Compressed air is critical to the success of every industrial facility. Without it, production comes to a halt and customer expectations aren’t met. Reliability and the ability to meet peak demand are essential, so it all comes down to compressed air system design.

Seeking the Lowest Total Cost

Designing a compressed air system would be straightforward if demand was constant, but unfortunately, it never is. The larger the plant, the wider the swings are between baseline and peak demand. This makes optimizing compressor capacity, air receiver capacity, and distribution pipework a complex task.

It’s easy to design an oversized and expensive system that has no trouble satisfying peak demand, but it’s possible that even this system will become unreliable as components endure duty cycles far from their original design specifications. With a well-designed system, every piece of equipment has just enough compressed air to run efficiently whenever called upon.

Distributed vs. Centralized Systems

When a compact area is being served, a centralized system is the best choice – it’s simpler and less expensive to install. It will also likely be more efficient, more reliable and easier to maintain.

However, as a facility grows larger and more complex, the case for a decentralized system becomes stronger. In a decentralized system, air is compressed close to where it’s needed. Benefits include:

  • Shorter pipe runs — less pressure drop, fewer opportunities for leaks and less waste
  • Increased flexibility – If some areas of the plant run a single shift while others operate 24/7, why provide air everywhere? In a decentralized system, it’s possible to deliver air only where it’s needed. This can have a significant impact on running costs.

10 Design Guidelines

Now that you understand the type of system that you need to design, keep the following guidelines in mind when you begin the process:

  1. Understand demand. Consider a flow monitor, which can be useful for logging consumption patterns.
  2. Determine supply requirements. Most operations want clean and dry air, but you should also identify any specific needs. Note the facility size and location of major users.
  3. Evaluate ambient conditions. This includes elevation, relative humidity and dust.
  4. Determine facility temperatures. Especially in a large facility, pipes can pass through areas where temperatures vary widely. They can even be buried underground or placed near a roof. All of this can be managed, but it needs to be identified first.
  5. Choose the most valuable system layout. A loop helps reduce pressure drops but requires additional piping. A straight type of system is typically cheaper to install.
  6. Size pipes for demand and distance. Remember that pushing air through a long thin pipe requires a large amount of compression.
  7. Size the storage. The air receiver should be sized to handle peak demand. Avoid excessive compressor cycling, which can occur if the receiver is a poor match. Note that storage is only effective if there is a differential pressure between storage and the points of use. Use of CAM Demand Expanders and Regulators are essential to providing proper system storage.
  8. Identify future maintenance needs. Incorporating bypass sections during construction makes later maintenance much easier. This is also a good time to consider accessibility of key components and possible future expansion.
  9. Select pipe material. Aluminum is a popular choice because it’s lightweight and easy to shape, but it is more expensive than steel. Keep in mind that surface finish affects pressure drop.
  10. Evaluate how modern flow control technologies can help improve system performance and lower costs.

Benefit From Our Experience

Designing an efficient compressed air system is a complex task. While you can try calculating and modeling demand, there’s always an element of unpredictability. Someone with experience of designing such systems knows the traps and pitfalls to avoid. That’s why it makes sense to partner with the specialists at CAM Technologies. We can help you design a system that’s efficient, reliable and cost-effective. Call or email for more information.

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