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Fundamentals of Compressed Air Solutions

12 April 2023

Put – “Compressed air explained”

Compressed air is one of the most common forms of energy produced, and used in a manufacturing facility, production plant, service center, and even in hospitals.


Why? Because its relatively safe, easy to distribute across wide spread areas, by virtue of piping systems, and is considered low cost to generate.  

In most industrial processes, compressed air is used for cylinders, valves, air tools, paint spraying, propelling of parts, widgets and even vehicles. Brakes applied by compressed air made large railway trains safer and more efficient to operate, and compressed air brakes are also found on large highway vehicles, such as trucks, and even amusement park rides, like Rollercoasters. Modern day movie theatres use an air compressor to simulate 4D air movement, and the atomization of water too.

Compressed air is used as a breathing gas by firefighters, divers, mine workers, and industrial staff who work in confined areas, and hazardous atmospheres.

In North America, estimates suggest that 15 percent of all industrial electricity consumption is to produce compressed air. Compressed leaks, oversized air compressors, undersized storage vessels, excessive generating pressures, pressure drops, poorly engineered pipework systems, superficial uses, desiccant dryer purge loss equate to a huge amount of unnecessary Hydro consumption per year.

At Air Solutions Canada Inc, (ASCI), we strive to promote “best practices” for Everything Compressed Air.We consult, design, select, supply, build, install and service any part, or all of a compressed air system, from the generating station, all the way out to the points of use. Since 1997, we have been assisting companies across the GTA and Ontario, with vast experience to share in all types of applications. We have direct access to the current saveONenergy, air compressor retrofit incentives to assist you in funding your projects.

An introduction to a compressed air system

The most basic air compressor we have all seen and used is a bicycle pump.

Atmospheric air sucked into the cylinder as we lengthened the pump, and the atmospheric air we have captured is then compressed in the cylinder to a greater pressure to create compressed air.

The most basic form of electric driven air compressors is arguably the reciprocating piston compressor. Parents with a workshop in the garage often had one, most roofers own a “pancake” type compressor, and even your dentist has one to power his drills and blow out your mouth during checkups and treatments.

Your tire shop definitely has one, and many small workshops have, or had a small reciprocating piston compressor mounted on a fair sized air receiver tank. To make serviceability of the piston compressor accessible, the compressor pump and motor were often mounted on a horizontal storage tank, but these tanks took up large amounts of real estate in small shops, they generated unwanted heat, and were very noisy, at 90, to 95dB(A). compressed air was also discharged from the compressor pump at temperatures of 180°C to 200°C, which meant that the air was too hot for a standard refrigerated style air dryer to cope with the high discharge temperatures, or that as the air passed through the shop and cooled inside the pipework, condensate coalesced into liquid and flooded the system, tools, points of use and finished products.

Thankfully technology advanced, and help was at hand.

Manufacturers, such as Kaeser Compressors, created small, electric driven rotary screw compressors, in a multitude of voltages, pressures, and variations, to meet any, and every type of application.

*Voltage Options are 115v/1Ph/60Hz, Tri-Voltage 208-230V, 460V and 575V/3Ph/60Hz.

**Pressure Options are 100psig, 125psig, 165psig, 217psig.

What does a compressed air system look like?

The air compressor “pump” can be oil lubricated, or “dry”, (oil free).

Reciprocating piston, rotary vane, scroll and rotary screw pump options are all readily available in North America.

Your pump of choice will most likely be driven by an electric motor, a turbine, or a Diesel or Gas engine.

Each method has its own features, advantages, and benefits.

Because ambient air will be ingested by the compressor pump for compression, we must consider the ambient conditions, such as temperature, dust, humidity, altitude, hydrocarbons etc..

Positioning your compressor station on the outside wall of a building is preferable, as ventilation is easily accessible, and so too is the removal of large items of plant in the case of a rebuild or replacement.

Ample fresh air into the room for cooling and ducted hot air discharge will provide long term service life expectancy of the equipment and enhance performance of every item.

The aftercooler and oil cooler are an essential stage in the compression cycle. Air Cooled Compressor coolers can be air blast types, using Squirrel cage fans, or in modern day compressors they may also be Radial type fans. 

Ambient air is passed over the cooler to exchange cooler ambient air with the heat of compression, and/or oil.

Liquid cooled compressors can include water, or liquid cooling mixtures, such as Glycol and water. The liquids are exchanged with oil/heat of compression to reduce temperatures.

The aftercooler will reduce the compressed air discharge temperatures, by approximately 100°F, assuming that the compressor is located in a well-ventilated air cooled ambient, or cooling water and liquid is sufficiently maintained to exchange cool liquids with hot compressed air/oil efficiently. 

Dropping temperatures of compressed air rapidly will encourage the condensing of air born humidity into liquid water condensate. The installation of a cyclonic moisture separator, and a well positioned condensate drain trap are highly recommended, along with a wet air receiver storage tank. All of the aforementioned will be up stream of any clean air treatment equipment, such as filters, and dryers.

Air receiver storage tanks are often overlooked when compressed air systems are designed, despite them providing several important features, advantages, and benefits. These F,A,B’s include the ability to create cyclonic motion, due to the shape of the tank itself, which encourages moisture to be transported to the internal surface of the tank. Gravity condenses this moisture in a coalescing effect towards the bottom of the tank, where an automatic condensate drain trap, or manual drain valve removes unwanted oil and water condensate contamination.

Because the compressor is ingesting ambient air, and many of the internal components and piping in the system may be metallic and corrode, a particulate removing in line filter assembly is a worthwhile investment. Protecting the air dryers heat exchangers and your downstream cylinders, and valves from carbon deposits, rust particles, and other solid contaminants will ensure a trouble free system for years to come.

Mark your calendar, or maintenance schedule to remind you to change the pre filter element at least once per year.

If the compressed air piping is situated inside the building, and kept at a fairly consistent, and stable ambient temperature, most facilities can function well with a refrigerated style air dryer. A fridge dryer will produce a +3°C, (+37°F) Pressure dewpoint, “PDP”.

For points of use that cannot tolerate any risk of moisture carryover, a point of use desiccant style air dryer may be required. Similarly, if the compressed air piping is run outside the building and exposed to temperatures lower than a +3°C PDP, a desiccant dryer is almost certainly required to prevent the pipes freezing and moisture reaching the points of use outdoors. Desiccant dryers are manufactured in a multitude of design formats with varying regeneration methods and PDP’s available for your consideration. We strongly suggest that you seek professional assistance when selecting desiccant dryers. The biggest expense associated with this type of dryer will be the cost of ownership, and experts can help to select the best make and model for your application(s).

Removing liquid oil is also a must, in every type of application. The list of potential failures, which can result from oil contamination within a compressed air system, is very comprehensive. But trust us when we say that oil removal is vitally important. The market place is flooded with cheap imported filters today, and your focus should be on the efficiency % that manufacturers state that their filters will remove contaminants, and not the price tag. As a rule of thumb, you will get what you pay for, and it’s a case of “pay me now, or pay me much more later”. When installing or replacing filters, mark your calendar, or maintenance schedule to remind you to change the filter element at least once per year.

A large “dry” air receiver storage tank vessel is a one time investment, that will assist in saving Hydro, slowing the velocity of compressed air speed, and flow, while maintaining a stable system pressure, when tanks and piping are engineered and sized correctly. The minimum compressed air storage vessel will be 3 gallons of storage for every 1 cfm of compressed air volume. In a 1,000 cfm system, the storage tanks should equate to at least 3,000 gallons of storage volume.

Flow meters, Master controllers, Sequencers, Sigma Air Managers, (SAM), Air Main Charging Valves and many other devices are available to optimize the efficiency of the compressed air system at your facility.

Some great considerations for why you might invest in this type of accessory might include:

  • Data collection, after all - you can’t improve what you don’t measure.
  • Hydro cost analysis from the data collected.
  • Sequencing the run times and lead/lag/stand by compressor fleet to ensure equal run times per year.
  • System pressure control and sustainability.
  • Remote system monitoring of alarms and maintenance prompts, or annunciations.
  • Protecting filters and dryers from overload and downstream equipment from contaminants.

The removal of unwanted contaminants is relatively simplistic and requires little or no attention from one year to the next if things are monitored and maintained correctly.

Compressed air oil/water condensate discharge, however, creates a slightly more complex challenge, due to the liquid oil content that will be discharged from an oil lubricated air compressor system.

If the drains and sewers at your facility are treated on site, you may choose to treat your own compressed air effluent on site. Its important to understand that 95% of the oil/water condensate will be water, only 5% will be oil. This still exceeds most municipal limits, and therefore an oil/water condensate management separator system is required. Often abbreviated to CMS, or OWS, the condensate manager requires no electricity, and only annual service. Kaeser’s newly designed KCF range exceeds all of the Ontario discharge limits, purifying condensate discharge to exemplary levels, suitable for discharge directly to a floor drain, or City sewer. 

Final considerations will be the distribution pipework, and to help you make the correct selection, here are a few pointers to consider:

  • Pipe materials.
  • The majority of pipe installations we install today are Blue Aluminum Smart Pipe Plus. This product is powder coated Blue, so its easily identified, in the ceiling space, as compressed air pipe.
  • It never corrodes internally.
  • Its as light as a feather, so there is no major weight load added to the roof structure.
  • Should you relocate a pipe run, or your entire operation, Smart Pipe + can be disassembled and everything can be re purposed in a new location.
  • Pipe diameter. Avoid under sizing pipe diameters in an attempt to save money. The compressor motor energy exerted to overcome the piping pressure drop will far exceed any cost cutting exercise, at the front end, in the long run.
  • Ensure your installer has TSSA approval. The system maybe shutdown if it is installed without the correct TSSA approvals and CRN document and test criteria in place.
  • Create a pipe loop, or ring main, to ensure that all of the users and points of use receive equal and stable pressure, wherever they are located in the pipe network.

Need help?

Air Solutions Canada offers pre-owned, new and rental compressors, with both electrically and diesel-driven options.


Contact Us

When you speak to us, ask for an Air Demand Analysis. It will give you the performance data of your current compressed air system and show the savings you can generate. We offer a performance guarantee - if we don’t identify inefficiencies within your system which are equivalent to the cost of the ADA study, then the study will be free! And in the meantime, download the Ultimate Guide on Rightsizing your Compressed Air System. You can stop being frustrated that they were over promised and under delivered, and instead be confident with a radically different solution that serves your needs better at a lower cost. 


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