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Service, Parts & Maintenance
Air Treatment

Five Things to Consider When Designing a Compressed Air Piping System


Piping is a vital component in a compressed air system. Once air is compressed, dried and filtered, it is sent to an end use. Along the way, there is a risk of contamination and pressure drops. Keep these five factors in mind when designing your compressed air piping system to help minimize risk of dirty or poorly pressurized air.

  1. Material: Pipe material plays a key role in determining the quality and pressure of compressed air. Pipes come in a variety of materials including aluminum, iron, copper and plastic. Some materials can be corroded by lubricants from the compression process, leading to leaks and particulates in the air stream. The material of the pipes also affects the pressure loss due to friction. Copper, steel and aluminum are ideal options because all have low friction coefficients. Aluminum is the best choice because it can be easily cut and installed.
  1. Size and Distance: The size (diameter) and distance to point of use in a system have a large influence on air pressure at point of use. Pipes that are too small for the capacity or pressure of airflow may increase the pressure beyond what is safe for the end use application. If your compressor is too far from the point-of-use, the pressure may drop below what is necessary. This can lead to the compressor working beyond its rated capacity, which can cause premature machine wear and more maintenance. An increase of 2 psi at the compressor discharge can lead to an increase of 1 percent in energy requirement, further driving up cost. The pressure from the compressor to the farthest point-of-use should never exceed 10 percent of discharge pressure.
  1. Layout: 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. It’s always best to consult an expert when determining the layout of your piping system.
  1. Temperature: If your compressed air system is extremely large or wide, there is a good chance all the pipes are not housed in the same room. They may pass through other rooms, underground or even outside. Knowing the temperature fluctuations in these areas is important. Extreme heat can wear on pipes, especially when they are exposed to temperatures above their recommended use. Hot pipes can also be dangerous to employees. Temperatures below freezing can lead to frozen condensate within the system.
  1. Maintenance Needs: You should always keep in mind future maintenance needs when planning any part of your compressed air system. This holds true for piping as well. If maintenance needs to be done, a bypass pipe should be in place to continue transporting compressed air throughout the system. This pipe should include a bypass valve so it can be closed once normal operation resumes. Including extra piping can also help if the need for expansion arises, allowing new piping to be easily installed and directed to end uses.

Creating a piping system for your compressed air needs doesn’t have to be difficult. Atlas Copco’s AIRNet piping system is a great solution for your compressed air system that’s fast, easy and reliable and doesn’t result in costly pressure drops or air contamination.


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