Thursday, September 15

Compressed Air Piping

Compressed air piping can come in all shapes, sizes and makes to accomplish one main task: transporting pressurized air to its designated destination. There are a multitude of factors to consider when choosing the right piping for your applications.

TYPES OF PIPE

METAL

Metal piping is the popular choice for compressed air systems due to their strength, resistance to breakage, and lack of degradation from lubricant contact. Because metal piping boasts these benefits, it is also more expensive and can take longer to install- but they will last a long time and there are many options to choose from   

BLACK IRON PIPES

  • Black iron piping was the old standard for compressed air piping, so it is common to see it in many older facilities. While it is a strong and durable material it is also very heavy, difficult to cut/join, susceptible to corrosion and leaks, and common to rust causing major blockages.

GALVANIZED STEEL PIPES

  • Galvanized steel sees all the similar pros and cons as black iron with the exception being that galvanized steel has a significant reduction in the corrosion factor. Galvanized steel is a popular option in todays compressed air piping world, however, it will eventually degrade overtime causes the coating inside to flake off and enter the air lines.

STAINLESS STEEL PIPES

  • Stainless steel pipe is the most expensive steel/iron piping choice due to its high durability, resistance to corrosion, and long-lasting nature. Stainless steel pipe cannot corrode like galvanized steel or black iron; thus, rust and other dangerous particles cannot enter the air stream this way. Stainless steel is very heavy and does produce some difficulty when cutting and working with it- requiring professional, specialized installers. Stainless steel is prone to leakage around the joints as well.

COPPER PIPES

  • Copper pipe, like stainless steel, are corrosion free piping materials. They will not corrode and thus contaminate the inside of your compressed air piping. Copper pipe tends to be lighter and easier to install than stainless steel and uses standard fittings and joining techniques- but a skilled plumber or welder is still required to install and adjust the piping system. However, the cost of copper is high and is continuing to rise over the years making it a less popular choice in recent compressed air piping designs.

ALUMINUM PIPES

  • Aluminum piping is the new fan favorite in the compressor world. It is immensely lighter than iron piping, has no erosion factor, provides high leak prevention, and is easy to install. Most aluminum piping comes in modular styles that can easily be installed and changed to adapt to your unique facility. Because no welding or threading needs to be done, there are generally less permits and specialized trainings that need to be completed to install this pipe.

 

*PLASTIC PIPES

In general, plastic piping is very lightweight, non-corrosive, cheap, and, therefore, easy to install. Different plastics vary in makes and durability, but all produce a high risk of the material exploding when containing compressed air. 

  • PVC and CPVC piping are NOT OSHA-Approved for compressed air systems and are thus illegal to use in your compressed air applications. Although these pipes are incredibly easy to work with and highly cost-effective, they will degrade rapidly and cannot withstand the high-pressure that compressed air creates.
  • ABS, PE, and HDPE are plastic piping materials that are more durable than PVC and CPVC. They are also lightweight and easy to work with, but they are more preventative against corrosion, unlike PVC pipe. However, plastic piping will never match the strength and durability that a metal piping can provide.

*Plastic or PVC pipe of any kind is not recommended nor endorsed by Zorn Compressor & Compressed Air Best Practices. Whether it is used in a home garage or industrial settings, these materials are prone to causing harm due to high risk of explosion.

 

DESIGN BASICS

Think of your compressed air piping system as roads on a map. The longer the road you take, the longer it’ll take to reach your destination. The more turns and bends you take, the more you will have to slow down. The same concept applies to air traveling through your piping.

PIPE LAYOUT

Two important aspects of your piping layout are how the pipe is physically installed and where it is physically located in your facility. Your piping should avoid sharp corners and bends that could reduce the amount of air passing through at a give time. Similarly, connectors need to be properly placed along the piping so that leaks can be minimized. In general, straightening the path of your pipes will allow you to produce more pressurized air and thus provide the best output. Regarding your piping’s location, you want to avoid humid parts of your facility that could increase risk of erosion and rust. You also want to avoid keeping pipe outside during the freezing cold months as freezing can occur. Your piping should also be clear of any objects that could interfere with them.

PIPE SIZING

The size of your pipe is determined by the volume and velocity of the air you need for your specific application. In general, piping is sized to the same diameter as your connection to the compressor outlet- however there are some exceptions so having an expert assess your system is always best! Sometimes having the same diameter size as the compressor outlet connector can cause pressure loss.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

It is no secret that compressed air uses a lot of energy, so it is very important to maximize all efficiencies possible. One of the easiest ways to do this is through your piping design as compressed air piping is one of the most energy-efficient and affordable options within the piping world. Avoiding leaks by using strong materials and properly placed connections is the first key to maximizing energy efficiency. Cooling the intake air is the second way to maximize energy efficiency. As air travels through the piping system, its temperature can change. Therefore, it is important to keep your piping in areas that are not overly hot or cold. Reducing the length of the path will also mitigate the risk of temperature changes. Cool air takes less energy to compress than warm air.

RISK FACTORS

PRESSURE DROP

The difference in air pressure that is observed between the compressed air distribution system and when the air comes out is defined as pressure drop. As air moves through the piping system. The tendency is for the pressure to reduce- but this can be controlled and prevented by correct pipe sizing. Longer, smaller piping makes it more difficult for air to pass through, also leading to more pressure drops. 

To prevent pressure drops, you always want to use compressor piping that is large enough to account for possible pressure losses. Minimizing elbows and bends will also lessen the likelihood of pressure drops. In general, the more air needed, the larger the pipes should be. Pressure drop will inevitably occur, however, to operate at maximum efficiency, this loss should be kept to 10% or less.

LEAKS

Your compressed air piping should never be leaking air. This is obviously very bad for operating costs and generating revenue with your compressed air operations. Loose connecting pieces are one large area that can cause compressed air leaks and thus decreasing your plant’s efficiency. Cheap materials also are prone to cracks that will cause leaks in your system.

There are a few ways you can detect leaks in your system. Sometimes if the leak is large enough, you can hear the hissing sound as you walk by it. If you can not personally identify where a leak is coming from, you can use an ultrasonic acoustic detector to pinpoint where the leak is coming from by picking up the high-frequency noise waves the leak is producing. Zorn Compressor & Equipment has trained professionals that will come to your facility and use this technology to perform a leak detection on your system.

SHORT LIFE SPAN

Your compressed air piping system is like the important arteries that keep your heart pumping. Because of this, you want to make sure you use the highest quality materials possible to maximize your system’s lifespan. To start- PVC is not meant for compressed air and will crack and eventually break very quickly. You will also want to avoid black iron as it corrodes rapidly from the inside and outside. This not only weakens your pipe, but also affects the quality of the air traveling through it. The best choices for compressed air are galvanized steel, copper, stainless steel, and aluminum. Each type has their own advantages and disadvantages depending on your specific application.

 

ZORN'S PROMISE

Zorn is the Midwest leader of custom, engineered compressed air and vacuum solutions. We provide the best customer experience by understanding your applications and needs and offering an unparalleled commitment to customer satisfaction. 

Our comprehensive product and service solutions keep you running 24/7.

  • Reliable equipment
  • Trusted brands
  • Seamless, easy installation
  • Post-sales support
  • Local, 24/7 service

Our compressed air experts look forward to meeting you to discuss your equipment and support needs. Please contact us directly at (262) 695-7000 with any questions or to schedule service for your system moving forward.

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