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Compressed Air System Design | Air Compressor Systems Design

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Design & Engineering of CDA (Clean Dry AirSystem. Inadequate or poorly designed compressed air distribution systems can lead to low productivity, poor air tool performance and perhaps more importantly, high energy bills. In order for a compressed air system to operate properly and cost effectively, it should be carefully designed to meet the needs of your business or Air Compressor Installation.

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As part of the design process, there are 6 items which should be considered and factored into the final system design for a Compressed Air System to give optimum results at maximum efficiency.

The 6 items include demand, compressed air quality, supply, storage, distribution and control or management and all six must work together for the system to achieve top performance levels. 

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  1. Compressed Air Demand: To determine the demand for new systems, the operating pressure requirements and duty cycle of individual equipment should be considered. Compressed air consumers are rated by the manufacturer for optimum performance at a certain pressure and air flow rate. To design a system that delivers uniform pressure, it is necessary to ensure all tools and equipment work efficiently within a narrow pressure range. However, if this is not achievable, the system can be designed to operate at a higher pressure and user regulators to reduce the pressure as required. A booster can also be added to increase pressure for any specific applications requiring higher pressures.
  2. Compressed Air Quality: The quality of compressed air is determined by measuring three main contaminants which include water vapor content as measured by pressure dew point temperature, oil content as measured by concentration and finally, solid particles as measured by the concentration of by their size. The level of contamination is influenced by the type of compressor, dryer, filtration and other related components. It’s no surprise then that the higher the air quality required, the more expensive the equipment. The International Standard document ISO-8573-1 provides a classification system for the main contaminants of a compressed air system and identifies how other contaminants can be identified in addition to the classification system.
    • Compressed air for power-tool usage, sand blasting, pneumatic pumps etc is a relatively low-grade quality where water, oil or solid particles in the air are more of an annoyance than a major concern.
    • Compressed air for instrumentation is a higher quality which is used in more sensitive areas where water or particulates could contribute to significant quality issues in the process. Paint spraying and powder coating are good examples of such a process where contaminants will ultimately affect final product quality. This classification of compressed air would be filtered for solids particles and oil and dried to a higher standard to that of compressed air for say, power-tools.
    • Process air is often used in food or drug production. Compressed air for use under these circumstances would need to be completely oil-free with almost negligible water vapor.
    • Higher quality compressed air is used in hospitals or for diving applications where the air must be of a quality suitable for safe breathing.
  3. Compressed Air Supply: The compressed air supply must match the compressed air demand. If the supply, storage, or distribution system are not optimized. Excessive pressure fluctuations can occur resulting in increased operating costs and reduced productivity.


    Many compressors are controlled by the line pressure. An increase in demand results in a drop in line pressure which is then rectified by an increase in the output of the compressor(s). A rise in line pressure, therefore, indicates a reduction in downstream demand which causes a reduction in compressor output. There are various forms of compressor control which can be utilized to manage such system operating conditions.

  4. Compressed Air Storage: The provision of sufficient storage is vital and represents available energy that can be utilized and replenished as required and at any time. The air receiver tank generally provides the bulk of the total storage capacity. In some cases, the compressor controls depend on storage to limit maximum cycling frequency when the demand is below 100% of supply. A correctly sized tank will prevent excessive cycling.

    Correctly sized receiver tanks can also provide sufficient storage capacity for any peaks in demand. During peaks demand periods, a poorly designed system can experience a drop in pressure as air in excess of system capacity is drawn from the system. As not all compressors in a multi-compressor system remain online at all times, the actual air supply at any time can be less than the total system capacity. During the time required to bring additional compressors online, the stored compressed air can be used to prevent any pressure drop in the system. 

  5. Compressed Air Distribution: An ideal distribution system provides a sufficient supply of compressed air to all demand points at the required pressure. Inadequate or poorly designed compressed air distribution systems can lead to low productivity, poor equipment performance and high energy bills. When designing a compressed air system, it is therefore good practice to consider the factors which help improve the efficiency and reliability of the compressors and ancillary equipment, minimise leakage and pressure drops and improve compressor life-cycle cost. In general, there are three demands imposed on a compressed air distribution system; low-pressure drop between the compressor and most remote demand point, minimum leakage from the distribution pipework and efficient condensate separation if a compressed air dryer is not included in the system.
  6. Compressed Air Control & Management:

    Best practices for better Compressed Air Control and Management include:

    • Position one air receiver near the compressor to provide a steady source of control air, additional air cooling and moisture separation. A large storage receiver can be located downstream of the dryer and filters to act as a buffer for demand surges and controlled by a flow controller.
    • Compressors should be positioned in a clean, dry, cool and well-ventilated room. Ensure there is sufficient room around the compressors and equipment for proper air flow. Manufacturer’s will often specify the minimum spacing required around compressors.
    • Piping in a loop is recommended will all piping sloped to accessible drain points. Air outlets should be taken from the top of the main lines to prevent moisture entering the outlet.
    • Under average conditions, every 100 cfm of air compressed to 100 psig (6.89 barg) produces approximately 20 gallons (75.7 litres) of condensate per day which needs to be treated.
    • The minimum amount of storage recommended is one gallon per cfm of capacity. This should be increased to 4 to 10 gallons per cfm of capacity for systems with sharp changes in demand.