Compressed Air in the Manufacturing Industry

Nov 03, 2023

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Industrial air compressors are an essential part of the manufacturing environment. Often called “the fourth utility,” compressed air acts as a reliable, quick, and safe energy source for various industrial applications such as powering factory machinery, automation, assembly, cleaning, and quality control processes. Here’s how compressed air systems are used in manufacturing and what kinds of equipment to look for.

Uses of Compressed Air In Manufacturing

Industrial air compressors are a safe and versatile power source for the industrial sector. Air compressor systems are widely used throughout the manufacturing industry, including automotive, food and beverage, textiles, electronics, plastics, and general fabrication. Here are some common industrial applications of compressed air in manufacturing plants.

Uses of Compressed Air In Manufacturing
  • Automation: Pressurized air powers automated assembly lines and pneumatic robots in manufacturing facilities.
  • Assembly Lines: Various hand-held and stationary air-powered tools used on the assembly line (such as screwdrivers, nail guns, impact wrenches and other tools) use compressed air.
  • Material Handling: Compressed air is often used in vacuum lifters, roller coasters, slide gates and pneumatic conveyor systems on the production line to move raw materials, parts or finished goods.
  • Painting: Spray painting equipment utilizes compressed air to atomize paint, providing an even coating on products for both protective and aesthetic purposes.
  • Cooling processes: In machining processes that generate significant heat, compressed air is used to cool down the workpiece or cutting tool.
    Packaging: Compressed air operates machines that seal, label, and package goods for shipping.
  • Plastics: Compressed air is used to inflate soft plastics in blow molding and for other processes such as thermoforming, injection molding and extrusion.
  • Filter Pulsing: Industrial dust collectors and air filtration systems often use compressed air to pulse excess dust off filters and extend filter life.
  • Fermentation: Pressurized air may be used for sparging (bubbling) in industrial aerobic fermentation processes.
  • Control systems: Industrial compressors and air compressor systems are used to operate automated valves cylinders and actuators in industrial systems.
  • Air curtains: Pressurized air may be used in an industrial setting to maintain an air curtain to regulate temperatures or maintain clean areas in manufacturing plants.
  • Cleaning processes: Compressed air is sometimes used for cleaning processes, for example to air clean food products or electronics.

Compressed Air Equipment for Manufacturing

Both rotary screw and reciprocating air compressors are used in manufacturing plants. A complete compressed air system will also include air dryers, coolers, inline filters, and other peripheral equipment. The type of industrial air compressor and air treatment options will depend on the application for compressed air.  

Rotary Screw Air Compressors

Rotary screw air compressors offer many advantages for  industrial use, including reliability, efficiency, and suitability for continuous operation. Rotary screw compressors can run 24/7 and produce large volumes of air continuously, making them ideal for industrial processes that require a constant air supply. They are also generally quieter and require less maintenance, which are significant advantages in a commercial setting. 

Reciprocating Air Compressors 

Reciprocating air compressors are commonly used in smaller-scale manufacturing operations or for tasks that don’t require continuous air supply. A reciprocating air compressor is cost effective and relatively easy to maintain, making it a practical choice for many smaller or specialized manufacturing setups.

Air Treatment

Compressed air used in manufacturing will usually require treatment to remove moisture, particulate and oil from supply air. Air treatment will depend on the purity requirements for compressed air. Air used for general applications such as powering air tools will not require the same purity as process air used in the pharmaceutical industry or for food production, for example. Air treatment equipment for compressed air includes: 

Air Distribution System

Air Distribution System

Factories will also require a compressed air distribution system to carry compressed air to each of the places where it is needed. Properly sized and well-maintained distribution systems ensure that machinery and tools receive the right pressure and volume of air they need to operate effectively.

Air Storage

Storage is a crucial element in compressed air systems, providing a buffer to meet fluctuating demand and ensure consistent supply. Air storage tanks, often called receivers, can help stabilize pressure variations and enhance the efficiency of the entire compressed air system. 

Other Compressed Air System Components

Additional components of the compressed air system may include:  

    Considerations in Compressed Air System Design in Manufacturing

    Considerations in Compressed Air System Design in Manufacturing

    Designing a compressed air system for manufacturing involves several important considerations to ensure efficiency, reliability, and safety. Here are some key factors. 

    • CFM Requirements: How much airflow (in Cubic Feet per Minute, or CFM) is required to meet all application requirements? Air compressor systems must be designed to meet peak air demand without compromising efficiency during periods of low usage. Sizing the air compressor and storage tanks appropriately is essential.
    • Pressure Requirements: What air pressure (in Pounds per Square Inch, or PSI) is required to run pneumatic tools and machinery? For general manufacturing applications, plant pressure of around 100 PSI is usually adequate. Reducing pressure to the minimum PSI required will save energy and money. 
    • Air Purity Requirements: Air quality requirements will influence the choice of compressors, filters, and dryers used for air treatment. 
    • Energy Efficiency: Design the system to minimize energy consumption. Choosing energy-efficient compressors (such as a Variable Speed Drive air compressor) and dryers can lead to significant energy and cost savings. It may also be more efficient to have several smaller compressors rather than one large one. 
    • Reliability and Redundancy: How critical is the air compressor for operations? Factories may want to have backup compressors and other redundant systems to minimize downtime events.
    • Maintenance: Ease of maintenance, especially in remote or hard-to-access locations, is an essential consideration. The system should be designed to facilitate regular checks and quick replacements.

    When Are Oil-Free Air Compressors Needed for Manufacturing? 

    When Are Oil-Free Air Compressors Needed for Manufacturing?

    Oil-free compressors are sometimes used in manufacturing processes with strict standards for air purity, such as the food industry (e.g., dairy machines), pharmaceutical industry, and electronics. Oil-free compressors may be recommended in applications where even trace amounts of oil could compromise the end product or breach compliance regulations. However, it is often possible to meet even stringent air purity standards using the right inline filtration strategy. 

    Manufacturing Solutions from Fluid-Aire Dynamics

    If you are looking for a compressed air company for manufacturing, trust Fluid-Aire Dynamics. We have decades of experience in designing, installing, and maintaining reliable compressed air systems for all kinds of manufacturing operations. We can help you design a system for maximum reliability, efficiency and performance. We also offer 24/7 air compressor repair for manufacturers. 

    Contact an Aire expert today.

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