ICFM, SCFM, ACFM, CFM What does it all mean!

A common question we get asked is “What does SCFM mean?” Most people are aware of CFM but the “S” in front seems to be less known about! Well strap on your seat belt, we are about to go into a compressed air worm hole all about volumetric flow rates!

Here at EXAIR we rate all of our products air consumption in SCFM at a given supply pressure. CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute, but one definition will not satisfy the conditions that will be experienced in many applications by a number of variables  (altitude, temperature, pressure, etc.). Air by nature is a compressible fluid. The properties of this fluid are constantly changing due to the ambient conditions of the surrounding environment.

This makes it difficult to describe the volumetric flow rate of the compressed air. Imagine you have a cubic foot of air, at standard conditions (14.696 psia, 60°F, 0% Relative Humidity), right in front of you. Then, you take that same cubic foot, pressurize it to 100 psig and place it inside of a pipe. You still have one cubic foot, but it is taking up significantly less volume. You have probably heard the terms SCFMACFM, and ICFM when used to define the total capacity of a compressor system. Understanding these terms, and using them correctly, will allow you to properly size your system and understand your total compressed air consumption.

SCFM is used as a reference to the standard conditions for flow rate. This term is used to create an “apples to apples” comparison when discussing compressed air volume as the conditions will change. EXAIR publishes the consumption of all products in SCFM for this reason. You will always notice that an inlet pressure is specified as well. This allows us to say that, at standard conditions and at a given inlet pressure, the product will consume a given amount of compressed air. It would be nearly impossible, not to mention impractical, to publish the ACFM of any product due to the wide range of environmental conditions possible.

ACFM stands for Actual Cubic Feet per Minute. If the conditions in the environment are “standard”, then the ACFM and SCFM will be the same. In most cases, however, that is not the case. The formula for converting SCFM to ACFM is as follows:

ACFM = SCFM [Pstd / (Pact – Psat Φ)](Tact / Tstd)


ACFM = Actual Cubic Feet per Minute
SCFM = Standard Cubic Feet per Minute
Pstd = standard absolute air pressure (psia)
Pact = absolute pressure at the actual level (psia)
Psat = saturation pressure at the actual temperature (psi)
Φ = Actual relative humidity
Tact = Actual ambient air temperature (oR)
Tstd = Standard temperature (oR)

The last term that you’ll see floating around to describe compressed air flow is ICFM (Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute). This term describes the conditions at the inlet of the compressor, in front of the filter, dryer, blower, etc. Because several definitions for Standard Air exist, some compressor manufacturers have adopted this simpler unit of measure when sizing a compressor system. This volume is used to determine the impeller design, nozzle diameter, and casing size for the most efficient compressor system to be used. Because the ICFM is measured before the air has passed through the filter and other components, you must account for a pressure drop.

The inlet pressure is determined by taking the barometric pressure and subtracting a reasonable loss for the inlet air filter and piping. According to the Compressed Air Handbook by the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, a typical value for filter and piping loss is 0.3 psig. The need to determine inlet pressure becomes especially critical when considering applications in high-altitudes. A change in altitude of more than a few hundred feet can greatly reduce the overall capacity of the compressor. Because of this pressure loss, it is important to assess the consumption of your compressor system in ACFM. To convert ICFM to ACFM use the following formula:

ICFM = ACFM (Pact / Pf) (Tf / Tact)


ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

P = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (psia)

Tf = Temperature after filter or inlet equipment (°R)

If you’re looking into a new project utilizing EXAIR equipment and need help determining how much compressed air you’ll need, give us a call. An Application Engineer will be able to assess the application, determine the overall consumption, and help recommend a suitably sized air compressor.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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How Can You Benefit from EXAIR’s Efficiency Lab?

How many times have you purchased a new product and worried if it was the right choice? Well EXAIR can provide that confidence using our calibrated testing equipment to compare your current product to an EXAIR product, in our Efficiency Lab. Whenever I needed a new process or product I would spend countless hours researching how will this benefit me, my employer or my customer? Research is not only time consuming but also very costly.

EXAIR believes in their product so much that we offer an Efficiency Lab where we will test your production product and help show that our products will not only work for you, but also show that they can save money, as well as make your work environment a safer place.

EXAIR has provided performance values (force, noise, air consumption, ROI) for many of our products. We make purchasing from EXAIR fun because you know in advance that our products will meet or exceed your expectations. Further backing up our commitment with the Efficiency Lab we offer an 30 Day Unconditional Guarantee. EXAIR believes in our products and want to make your purchase a risk free process.

We can test the performance of your current product to EXAIRs Intelligent Compressed Air products for air consumption, force, noise levels… and provide a comprehensive report of our analysis, including simple ROI.  

What does our Efficiency Lab cost? EXAIR believes in our products so much, that this is a free service to our customers. Simply call and talk to one of our Application Engineers at 800.903.9247 or you can send an email to lab@exair.com or visit www.exair.com and talk on our live help. If you feel we can help with a comparison them simply send your product(s) freight prepaid to EXAIR Corporation attention to our Efficiency Lab. All trials will be on a confidential basis unless you provide permission to share.

Eric Kuhnash
Application Engineer
E-mail: EricKuhnash@exair.com
Twitter: Twitter: @EXAIR_EK

EXAIR Digital Flowmeters With Wireless Capability

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a well-known axiom in engineering & process improvement circles.  We talk to callers every day who are keen on conserving compressed air use in their facilities by making a few tweaks, considering a complete overhaul, or more often, some point in between.  Bottom line (literally) is, compressed air isn’t cheap, so small gains in efficiency can add up.  And large gains can be complete game-changers…following our Six Steps To Optimizing Your Compressed Air System has resulted in users being able to shut down 50 and 100 HP air compressors, saving thousands of dollar A MONTH in operating costs.

Step #1 is measurement, and that’s where the EXAIR Digital Flowmeter comes in.  They’re easy to install, highly accurate, extremely reliable, and available for just about any size pipe used for compressed air distribution.  They can output a 4-20mA signal straight from their PCB board, or serial comms (RS485) through an optional control board.  USB Data Loggers and Summing Remote Displays have proven to be value-added accessories for data management as well.

Summing Remote Display (left) for remote indication and totalizing data. USB Data Logger takes data from the Digital Flowmeter to your computer and outputs to its own software (shown above) or Microsoft Excel.

If you want to go wireless, we can do that too: using ZigBee mesh network protocol, a radio module is installed in the Digital Flowmeter with wireless gateway to transmit data to an Ethernet connected gateway.  The transmitting range is 100 ft (30 meters,) and the data can be passed from one radio module to another, allowing for multiple Digital Flowmeter installations to extend the distance over which they can communicate with the computer you’re using for central monitoring.  Advantages include:

  • Wireless monitoring of EXAIR Digital Flowmeters throughout your plant.
  • Prevents unwanted joining upon the network.
  • Monitoring software is included at no extra charge.
  • Measures & transmits both current air usage, and cumulative air usage data.
  • 128 bit encryption for wireless transmissions.
  • Comes configured & programmed, out of the box, available for installation on 1/2″ to 4″ SCH40 iron pipe, or 3/4″ to 4″ Type L copper pipe.

Digital Flowmeter w/ Wireless Capability, Gateway, and Drill Guide Kit

If you’d like to find out more about how easy it is to measure, manage, and optimize your compressed air usage, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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How to Calculate the Cost of Leaks

Leaks are a hidden nuisance in a compressed air system that can cause thousands of dollars in electricity per year. These leaks on average can account for up to 30% of the operation cost of a compressed air system. A leak will usually occur at connection joints, unions, valves, and fittings. This not only is a huge waste of energy but it can also cause a system to lose pressure along with lowering the life span of the compressor since it will have to run more often to make up for the loss of air from the leak.

There are two common ways to calculate how much compressed air a system is losing due to leaks. The first way is to turn off all of the point of use compressed air devices; once this has been complete turn on the air compressor and record the average time that it takes the compressor to cycle on and off. With the average cycle time you can calculate out the total percentage of leakage using the following formula.

The second method is to calculate out the percentage lost using a pressure gauge downstream from a receiver tank. This method requires one to know the total volume in the system to accurately estimate the leakage from the system. Once the compressor turns on wait until the system reaches the normal operating pressure for the process and record how long it takes to drop to a lower operating pressure of your choosing. Once this has been completed you can use the following formula to calculate out the total percentage of leakage.

The total percentage of the compressor that is lost should be under 10% if the system is properly maintained.

Once the total percentage of leakage has been calculated you can start to look at the cost of a single leak assuming that the leak is equivalent to a 1/16” diameter hole. This means that at 80 psig the leak is going to expel 3.8 SCFM. The average industrial air compressor can produce 4 SCFM using 1 horsepower of energy. Adding in the average energy cost of $0.25 per 1000 SCF generated one can calculate out the price per hour the leak is costing using the following calculation.

If you base the cost per year for a typical 8000 hr. of operating time per year you are looking at $480 per year for one 1/16” hole leak. As you can see the more leaks in the system the more costly it gets. If you know how much SCFM your system is consuming in leaks then that value can be plugged into the equitation instead of the assumed 3.8 SCFM.

If you’d like to discuss how EXAIR products can help identify and locate costly leaks in your compressed air system, please contact one of our application engineers at 800-903-9247.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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