Sound Power Level and Sound Pressure

Energy…all day (and night) long, we humans are surrounded by – and bombarded by – all kinds of energy. Sometimes, the effects are pleasant; even beneficial: the warmth of the sun’s rays (solar energy) on a nice spring day is the sure-fire cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and is also the catalyst your body needs to produce vitamin D. Good things, both. And great reasons to get outside a little more often.

Sometimes, the effects aren’t so pleasant, and they can even be harmful. Lengthy, unprotected exposure to that same wonderful sun’s rays will give you a nasty sunburn. Which can lead to skin cancer. Not good things, either. And great reasons to regularly apply sunblock, and/or limit exposure if you can.

Sound is another constant source of energy that we’re exposed to, and one we can’t simply escape by going inside. Especially if “inside” is a factory, machine shop, or a concert arena. This brings me to the first point of today’s blog: sound power.

Strictly speaking, power is energy per unit time, and can be applied to energy generation (like how much HP an engine generates as it runs) or energy consumption (like how much HP a motor uses as it turns its shaft) For discussions of sound, though, sound power level is applied to the generation end. This is what we mean when we talk about how much sound is made by a punch press, a machine tool, or a rock band’s sound system.

Sound pressure, in contrast, is a measure of the sound power’s intensity at the target’s (e.g., your ear’s) distance from the source. The farther away you get from the sound’s generation, the lower the sound pressure will be. But the sound power didn’t change.

Just like the power made by an engine and used by a motor are both defined in the same units – usually horsepower or watts – sound power level (e.g. generation) and sound pressure (e.g. “use” by your ears) use the same unit of measure: the decibel.  The big difference, though, is that while power levels of machinery in motion are linear in scale, sound power level and pressure scales are logarithmic.  And that’s where the math can get kind of challenging.  But if you’re up for it, let’s look at how you calculate sound power level:

Sound Power Level Equation


Wis reference power (in Watts,) normally considered to be 10-12 W, which is the lowest sound perceptible to the human ear under ideal conditions, and

W is the published sound power of the device (in Watts.)

That’s going to give you the sound power level, in decibels, being generated by the sound source.  To calculate the sound pressure level:

Sound Power Level to Sound Pressure Equation


Lis the sound power level…see above, and

A is the surface area at a given distance.  If the sound is emitted equally in all directions, we can use the formula for hemispheric area, 2πrwhere r=distance from source to calculate the area.

These formulas ignore any effects from the acoustic qualities of the space in which the sound is occurring.  Many factors will affect this, such as how much sound energy the walls and ceiling will absorb or reflect.  This is determined by the material(s) of construction, the height of the ceiling, etc.

These formulas may help you get a “big picture” idea of the sound levels you might expect in applications where the input data is available.  Aside from that, they certainly put into perspective the importance of hearing protection when an analysis reveals higher levels.  OSHA puts the following limits on personnel exposure to certain noise levels:

Working in areas that exceed these levels will require hearing protection.

EXAIR’s line of Intelligent Compressed Air Products are engineered, designed, and manufactured with efficiency, safety, and noise reduction in mind.  If you’d like to talk about how we can help protect you and your folks’ hearing, call us.


Safety, Efficiency, and Production Improvements

Last week, I received an email from a satisfied customer, after he had already purchased our product.  Come to find out this customer had not spoken to an application engineer during the planning stage to make their purchase. With our excellent resources listed at, the customer was able to fulfill his application without even speaking to us. After his initial email of thanks, he also shared with me some details of his application that I want to share with you today.

The customer works as a machinist at a large aircraft part manufacturer. The parts require a very tight tolerance. A sample of each part needed to be gauged and measured in an automatic thread gauging machine or a coordinate-measuring machine (CMM). Their machining process required a water based flood coolant, so each part would be coated in water based coolant and chips, which needed to be remove before gauging. Before visiting EXAIR’s site, the company used a variety of homemade and commercial blow offs, as safety air gun tips. Here is a photo of (20) of the (25) nozzles the customer was using.

Aircraft manufacturer's obsolete nozzles

As you can see, the nozzles vary in design purpose, flow and safety. Most of the nozzles feature a cross drilled hole or a secondary escape path, but not all of the nozzles do. Any nozzle without a secondary relief port violates OSHA standard CFR 1910.242(b), so replacing some of the nozzles increased the safety in the plant. Secondly, these nozzles are wasteful in their use of compressed air because some were designed as liquid nozzles and have large exit holes. A hole that is 1/8″ in diameter at the nozzle outlet can consume up to 21.4 SCFM of compressed air at 80 PSIG. For comparison, the model 1103 Mini Super Air Nozzle with a 1/8″ NPT inlet will flow 10 SCFM at 80 PSIG, which would be a 53% compressed air savings. In 24 running hours, the 1103 nozzle will save 16,416 Standard Cubic Feet, which the plant spent $4.10 for a standard industrial compressor to produce (The standard for compressed air cost is $0.25 per 1,000 SCF). Replacing just one 1/8″ drilled hole with 1103 Mini Super Air Nozzle saves the aircraft company $1,026 over 250 working days running 24 hours a day.

Neither of these were the real reason that the customer emailed to thank us though. He was actually an office employee just entering the work force.  Starting in June until after the company finally acquiesced to his request to buy a better, quieter nozzle near the end of July, he had left work needing an aspirin to relieve the headache he acquired due to the noise from these other nozzles. The nozzles the machining center had been using would create noise levels between 88-100 dBA at 80 PSIG of inlet pressure. For reference OSHA mandates that employees are required to wear hearing protection, if they are exposed to noise levels over 90 dBA over an 8 hour work day.  The employees doing the machining wear hearing protection, but the employees in the office were still exposed and affected by the noise level.  This is just one anecdotal example, but everyday more and more research shows that noise exposure has a negative effect on our health and productivity in the workplace.  If you are interested in more information here are some links to a number of studies/research – please read this, here or this.

Anyway, that’s enough of my soapbox. The company purchased 25 of EXAIR’s 1103 Mini Super Air Nozzles and utilizing the same guns they were currently using saw between a 10-15 dBA decrease in noise levels near the work stations. Here is a photo of one of their setups with the model 1103 installed on one of their current air guns.

Nozzle Replacement
The 1103 Super Air Nozzle is an engineered solution to replace a plethora of commercial nozzles. It was a simple and cost effective retrofit which increased the comfort of employees.


We know that every time they squeeze that air gun trigger they will be using less compressed air than before, and we know they are now in compliance with OSHA. But the best benefit for EXAIR is we know that the engineer took the time to email us to thank us for taking away his headache everyday.  That’s enough for me.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer