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Service, Parts & Maintenance
Air Treatment

Drop the Pressure Drops: Optimize Piping Configuration

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Note: This is an updated version of our 2015 post, “Drop the Pressure Drops: Optimize Piping Configuration.”

The biggest single cost associated with producing compressed air is the energy required to power the compressor. In fact, compressed air can consume up to 40% of the total energy a facility consumes on an annual basis!  Therefore, maximizing compressed air energy efficiency is the smartest thing a facility can do to save money over the long term – and this doesn’t only mean purchasing an energy-efficient compressor, but includes taking equipment like compressed air piping into consideration.

Too often, piping is the last thing considered when implementing a compressor system, even though it can make or break your compressor system’s efficiency. Getting the compressed air from its point of origin to its end-use in the most efficient way possible, selecting the best piping material for your application, and spending time on piping maintenance are essential to a well-organized and well-functioning compressed air system.

How to Maximize Compressed Air Efficiency through Piping Configuration

The two main layouts of piping are loop and straight. Loop style piping is best suited for relatively square plants. The air can flow through the pipes and drop down to each point of use. A straight header pipe with branches can be used in longer, narrower plants. These are less expensive than loop distribution. Using a piping layout ill-suited to your plant’s design can lead to unnecessary pressure drops or increased costs from extra piping. Obstructions, sharp angles, and the moisture also will impact the speed and quantity of compressed air flow.

Piping Material Choice Matters

Even though there are more efficient options available, much of the manufacturing industry still uses galvanized iron, or “black iron,” for compressed air piping systems. Black iron is very heavy and difficult to install and unfortunately, begins to rust as soon as it is installed, causing leaks in the system. Because couplings and elbows in the black iron system must be threaded together, finding and fixing leaks involves taking large runs of piping apart. Therefore, fixing leaks in a black iron system becomes a huge undertaking and leaks are often ignored, even though they can cost the largest facilities tens of thousands of dollars every year.

Aluminum piping virtually eliminates the corrosion seen in black iron or galvanized steel systems, making it a more efficient choice for piping material. The smooth inner bore allows air to pass through the pipe with less resistance, reducing pressure drops. This smooth transfer of air makes aluminum piping more cost effective than black iron at the outset and the energy saving benefits continue over the lifetime of the system. Plus, installation of aluminum piping takes about one-third of the time it takes to install a traditional system. And, due to the significantly lighter weight, it is easy to take apart and reconfigure if a facility’s compressed air system grows or changes over time.

Compressed Air Piping Needs Maintenance, Too

The optimization of compressed air piping goes beyond just the material used for the piping system or the system design. Undersized or oversized piping, clogged filters, and system leaks can create significant artificial demand, as can lack of foresight when planning for future facility expansions. Checking the system pressure, identifying and addressing maintenance issues, and installing a bypass pipe (so that compressed air can continue to be transported through the system while maintenance occurs) are smarter and more efficient ways to operate.

Interested in learning more? Check out the latest in compressed air piping by http://info.atlascopco.us/airnet-time-to-look-up!

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