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?


  • 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.


  • 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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Compressor Room Updates Improve Performance

I’d like to start out by saying a common theme I have observed over the past six months is a huge spike in DIY projects around the home. While everyone has been sent home to work and kids have been sent home to learn remotely, the home has become more than just a resting place. It is an office, school, recreation center, even movie theater. This led to an amazing year for home improvement big box stores and lots of people are tackling projects that they may have thought were beyond their level. At this point in the year we are also seeing a lot of manufacturing that either hasn’t stopped or is starting back up safely, there are lots of projects around an industrial facility that can be tackled during downturns as well.

Compressor Room – 1

The main focus today will be on a critical room that generally gets shoved back into a deep dark corner, the compressor room. The air compressor is a piece of capital equipment that generates a companies 4th utility, compressed air. This is then sent throughout most of the facility and utilized at critical points within production. Air compressors have changed their look over the years and are still often crammed into a small dimly lit room that no one wants to venture into. Having an outdated compressor room can also be causing undesirable performance and lack luster performance as well. Here’s a few items that can more often than not be addressed pretty simply to improve the overall appearance and most importantly the performance of the compressors.

Clean air intake on a screw compressor – 2

First, clean air intake. Rather than letting the compressor suck air in from the room that may be stagnant or even worse, just sucking in the hot air coming off the heat exchangers on the compressor and causing elevated compressed air temps. This fix can include ducting clean air from outside of the facility to ensure micro-debris from within the facility isn’t being pulled in. While pulling in ambient air from outside the facility will still require a filter that will need to be maintained. If a large single source is used, that is perfectly acceptable. To step this project up multiple smaller inlets that are each controlled by a damper would permit variability to match ambient conditions on temperature.

Industrial exhaust fan – 3

Second, install an exhaust fan that feeds the air not just out of the room, yet out of the facility if at all possible. This helps to promote a through-flow of air with the clean air intake and keep from recirculating dirty already cycled air. This will also help any form of system based air treatment that relies on an exchange of heat, such as a refrigerant dryer. Again, a fan that stays on constantly would be the base level fix, step this up by adding a thermostatically controlled system so the fan doesn’t run continuously.

Third, if you heat your facility throughout the winter, use that hot exhaust air from the compressors to reclaim the heat of the compression cycle and optimize your return on using electricity. This can be done by strategic routing of the exhaust ductwork mentioned above, and can be stepped up to have thermostatically controlled dampers on the ducts to open and flow the air through an adjacent room for cooler months rather than exhaust straight out during the warm Summer months.

If you would like to discuss any of these topics or any of your compressed air point of use applications, feel free to contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer


 1 – Air Compressor in Engine Room – retrieved from, Work With Sounds / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Air_compressor_in_engine_room.JPG

2 – Screw Compressor 1 – retrieved from, Endora6398 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Screw_compressor_1.jpg

3 – Industrial Exhaust Fan – retrieved from , Saud / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Industrial_Exhaust_Fan.jpg

What is an Air Compressor?

Internals of an air compressor

What is an air compressor?  This may seem like a simple question, but it is the heartbeat for most industries.  So, let’s dive into the requirements, myths, and types of air compressors that are commonly used.  Like the name states, air compressors are designed to compress air.  Unlike liquid, air is compressible which means that it can be “squished” into a smaller volume by pressure.  With this stored energy, it can do work for your pneumatic system.

There are two types of air compressors, positive displacement and dynamic.  The core component for most air compressors is an electric motor that spins a shaft.  Positive displacement uses the energy from the motor and the shaft to change volume in an area, like a piston in a reciprocating air compressor or like rotors in a rotary air compressor.  The dynamic types use the energy from the motor and the shaft to create a velocity energy with an impeller.  (You can read more about types of air compressors HERE).

Compressed air is a clean utility that is used in many different ways, and it is much safer than electrical or hydraulic systems.  But most people think that compressed air is free, and it is most certainly not.  Because of the expense, compressed air is considered to be a fourth utility in manufacturing plants.  For an electrical motor to reduce a volume of air by compressing it.  It takes roughly 1 horsepower (746 watts) of power to compress 4 cubic feet (113L) of air every minute to 125 PSI (8.5 bar).  With almost every manufacturing plant in the world utilizing air compressors much larger than 1 horsepower, the amount of energy needed to compress air is extraordinary.

Let’s determine the energy cost to operate an air compressor to make compressed air by Equation 1:

Equation 1:

Cost = hp * 0.746 * hours * rate / (motor efficiency)


Cost – US$

hp – horsepower of motor

0.746 – conversion KW/hp

hours – running time

rate – cost for electricity, US$/KWh

motor efficiency – average for an electric motor is 95%.

As an example, a manufacturing plant operates a 100 HP air compressor in their facility.  The cycle time for the air compressor is roughly 60%.  To calculate the hours of running time per year, I used 250 days/year at 16 hours/day for shifts.  So operating hours equal 250 * 16 * 0.60 = 2,400 hours per year.  The electrical rate at this facility is $0.10/KWh. With these factors, the annual cost to operate the air compressor can be calculated by Equation 1:

Cost = 100hp * 0.746 KW/hp * 2,400hr * $0.10/KWh / 0.95 = $18,846 per year in just electrical costs.

So, what is an air compressor?  The answer is an expensive system to compress air to operate pneumatic systems.  So, efficiency in using compressed air is very important.  EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983.  If you need alternative ways to save money when you are using your air compressor, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to help you.

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


Compressor internals image courtesy of h080, Creative Commons License.

What is the USB Data Logger for Digital Flow Meters? How Can It Help Me?

USB Data Logger
The USB data logger works with all of EXAIR’s Digital Flow Meters and provides valuable feedback for optimizing your compressed air system.

EXAIR’s Model 9147 USB Data Logger has become one of the most valuable tools that we sell to help customers get a “view” of their compressed air usage over time. One of the important tenets we promote at EXAIR is energy savings by prudent use of compressed air through our engineered solutions (Air Knife, Air Nozzles, Air Amplifier, etc.). But how does a person in charge of such systems really “know” whether they are helping or hurting their compressed air system?

The first step is to have an appropriate flow meter which can give an indication of how much air volume is being used. EXAIR’s line of Digital Flow Meters are perfect for getting to that point with instant and direct readings that don’t need to be calculated any further. What you see on the meter is the flow in either SCFM or m3/hr calibrations.

The second step is to attach the USB Data Logger to the Digital Flow Meter so that readings can be kept over time. It is like setting up a security camera for your compressed air system. Nothing gets by without being recorded.

The USB Data Logger can be connected to just about any type of monitoring system that has a 4 – 20 mA output to which the 2-wire harness can be installed. A quick and easy initialization to choose the unit of measure, to select the frequency of measurement and some optional alarms is all that is necessary. The software package is included with the USB Data Logger and is convenient to run on a typical desktop or laptop computer. You simply, set it and forget it (at least until you want to do some reporting).

The reporting is how the USB Data Logger can help you as the person concerned with monitoring the compressed air use in your facility. Once the defined monitoring period of time has passed, the USB Data Logger can be removed from its socket, stopped from recording and the data is then downloaded into a suitable format that can be imported into EXCEL or other spreadsheet program for creating charts to analyze what is happening, when it is happening and how much compressed air is being used. In the analysis, you can compare the flow data and times with certain problems in a production line that might cause low pressure condition which shuts machinery down. You might also be able to determine where additional, point of use compressed air storage might be needed close to certain processes.

Ultimately, the USB Data Logger allows you to “see” your compressed air system in a way that allows you to sleuth out problems seen that might have no other explanation. It can also help you to justify your air savings when you apply the other air saving compressed air products that EXAIR produces by monitoring a base line for “before” performance and “after” performance. After all, it if is important to your organization, it should be measured. And compressed air is certainly a utility that should be measured.

Neal Raker, Application Engineer