## CFM, ICFM, ACFM, SCFM: Volumetric Flow Rates Explained

Flow rate is the quantity of material that moves over a period of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are generally in units of pounds per minute (lbs./min) or kilograms per hour (Kg/hr).  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per hour (LPH).  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used for a compressible gas.  In this blog, I will go over the various acronyms and the reasons behind them.

What acronyms will be covered?

CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute

The volumetric component of the flow rate above is CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute.  This term is commonly used in rating air compressors and pneumatic equipment.  From their history, they would calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of cylinder.  With the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric flow rate.  As conditions change like altitude, temperature, and relative humidity, the value of CFM changes.  To better clarify these conditions, compressor manufacturers decided to add terms with definition.  (For your information, air compressors still use CFM as a unit of air flow, but now this is defined at standard temperature and pressure).

The first letter in front of CFM above now defines the conditions in which the volumetric air flow is being measured.  This is important for comparing pneumatic components or for properly sizing pneumatic systems. Volume is measured by three areas: temperature, pressure, and relative humidity as seen in the Ideal Gas Law.

Equation 1:

V = n * R * T / P

V – Volume

n – Number of molecules of gas

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

P – Absolute Pressure

The volume of air can change in reference to pressure, temperature, and the number of molecules.  Where is the relative humidity?  This would be referenced in the “n” term.  The more water vapor, or higher RH values, the less molecules of air is in a given volume.

SCFM is the most commonly used term, and it can be the most confusing.  The idea of this volumetric air flow is to set a reference point for comparisons.  So, no matter the pressure, temperature, or relative humidity; the volumetric air flows can be compared to each other at one reference point.  There have been many debates about an appropriate standard temperature and pressure, or STP.  But as long as you use the same reference point, then you can still compare the results.  In this blog, I will be using the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, CAGI, reference where the “Standard” condition is at 14.5 PSIA, 68oF, and 0% RH.  Since we have the reference point, we still need to know the actual conditions.  As an example, it is like having a location for a restaurant as a reference, but if you do not know your current location, you cannot reach it.   Similarly, we are “moving” the air from one condition to a reference or “Standard” condition.  We will need to know where the air began in order to reach that reference point.  We will talk more about this later in this blog.

ACFM is the volumetric air flow under actual conditions.  This is actually the “true” flow rate.  Even though this term is hardly used, there are reasons why we will need to know this value.  We can resize an air compressor that is not at “Standard” conditions, and we can use this value to calculate velocities and pressure drop in a system.  We can correlate between SCFM and ACFM:

Equation 2:

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

Where:

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) or (oF + 460)
Tstd = Standard temperature (oR) or (oF + 460)

ICFM, or Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute, is one of the newest terms in the history of air compressors.  This is where devices are added to the inlet of an air compressor, affecting the flow conditions.  If you have a blower on the inlet of an air compressor, the volumetric flow rate changes as the pressure and temperature rises at the “Inlet”.  If an intake filter is used, then the pressure drop will decrease the incoming pressure at the “Inlet”.  These devices that affect the volumetric flow rate for an air compressor should be considered.  Equation 3 shows the relationship to ACFM and ICFM:

Equation 3:

ICFM = ACFM * (Pact / Pf) * (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

ACFM = Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

Pf  = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (PSIA)

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

To expand on my explanation above about SCFM and ACFM, a technical question comes up often about the pressure when using SCFM.  The reference point of 14.5 PSIA is in the definition of SCFM.  Remember, this is only a reference point.  The starting location is actually needed.  This would be the ACFM value where the air values are true and actual.  As an example, two air nozzles are rated for 60 SCFM.  An EXAIR Super Air Nozzle, model 1106, is cataloged at 80 PSIG, and a competitor is cataloged at 60 PSIG.  By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but do they actually?  To simplify Equation 2 above, we can compare the two nozzles at the same temperature, 68oF, and 0% RH. This equation can be reduced to:

Equation 4:

ACFM = SCFM * 14.5 / (P + 14.5)

@60 PSIG Competitor:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA/ (60 PSIG + 14.5 PSIA)

= 11.7 ACFM

@80 PSIG EXAIR Super Air Nozzle:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA / (80 PSIG + 14.5PSIA)

= 9.2 ACFM

Even though the SCFM rating is the same but at two different pressures, the actual flow shows that you are using 21% more compressed air with the competitive nozzle.

Another example would be for sizing an air compressor.  Since air compressors are rated at sea level (14.5 PSIA), 68oF and 0% RH, what happens if you are in Denver?  A manufacturing company was needing a 500 SCFM air compressor to run their plant.  They were located at 1,000 feet above sea level with a site temperature of 85oF and a relative humidity of 60%.  Since they were not at the standard conditions, we can calculate the ACFM to properly size the air compressor.  The atmospheric pressure at 1,000 feet was 14.2 PSIG.  The saturation pressure at 85oF is 0.595 PSIA.  From Equation 2, we can calculate the ACFM.

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

ACFM = 500 SCFM * [14.5 / (14.2 – 0.595 * 60%)] * [(85oF + 460) / (68oF + 460)]

ACFM = 500 SCFM * 1.0474 * 1.0322

ACFM = 540

For this manufacturing plant, they will need to increase the capacity to 540 SCFM to run their 500 SCFM pneumatic system at their location.

When it comes to rating compressed air products or air compressors, always ask the conditions of the pressure, temperature and RH.  The more you know about volumetric flow rates, the better decision that you can make in selecting the correct product.  If you need any help in selecting point-of-use blow-off devices, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.  We will be happy to help you.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com

## Intelligent Compressed Air: SCFM, ACFM, ICFM, CFM – What do these terms mean?

Air compressors have come a long way over the years. When sizing a new system, a few terms are commonly used: CFM, SCFM, ACFM, and ICFM. The term CFM, simply put, stands for Cubic Feet per Minute. This term can often be confusing and impossible to define for just one condition. One definition will not satisfy the conditions that will be experienced in many of your applications due to 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 SCFM, ACFM, 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)

Where:

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)

Let’s run through an example of a compressor operating at a “non-standard” condition:

Elevation – 5000 ft.

Temperature – 80°F (80+460=540) – 540°R

Saturation Pressure – .5069psia

Relative humidity – 80%

demand – 100 SCFM

ACFM = (100 SCFM) [(14.7 psia)/((12.23psia) – (0.5069 psia)(80/100))] ((540°R)/(520°R))

=129.1 ACFM

In this example, the actual flow is greater. To determine the total ACFM consumption of any of our products with your system, take the published total consumption of the product and plug in the values for your compressed air system along with the standard variables.

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)

Where:

ICFM = Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

Pf  = Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (psia)

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

For this example, let’s say that we’re in Denver, Colorado. The barometric pressure, as of today, is 14.85 psi with current ambient temperature at 71°F. The compressor system in this example does not have any blower or device installed before the inlet, so there will be no temperature differential after filter or inlet equipment. The ICFM rating for the system is 1,000 ICFM.

ACFM = 1,000 (14.85/14.55)(530.67/530.67)

ACFM = 1,020

In order to maintain the 1,000 ICFM rating of the system, the ACFM is 1,020, about a 2% increase.

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.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer

E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com

Compressor photo courtesy of David Pearcy via Creative Commons license.

## 3D Printing with Chocolate

Everyone seems to be talking about 3D printing lately. Last week, I received an email from a customer who had a new idea for 3D printing.

Chocolate!

Well I was intrigued. The customer wanted to modify current 3D Printing technology to work chocolate. There was obviously several hurdles. For instance, using a vat of molten chocolate as opposed to typical material, cleaning, and replacement parts to make a food safe low-cost printer. Her biggest problem was how to cool the chocolate after the application of each successive layer upon dispensing, so the chocolate didn’t pool into an amorphous blob.

She came to me asking about the Adjustable Spot Cooler. This product caught her attention because of the ease of installation with the magnetic base, the adjustable temperature control and instant cold air response. The magnetic base could be incorporated into her design fairly easily. The adjustable temperature control would allow her to decrease the temperature and decrease the cold flow at the same time. If she found that the force of the compressed air was damaging the printing process, reducing the cold flow would allow her to use a colder temperature to harden the layer that had just been used.  Finely the compressed air could be rapidly controlled with a solenoid to only run when the cold air is needed, which would limit compressed air cost.

Because of the high freezing point of chocolate and overall size constraints, I recommended that she first try a model 3204 Vortex Tube. A small Vortex Tube, which could use as little as 4 SCFM of compressed air and provide up to 3.2 SFCM of cold air at fifty degrees below the compressed air temperature, would be more than capable of forming a shell on the surface area of each extrusion. It is reasonable to assume that this air temperature would be around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which could create a delicious chocolate shell for the next layer of chocolate be deposited.  She was able to buy the magnetic base, model 9029, separately to aid in her installation.

Hopefully, you read this after lunch, because I made myself hungry looking for chocolate pictures, but I found what I would print for Christmas.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
davewoerner@exair.com
@EXAIR_DW

## US Economy Growing and Energy Usage Lower

The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) issued a report this October that America had used the same amount of energy (measured in BTU’s) as it had used in 1999.  We have reduced our energy usage per person, while still growing the economy, a feat that I would not have thought possible.

You can read the full report here: NRDC Energy Report. So often environmental news is dire and gloomy, but this news shows the power of energy efficiency.  As noted in the report, politicians and media members focus on where we are going to find new energy resources.  As opposed to opening up new energy reserves, we have reaped larger rewards from spending time and money conserving the energy over the last thirty-five years.  The energy report uses the household refrigerator as an example of an appliance, whose increasing energy efficiency greatly decreased our electrical load per person.  Refrigerators use 1/4 as much energy as the same size refrigerator used in 1975.  This decrease in energy usage is a huge gain for the user who replaces their refrigerator and for the power grid that doesn’t need to build a new power plant to keep up with the increased load. As an EXAIR employee, I can not help but notice that EXAIR opened in 1982, which is one of the first years in the graph above were economic growth was not directly tied to energy usage.  At EXAIR, we realize the impact of conserving compressed air can have on your compressed air system.  By replacing home-made blow offs like open tubes or holes drilled in pipe with Super Air Nozzle or Super Air Knife engineered solutions, you conserve compressed air and save money. This also reduces wear on the your compressor and can extend its life. A model 1100 Super air nozzle uses 14 SCFM when fed with 80 PSIG, which is a 58% reduction from 1/4″ open copper tube, which uses 33 SCFM when fed with 80 PSIG.  Go to our Air Savings Calculator to see how much compressed air and money you can save by replacing those home made blow offs.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer
davewoerner@exair.com
@EXAIR_DW