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Compressed Air System Efficiency Factors: Air Piping Systems

Air leaks are chief sources of energy loss in manufacturing plants, wasting as much as 20-30% of a compressor’s output. These can promote poor energy efficiency that translates to unnecessary costs. These leaks can cause pressure drops in a system, leading to inefficient equipment performance and low plant productivity. Pressure drops from air leaks can also be consequences of compressed air contamination, bad piping system configuration, poor pipe selection, and interior pipe surface corrosion.

Compressed Air Pipe System A compressed air pipe system is responsible for distributing compressed air from the compressor discharge to the point of use with minimal leakage, loss of pressure, and effect on air quality. Friction and leaks in an air pipe system lead to a pressure drop between compressor output and the final point of use, therefore wasting energy. Energy lost from pipe systems can be avoided with sufficient knowledge in pipe material, design, and layout.

Pipe Material Distribution piping systems can be made of galvanized steel, copper, aluminum, or some specialized plastics, each of which having their own advantages and disadvantages.

Piping systems made of plastic can undergo degradation through UV light. This material can be deformed by high pressures and temperatures. Because it is not as solid as metal, this material can bow and may need more brackets to set-up and support the ring main all over the building. This adds up to installation costs.

Metals can also degrade. For years, copper and black iron have been the most used materials for pipeworks because of their low cost, contractors are more familiar with these, and fittings for the pipe and compressed air system are readily available. However, these materials also pose disadvantages including corrosion problems, costly repairs, and threaded joints that often become a source of leakage. Threading joints need special threading equipment and skilled workers to operate it, thus installation costs can rise up. Higher operating costs also result from leakages with the compressor working overtime to payoff wasted air.

Piping systems made from metals can undergo internal corrosion leading to scaling and pitting on the inside surfaces. Because of the accumulation of corrosion products, moisture, and other contaminants, Inner surface roughness of pipe and fittings increases. Rougher internal diameter means increased pressure drop that brings in additional costs due to reduced compressed air system efficiency.

The ideal material for maximum air flow is lightweight aluminum. Push-to-connect aluminum piping connections remove the need to thread, solder, or glue pipe, avoiding possibility of leaks. This material is corrosion- and mechanical shock- resistant. Lightweight aluminum pipings are also easy to install and modify, and are safe to work with on elevated platforms.


Pipe Sizing A smaller diameter pipe does not exactly mean lower capital cost. Restriction brought about by smaller piping can lead to a greater pressure drop throughout the system. This results to higher energy consumption and costs that may even surpass the price of a larger diameter piping.

As a common rule, calculating pipe diameters must be based on having an air velocity of 19 ft/s max in the main supply line. Velocities of up to 49 ft/s are acceptable for branch lines with a total length below 49 feet. Pipe Layout

Inspecting a pipe system’s layout is important in saving energy. Avoiding possible air leaks involves eliminating elbows, minimizing changes in airflow direction, cutting excessive pipe lengths, isolating unnecessary compressed air piping, and doing away with other constriction.

Keep in mind the following when designing an all compressed air piping system layout: • Diameters of pipe selected should lower pressure drop and permit possible expansion. • Fittings and valves used should reduce airflow restriction. Bends with large radius are favored than elbows. Full-throated valves like ball valves are preferred than gate valves. • Smooth bore pipes can minimize friction. • All piping must be well-supported to reduce movement and sagging. This avoids corrosion and fluid build-up and prolongs a pipe system’s life.

SPECO offers robust compressed air system replacement parts and effective compressor solutions for better maintenance and management of air piping systems. We showcase a wide selection of top quality Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) compressor parts as well as cost-effective replacement parts including fittings, valves, and a whole lot more. Ensure reliable air distribution in your air piping systems. Start by browsing our product portfolio at www.soparts.com/products today!