Do your operations screech to a halt when all the air-powered equipment in your factory is used at the same time? Stoppages due to insufficient volume or pressure suggest the compressed air system was poorly designed.

Many facilities think good design is just a matter of running piping to where it’s needed. However, while the system might run, it’s probably inefficient and costing more than it should.

With that in mind, here are five common design mistakes in compressed air systems and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1. Failing to assess the volume of air needed. Specifications for air-powered equipment list both minimum pressure and minimum volume in cubic feet per minute (cfm) needed. If the equipment doesn’t get both, chances are, it won’t run or operate as expected.

How to Avoid it: Start by calculating total cfm needed and identifying minimum pressure. Confirm piping can meet the volume requirements and design the layout to minimize pressure drops – loop systems are often a good choice. Use CAM Demand Expanders or pressure regulators to avoid delivering more air than particular items require.

Mistake #2. Wrong-sizing the air receiver. When air-powered equipment is turned on, line pressure drops. The compressor needs time to react to this demand, so an air receiver ensures there’s sufficient air available.

How to Avoid it: Consult an expert to determine the optimal size receiver for your system. The receiver must hold enough air to meet peak demand while the compressor spools up. Too small, and you’re starving the tools. Too big, and the compressor may hardly run. Note that storage is only effective if there is a differential between the stored pressure and the point of use pressure. There are two main types of storage in a compressed air system: system storage and point of use storage. Both must be engineered for events and the corresponding compressor response.

Mistake #3. Incorrectly sizing the compressor. If your compressor runs all the time, it’s not keeping the air receiver charged, costing you money and wearing out the compressor. When the compressor is too large for the system, it runs only briefly to recharge the receiver. That says you’ve spent too much on compressor capacity and it could lead to reliability problems and poor efficiency.

How to Avoid it: Don’t make a quick decision on your compressor size. Take the time to figure out the precise need for your facility. Consult with experts if needed.

Mistake #4. Excessive pressure drops. The compressor might deliver 120 psi, but what do the tools at the end of pipe runs get? Friction between flowing air and pipe walls saps pressure from the system. Tight turns and tees take out more, as can quick-disconnect fittings.

How to Avoid it: To help guarantee you get enough psi where it’s needed:

  • Minimize the length of pipe runs
  • Use large diameter pipe
  • Avoid tight radii
  • Use threaded joints

Mistake #5. Omitting a Demand Expander controller. This is a fast-acting controller and valve. As air consumption rises, it opens progressively, allowing more air into the piping. This minimizes pressure drops and ensures each piece of equipment gets both the cfm and psi needed. When consumption drops, the flow controller quickly reduces the flow to stop line pressure going higher than needed. The reservoir isn’t depleted as quickly, and the compressor is able to recharge it faster.

How to avoid it Research your options when choosing automation controllers for your system. A full system audit from an expert may help you to better understand what your system needs to be fully optimized.

Get Help to Optimize System Design

It’s easy to make mistakes when designing a compressed air system. These errors lead to unnecessarily high purchase and installation costs, along with excess energy consumption and inefficient operation. The optimal system minimizes total costs and maximizes performance, but achieving that takes in-depth expertise.

The specialists at CAM Technologies have spent years working with compressed air. We can help design and install a system to meet your needs. Call or email CAM Technologies for more information.

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