We will now look at what compressed air is, what it is used for, and where we find it. Compressed air is a form of stored energy which is used to operate machinery, equipment or a process. It is a safe and reliable power source widely used throughout industry - in fact approximately 70% of all companies use compressed air for some aspects of their operations, which makes it a very widely used utility.
Unlike other utilities such as water, electricity or gas, compressed air is produced at the customer site and this gives the customer more control over the usage and generation of the energy source.
You may ask what is compressed air and why would we use compressors? Why would we use compressed air instead of electricity or hydraulics? It takes a large amount of energy to produce the compressed air, so what is the real benefit when 3/4 quarters of the total cost over the lifetime of the compressor will be for electricity consumed? Compressed air is very versatile and safe which gives it a significant advantage over other energy sources.
It is very easily transported: Air can be very easily moved using a compressed air network
It is easily stored: Air receivers can be used to store the compressed air until it is required for use.
It’s clean: we can use filtration to remove contaminants.
It’s dry: we can use dryers to remove the moisture from the air.
It’s safe to use: one of the main benefits of compressed air as an energy source is that it’s very safe to use.
It does not cause interference with critical processes: It’s explosion proof - there is no risk of fires from the use of compressed air.
It’s overload proof: compressed air cannot be put into an overload condition, like electricity.
It’s fast to use: the use of quick connection couplings ensures compressed air is delivered with speed to the point of use.
It is used to power rotary equipment and tools such as drills or screwdrivers. It can drive conveyor belts reciprocating or impact equipment. It can be used to atomise, spray, sandblast agitate or cool. The applications are practically endless; below we have listed some of the many applications of compressed air for some of the different industry sectors.
In the automotive industry compressed air can be used to inflate tyres, vaporise and propel paint through paint guns, power robots, clean metal surfaces such as car components. Air operated robots can be controlled on the assembly line. Compressed air is used for plasma cutting and welding and is used to assist the cutting or welding speed and reliability. Compressed air can be used to operate paint pumps in highly volatile environments.
In the construction industry compressed air is mixed with products such as coal dust to cause fluidisation allowing for easy material handling and conveying. Reverse jet filtration cleaning is a process in the construction industry where compressed air is used for reverse air jet purging to keep filters clean and reduce down time. Pneumatic drilling, ramming or piling machines all use compressed air. It can be used with hydraulic power to operate mining tools and drills in stone and mineral quarries, mines. It is also an excellent alternative for ramming steel structures and piling road barriers.
It is also used in concrete spraying which is used to fix rocky hills to avoid landslides as well as being used in the construction of tunnels. Compressed air is used for control systems to operate the opening and closing of valves for air-conditioning. It can be used as an ignition free medium to power tools in mines, where safety is paramount. It’s also used for sand and shot-blasting to clean ship hulls, oil tanks, bridges and other steel structures. The fact that compressed is a safe spark free energy medium, means that in some applications like off-shore and gas it is the only option to use where there are highly flammable risks.
Compressed air is used widely in the F&B industry for a range of applications starting with packaging processes as well as in conveying systems to move food and ingredients.
It is used in machines that fill products such as cakes pies and liquid products, compressed air is generated to operate diaphragm pumps to move liquid products in the production and filling process. Oil-free air which is completely pure often comes into contact with the process it serves on food production lines, so in this case we have an energy source which makes direct contact with the food itself, like Air knives where compressed air is used as a clean medium for cutting or peeling products such as fruit or onions.
Compressed air is filtered to produce nitrogen which is used for packaging. Nitrogen can also be produced at the customer site in the compressed air using a nitrogen generator.
For further reading about compressed air applications in the food and beverage industry, please click here.
Listed below are some further manufacturing applications at a glance, for more in depth reading about the diverse range of compressed air applications, please read some of the CompAir case studies showing real compressed air applications by existing CompAir customers.
Smelting plants - used for cranes on the lifting gantries and air operated lifting equipment like compact air hoists can be used for multitude of lifting operations.
Painting - used to vaporize paint so it can be applied to components and products.
Cooling and heating - used in a vortex tube to create high volumes of cool air for industrial processes. The tubes can also be reversed-flowed to produce high temperature air used and heating processes.
Cleaning - it’s used for cleaning by blasting with pressurized air.
Welding - used for cooling during the welding process
Paper pressing - used in cylinders for a range pressing applications
Printing - used for operation of printing pumps and equipment
Military and civilian simulators use compressed air to operate actuated cylinders to deliver precise movement to mimic high-speed movements in aircraft.
To read more about the different industries who use compressed air in their processes click here.