What’s So Great About Compressed Air?

Compressed air is commonly known as “the fourth utility” – along with electricity, water, and gas – due to its ubiquitous use in modern industry. But…why? If you compare the power required to make it, versus the work you can get out of it, it’s abysmally inefficient. And, while it won’t electrocute you, drown you, or blow you up (like the “first three” utilities, respectively), purposely depressurizing a compressed air line comes with its own particular set of risk factors.

Of course, benefits outweigh inefficiencies and risks in many things most of us do every day. Over half of the energy released in your car’s engine goes to heat & friction, instead of turning the wheels. Insurance companies say the typical American driver has a 77% chance of getting into an automobile accident EVERY YEAR, and that most of us will be in up to THREE traffic accidents in our lifetimes. Looking at the number of fellow commuters I saw on my way to work this morning, it’s clear, though, that most of us are ready to accept that inefficiency and risk. And that’s not so surprising, considering they’re mitigated greatly by ever improving technology in fuel efficiency, and safety.

It’s, of course, the same with compressed air use, and the “first three” utilities as well: regulation, training, and engineering lower the aforementioned risks to broadly accepted levels. These disciplines also provide for the most efficient use, in spite of the inherent inefficiencies (no engine is 100% efficient) – getting the most out of what you have is “the name of the game”. So, how does all of this apply to industrial use of compressed air?

SAFETY

  • Regulation: In the United States, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) limits the nozzle pressure or or opening of a gun, pipe, cleaning lance, etc., when used for cleaning to 30psi, to protect against dead-ending such a device against your skin, which can cause a deadly condition known as an air embolism. This same directive mandates “effective chip guarding” to keep the blown off debris from hitting the operator. EXAIR Corporation has been in the business of making engineered compressed air products that comply with this directive for almost forty years now.
  • Training: There are companies whose sole purpose is to train & certify personnel in both the management, and operation, of industrial equipment in a safe manner. At EXAIR Corporation, our Safety Manager maintains certification from such an agency, which qualifies him to conduct regular training to ensure safe operation of tools, equipment, and chemicals used in the manufacture of our engineered compressed air products.
  • Engineering: In the “Hierarchy of Controls” established by the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), “Engineering Controls” is considered to be less effective than “Elimination” or “Substitution” of the hazard, but more effective than “Administrative Controls” or “Personal Protective Equipment”. THAT’S why EXAIR Corporation has been doing what we do – and why we’re so successful at it – for all this time.
For more on this, I can’t recommend my colleague Jordan Shouse’s recent blog on the subject highly enough. Go read it now…this blog will wait.

EFFICIENCY

  • Regulation: Since the energy crisis of the 1970’s, the United States Department of Energy has implemented numerous initiatives directed at improving energy efficiency. If you’ve ever shopped for a home appliance, you’re likely familiar with EnergyStar ratings. They have a similar program for commercial and industrial air compressors. While they’re not a government body with powers to mandate regulations, the Compressed Air Challenge membership consists of manufacturers & distributors, users, research & development agencies, energy efficiency organizations, and utilities, with key focus on providing direction for the most efficient operation of compressed air systems…from generation to point of use.
  • Training: Speaking of the Compressed Air Challenge, they, and other organizations like the Compressed Air & Gas Institute (CAGI) conduct formal training sessions, in addition to the documented direction I mentioned above. CAGI also has a personnel certification program for those interested in developing credibility and confidence by demonstrating knowledge, understanding, and expertise in the design & operation of compressed air equipment. You can even get a cool logo to put on your business cards and in your signature line.
  • Engineering: While there are multiple avenues to engineer SAFE compressed air products, not all of them are necessarily efficient as well. At EXAIR Corporation, we set ourselves above the fray by maintaining focus on safety AND efficiency. In their discussion of controls that I mentioned above, NIOSH has this to add on the subject of Engineering Controls: “The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or PPE, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.” (emphasis mine)

To answer the question I posed in this blog’s title, there are many considerations that make compressed air great to use…among them are:

  • Pneumatic tools are lighter, cheaper, more mobile, and lower maintenance than their electrical counterparts. The risk of electrocution is also avoided.
  • Compressed air distribution systems are easier and less costly to install than electrical grids or natural gas lines.
  • Compressed air doesn’t lose energy over distance like steam.
  • Compressed air leaks, while potentially costly, don’t present an inherent safety risk to plant personnel like gas leaks or electrical “leaks” (aka electrocution hazards).

Add in safety and efficiency, and THAT’S what’s so great about compressed air. If you’d like to find out how EXAIR Corporation can help YOU get the most out of our compressed air use, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Compressed Air Efficiency Results in Better Business!

Time and time again we write about how compressed air is considered the fourth utility in a manufacturing setting. Compressed air is a great resource to use, however it needs to be used responsibly!

How you use it in your business is important, for a couple of key considerations:

The Cost of Compressed Air

Compressed air isn’t free.  Heck, it isn’t even cheap.  According to a Tip Sheet on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, some companies estimate the cost of generation at $0.18 – $0.30 per 1,000 cubic feet of air.  A typical industrial air compressor will make 4-5 Standard Cubic Feet per Minute per horsepower.  Let’s be generous and assume that our 100HP compressor puts out 500 SCFM and is fully loaded 85% of the time over two shifts per day, five days a week:

500 SCFM X $0.18/1,000 SCF X 60 min/hr X 16 hr/day X 5 days/week X 52 weeks/year =

$22,464.00 estimated annual compressed air cost

So to minimize the compressed air use and the over all generation costs there are six easy steps to follow!

  1. Measure: the air consumption You must create a baseline to understand your demand requirements. How can you measure your improvements if you do not understand your total demand or baseline? Installing an EXAIR Flow Meter to your main air lines will help identify the amount of compressed air demand you have and help identify areas of concern.
  2. Find and fix leaks in the system: The repair of compressed air leaks is one of easiest ways to gain energy savings. In most cases all you need is a keen sense of hearing to locate a leak. Once a you have confirmed a leak then the make the necessary repairs. Harder to find leaks may require tools such as EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector. This is a hand held high quality instrument that can be used to locate costly air leaks.
  3. Upgrade your blow off, cooling and drying operations: Updating your compressed air process tooling can save you energy and help you comply with OSHA noise and safety regulations. An example would be to replace old blow off or open pipe systems with EXAIR Safety Air Nozzles. Replacing open copper tubes or pipes can amount up to 80% air savings. You achieve lower sound levels and significant energy savings.
  4. Turn off the compressed air when it isn’t in use: It sounds obvious but how many times has an operator left for a break or lunch and doesn’t shut off the compressed air for his/her station? The minutes add up to a significant amount of time annually meaning there is opportunity for energy savings. The use of solenoid valves will help but EXAIR’s Electronic Flow Control (EFC) will dramatically reduce compressed air costs with the use of a photoelectric sensor and timing control.
  5. Use intermediate storage of compressed air near the point of use: The use of storage receivers can improve your overall system efficiency in a number of ways. For example, using a main air receiver at the compressor room can make load/unload compressor control more efficient. Localizing receiver tanks such as EXAIR’s 9500-60 sixty gallon receiver tank by the point of use for a high demand process will stabilize the demand fluctuations allowing a more fluid operation.
  6. Control the air pressure at the point of use to minimize air consumption: The use of pressure regulators will resolve this issue. Using regulators you can control the amount of air being processed at each point of use. EXAIR offers different sized pressure regulators depending upon your air line and process requirements. Regulating the compressed air to the minimum amount required and will reduce your overall demand resulting in annual savings and a payback schedule.

Health & Safety

Injuries and illnesses can be big expenses for business as well. Inefficient use of compressed air can be downright unsafe.  Open ended blow offs present serious hazards, if dead-ended…the pressurized (energized) flow can break the skin and cause a deadly air embolism.  Even some air nozzles that can’t be dead ended (see examples of cross-drilled nozzles on right) cause a different safety hazard, hearing loss due to noise exposure.  This is another case where EXAIR can help.  Not only are our Intelligent Compressed Air Products fully OSHA compliant in regard to dead end pressure, their efficient design also makes them much quieter than other devices.

Efficient use of compressed air can make a big difference in the workplace – not only to your financial bottom line, but to everyone’s safety, health, and livelihood.  If you’d like to find out more about how EXAIR can help, give me a call.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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Compressed Air Safety

At EXAIR, we have a statement, “Safety is everyone’s responsibility”.  And as a corporation, EXAIR builds our name around this by manufacturing safe and protective compressed air products.  In the United States, we have an organization called Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, that enforces governmental directives for safe and healthy working environments.  They do training, outreach programs, and educational assistance for manufacturing plants.  They can also enforce these directives with heavy fines for violations.  With compressed air, the two most common violations are air guns and blow-off devices are described in 29CFR 1910.242(b) for dead-end pressure/chip shielding and 29CFR 1910.95(a) for maximum allowable noise exposure.

Here is an example of a nozzle that is dangerous.  As you can see, there is only one opening where the air can pass through from the nozzle.  Other similar types of blow-off devices that would fall into this same group would include copper tube, extensions, and open pipes.

Unsafe Nozzle

They are dangerous as the compressed air cannot escape if it is blocked with your body or skin.  If operated above 30 PSIG (2 bar), these nozzles could penetrate the skin and create an air embolism within the body which can cause bodily harm or death.  This is a hazard which can be avoided by using EXAIR Super Air Nozzles and Safety Air Guns.  The nozzles are designed with fins which allows the air to escape and not be blocked by your skin.  So, you can use the EXAIR Super Air Nozzles safely even above 30 PSIG (2 bar).

Unsafe Air Gun

To counteract the dead-end pressure violation, some nozzle manufacturers create a hole through the side of the nozzle (Reference photo above).  This will allow for the compressed air to escape, but now the issue is noise level.  With an “open” hole in the nozzle, the compressed air is very turbulent and very loud.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, states that 70% to 80% of all hearing loss within a manufacturing plant is caused by compressed air.  OSHA created a chart to show the maximum allowable noise exposure.  This chart shows the time and noise limits before requiring hearing protection.  The EXAIR Super Air Nozzles, Super Air Knives, Super Air Amplifiers are designed to have laminar flow which is very quiet.  As an example, the model 1210 Safety Air Gun has a sound level of only 74 dBA; well under the noise exposure limit for 8 hours.

Hearing loss is the best known, but not the only, ill effect of harmful noise exposure. It can also cause physical and psychological stress, impair concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents or injuries.

NIOSH created an overview of how to handle hazards in the workplace.  They call it the Hierarchy of Controls to best protect workers from dangers.  The most effective way is by eliminating the hazard or substituting the hazard.  The least effective way is with Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE.  For unsafe compressed air nozzles and guns, the proper way to reduce this hazard is to substitute it with an engineered solution.

One of the last things that companies think about when purchasing compressed air products is safety.  Loud noises and dead-end pressure can be missed or forgotten.  To stop any future fines or purchasing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), it will be less expensive to purchase an EXAIR product.  And with the Hazard Hierarchy of Controls, EXAIR products are that engineered solution.  If you would like to improve the safety in your facility with your current blow-off devices, an Application Engineer at EXAIR can help you.  Remember, safety is everyone’s responsibility. 

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

Picture:  Safety First by Succo.  Pixabay License

About OSHA 29 CFR 1910.242(b) for Compressed Air Safety

In February of 1972 OSHA released a standard to improve worker safety when operating handheld compressed air devices being used for cleaning purposes. This directive focuses around human skins permeability. That is, if you were to take an open ended pipe that had compressed air being discharged over 30 psig it can actually push through the skin and create an air embolism.

OSHA’s Directive 29 CFR 1910.242(b)

Air Embolisms are extremely painful, and in extreme cases, can be deadly. The risk associated with an air embolism can be mitigated by following the OSHA directive and reducing the downstream pressure of an air nozzle or nozzle pressure below 30 psi for all static conditions. Dead ending is when the passageway for the air becomes blocked and turns a dynamic flow of air into a static flow. This is in the event the pipe, nozzle, lance, etc. becomes blocked by a human’s body. This is a directive that all Intelligent Compressed Air® products from EXAIR focus on meeting or exceeding.

Our Air Nozzles and Jets video shows a great depiction of how this can be achieved with our engineered design of nozzles. The recessed holes and the fact that there are multiple passages for the air to exit are easy to see on the nozzle. Products like the Super Air Knife may not be so easy to see but the way the air knife cap overlaps prevents the Super Air Knife from being dead ended in the event an operator comes into contact with the discharge air.

Even though this directive was created in 1972 it continues to be at the forefront of industrial environments. I have even been to a custom artwork facility that was effected by this standard because they would use a handheld blowgun to remove dust and debris before matting and framing artwork with glass. They also removed dirt and dust from the frames before paint. This wasn’t your typical manufacturing environment yet they were still held to the same standards and were made safe by implementing engineered solutions such as our Super Air Nozzle.

If you would like to discuss how we can help increase your operator safety and ensure you meet or exceed OSHA 29 CFR 1910.242(b), please contact an Application Engineer today.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

1 – OSHA Instruction STD 01-13-001 – Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/enforcement/directives/std-01-13-001