Compressed Air

Here is a broad range of general information about compressed air. The more you understand about the use of compressed air as an energy source, likely the better you will be at integrating it into your workshop or plant.

There are three commonly used energy sources for industry. They are:

     - Compressed Air (Fluid Power) Energy
     - Hydraulic (Fluid Power) Energy
     - Electrical Energy

Yet, compressed air is the energy source of choice for doing much of our nation's industrial work. There are good reasons for that.

Compressed air is an energy source that's relatively easy to store, is non-flammable, is very powerful, can generate high speed in a variety of ways including air cylinders and air actuators. Compressed air is extremely versatile in the variety of ways it can be used.

Car tire
For example, compressed air can provide an air cushion upon which we drive our vehicles. The air inside the tire is "pumped" into the it with a manual bicycle type air compressor, or via the compressed air hose from the air compressor that's located somewhere inside the local tire store or corner garage.

Remember when pumping air into your car tire at the gas station was free? Compressed air It still is if you chose to use that hand compressor, the bicycle tire pump. But who wants to do that?

Air Tool
With compressed air you can rough or fine finish the surface of a piece of woodwork, or smooth weldments in steel with an air sander or grinder.

Compressed air is used everywhere.

Portable Compressed Air

Compressed air can be carried anywhere with an appropriate pressure vessel - sometimes called an air hog or air pig.

Compressed air helps people breathe underwater with portable SCUBA tanks, in an environment that is foreign and deadly to them.

If you're one of those folks with an interest in SCUBA, much as there is huge appeal for using Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, this site has to do with industrial and home uses of compressed air.

And as mentioned earlier, compressed air is relatively safe in that it's non-flammable. When you spill compressed air, it doesn't make a mess!

Energy Conversion

Compressed air is able to do work because as you compress air you transform one form of energy into another form of energy which you then store for later use.

This stored energy, in the form of compressed air, is now at imbalance, in that you have an area of high pressure in a compressor tank surrounded by an area of lower pressure; our atmosphere.

Imbalance in Compressed Air

Mother Nature doesn't like imbalance in her systems. If you have a container - an air tank, a receiver, an air-hog or a plant air main filled with compressed air at 150 PSI or so, this bothers her. She wants that air to be back at a nice, comfortable, 14.7 PSI everywhere- that 14.7 PSI being the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level. And she wants high pressure gone right now!

That drive to achieve balance in nature - that is, to get the compressed air from an area of high pressure back to atmospheric pressure, means that when you open the valve on the tank or air line, air will move at almost the speed of sound, rushing from high to low pressure, to get back to normal atmospheric pressure.

By controlling this flow of air, and directing it into tools that in themselves can perform work, then you can extract the work energy from the compressed air energy as it decompresses back to atmospheric levels.

Over the years, we have learned how to use this high-to-low pressure flow of air to do work for us via specialty nozzles, air tools, air actuators, air motors, and so on. Compressed air really is a neat way to store and use energy.

Reduce Fire Risk With Compressed Air

If your application involves manufacturing or processing products that are flammable or explosive, compressed air actuators and air operated directional control valves don't create sparks.

Therefore, fire or explosion risk can be reduced to an acceptable level when using compressed air equipment in almost all flammable operations. Compressed air can be used in applications where other energy forms might blow you to kingdom come!

Compressed Air Has Risk Though

Compressed air can be, and often is, worked with and on by persons without formal training. If that person isn't skilled in using compressed air, it could result in injury or death to them or their colleagues, or cause damaged equipment. Be very careful! Compressed air can be dangerous.

Air Instead Of Hydraulics

If the force you require for your application can be generated by an air compressor using appropriately air valves and actuators, then you would pick compressed air as your energy source over hydraulics simply because compressed air components, from the compressor through to tools, are less expensive.

Using hydraulic energy is more expensive in generation of energy to do work, and in the cost of the components to use hydraulic force. If you don't need the immense pressures and force that hydraulics can give you, it doesn't make sense to pay for that capability. Use compressed air, instead.