases, a regulator is used to set the air pressure for the machine or area.  If the specification is 80 PSIG, then you would use this value as P2P1 is the header pressure that will be coming into the secondary tank.  With this collection of information, you can use Equation 1 to calculate the minimum tank volume. 

Equation 1:

V = T * (C – Cap) * (Pa) / (P1-P2)

Where:

V – Volume of receiver tank (cubic meter)

T – Time interval (minutes)

C – Air demand for system (cubic meter per minute)

Cap – Supply value of inlet pipe (cubic meter per minute)

Pa – Absolute atmospheric pressure (Bar)

P1 – Header Pressure (Bar)

P2 – Regulated Pressure (Bar)

For this customer above, I am still working on this purchase.  But we went from a “we don’t have enough compressed air” to a “we can possibly use the better solution with the Super Ion Air Knife”.  If you find that you might be having issues with your equipment running optimally, you may be able to install a secondary receiver to your system.  EXAIR offers 60 Gallon tanks, model 9500-60, to add to those specific areas.  If you have any questions about using a receiver tank in your application, primary or secondary, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.

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

Air & Water DO Mix – Why That’s A Problem for Compressed Air Systems

Wherever you go, humidity – and its effects – are an inescapable fact of life. Low humidity areas (I’m looking at you, American Southwest) make for a “dry heat” in the summer that many prefer to the wet & muggy conditions that areas with higher humidity (like much of the rest of the United States) encounter during the “dog days” of summer.

Regardless of human comfort level issues, all atmospheric air contains water vapor in some finite proportion…in fact, next to nitrogen and oxygen, it makes up a bigger percentage of our air’s makeup than the next eleven trace gases combined:

Reference: CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, edited by David R. Lide, 1997.

And, because warmer air is capable of holding higher moisture concentrations (a 20°F rise in temperature doubles the potential for holding moisture), chances are good that it’ll become a bigger problem for your compressed air system in the summertime. So…how BAD of a problem is it? Let’s do some math. Consider a nice, typical summer day in the midwest, when it’s 80°F outside, with a relative humidity of 75% and we’ll use the data from the tables below to calculate how much water collects in the compressed air system:

Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3
Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3

Let’s assume:

  • An industrial air compressor is making compressed air at 100psig, and at a discharge temperature of 100°F.
  • The demand on the compressed air system (all the pneumatic loads it services) is 500 SCFM.

Table 3.3 tells us that, at 80°F and 75% RH, the air the compressor is pulling in has 0.1521 gallons per 1,000 cubic feet.

Table 3.4, tells us that, at 100°F and 100psig, the compressor is discharging air with a moisture content of 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet.

The difference in these two values is the amount of water that will condense in the receiver for every 1,000 SCF that passes through, or 0.1521-0.0478=0.1043 gallons. Since the demand (e.g., the air flow rate out of the receiver) is 500 SCFM, that’s:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.1043 gallons/1,000 SCF = 25 gallons of condensate

That’s 25 gallons that has to be drained from the receiver tank over the course of every eight hours, so a properly operating condensate drain is crucial. There are a few types to choose from, and the appropriate one is oftentimes included by the air compressor supplier.

So, you’ve got a condensate drain on your compressor’s receiver, and it’s working properly. Crisis averted, right? Well, not so fast…that 100°F compressed air is very likely going to cool down as it flows through the distribution header. Remember all that moisture that the hot air holds? Assuming the compressed air cools to 70°F in the header (a reasonable assumption in most industrial settings), a bunch of it is going to condense, and make its way to your air tools, cylinders, blow off devices, etc., which can cause a host of problems.

Reversible Drum Vacs have tight passages where contaminants (like pipe rust) can accumulate and hamper performance. Fortunately, they are designed to be easy to clean and returned to peak performance.

And…I trust you saw this coming…we’re going to calculate just how much condensation we have to worry about. Using table 3.4 again, we see that the header’s air (at 100psig & 70°F) can only hold 0.0182 gallons per 1,000 SCF. So, after cooling down from 100°F (where the air holds 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 SCF) to 70°F, that means 0.0296 gallons per 1,000 SCF will condense. So:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.0296 gal/1,000 SCF = 7.1 gallons of condensate

Qualified installers will have sloped the piping away from the compressor, with drip legs strategically placed at low points, so that condensate can drain, collect, and be disposed of…oftentimes via similar devices to the condensate drains you’ll find on the compressor’s main receiver. Good engineering practice, of course, dictates point-of-use filtration – EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators, with 5-micron particulate elements, and centrifugal elements for moisture removal, are also essential to prevent water problems for your compressed air operated products.

Good engineering practice calls for point of use filtration and moisture removal, such as that provided by EXAIR Filter Separators.

EXAIR Corporation remains dedicated to helping you get the most out of your compressed air system. If you have questions, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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