As you mine the internet, you can find a good deal of information about pressure drop, but it is more difficult to find data about how big the air line should be, particularly when pressure drop will reduce the available air pressure at your application.
If you search the web for answers to a question - such as - "how much air will my 3/8" polyethylene tube convey" or "how big an air line do I need to supply my shop equipment" most sites you will eventually find will provide numbers to tell you what the air flow should be through a given orifice diameter. You might assume those same numbers apply to the air flow through the I.D. of your air line. Not so; unfortunately!
Figures that show a specific air flow through an orifice are calculated for flow from the pressure side - through the orifice - and immediately to atmosphere over a very, very short distance. Add some distance, some elbows, some T's, your drop lines, and the flow numbers will change dramatically.
Is the temperature at your location over, at or under 70 deg. F.? Is your location at sea level, or well above it? Depending on the answers, the compressed air flow numbers will change again.
The static pressure, back pressure and turbulence of compressed air through a line and the smoothness of the inner surface of the air line will all contribute to pressure drop which reduces the available pressure and flow at the point of use.
The smaller the air line, the longer the run and the more accessories the compressed air has to flow through to get to the point of use, the more energy is consumed in the flowing process.
For example, you might supply 100 PSI into the air line at the discharge of the compressor tank and by the time that compressed air gets to your air tool, you've only got 70 PSI of available air pressure left!
Some quotations first, if I may...
Source: Hank van Ormer, Don van Ormer and Scott van Ormer are owners of AirPower USA, Pickerington, Ohio.
Source: "There's a Gremlin in your air system. Its name is turbulence," pg 37, Plant Services, July 2002.
The backpressure referred to in the second quotation results in a loss of available, usable air pressure and flow at your application.
As a general rule, you should try to make the main air lines large enough that there is a minimal amount of pressure drop from the compressor discharge port up to the ceiling mounted ring main, even after that compressed air has passed through the after compressor filter, driers or any other air treatment equipment that you may have installed. Consider a pressure drop of 1-3 PSI as minimal.
Then, as that air moves through the drop lines, through the filters, regulators, lubricators and any point-of-use air line driers you may have in line, and then on to your application, again, we size the air lines themselves to generate minimal air pressure drop to that device.
To deal with air line pressure drop, some folks just opt for cranking up the compressor discharge pressure to overcome the pressure drop in their system and to ensure enough pressure and flow of compressed air at their applications. That is an expensive proposition both in the higher cost of compressing the air and the increased loss of compressed air to atmosphere through leaks. The higher the system pressure, the faster air will leak from the system.
I've tried to make selecting the right sized air line for your shop or plant as easy as possible by providing a simple, two-step process. Here's how!