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Compressed air users are often burdened by the limitations of compressed air pipe systems that traditionally use copper or black iron piping. Common problems with these materials are that they’re difficult to install and modify, provide poor air quality, and can undergo high pressure losses.

Aluminium piping systems can provide solutions to these issues with its innovative design, making installation fast, simple, and economical. This article will provide you with all the relevant information on using aluminum air pipe for compressed air.

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Aluminum Pipe for Compressed Air

Traditionally, engineers have specified a variety of piping materials for compressed air systems including copper, black iron, stainless steel, PVC, and other plastics.

Recently, aluminum piping has become a considerable alternative to these other piping materials that many engineering firms use today. Reduced costs and increased longevity are just two of the many advantages of using aluminum piping to install a compressed air system.

Aluminum pipe for compressed air systems are available in sizes ranging from ½” to 6”, allowing you to reduce your energy costs, increase efficiency and reduce leaks.

Aluminum Pipe for Compressed Air Benefits

There are four important reasons why aluminum is a superior material to use for most compressed air installations. The three are:

  • Lowered installation costs
  • Minimized system leaks
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Aluminum outperforms copper

Now, let’s look at these in more detail!

Lowered Installation Costs

More time is needed to install a compressed air system made using steel pipe compared to a system using aluminum. Steel pipe needs to be threaded to join pipes together and install proper fittings, which requires special threading equipment and skilled workers to operate it, driving up installation costs.

Modifying and maintaining a compressed air system made by aluminum is a lot easier than modifying and maintaining systems built by black iron (steel) pipe. This is because steel pipe is much heavier than aluminum and therefore, requires more labor to handle the piping while making modifications, resulting in higher labor costs.

Minimized System Leaks

Aluminum does not need threaded connections, which are liable to inevitable leaks. According to estimations, it is around 8-10% of compressed air in a system will leak through its connections. This will cause the compressor to run harder and longer to provide the desired amount of air, driving up costs even further.

Corrosion Resistance

Aluminum pipe has brilliant corrosion resistance compared to steel and copper pipe. Moisture inside a steel pipe causes the pipe to rust from the inside out, allowing debris to enter your air stream and potentially damage your entire system along with any tools attached.

Even with a moisture trap attached to your compressed air system, you will still have moisture present, which will leak to corrosion. Even galvanized steel pipe will corrode, as not all pipes are galvanized inside and out.

Corrosion is important to avoid as it can cause several problems, beginning with air flow restricted by a rough inner surface caked with deposits caused by corrosion build up. Loose debris collect over time and create pressure drops, making the air compressor work harder to maintain its system pressure.

It is also possible, in some cases, that the loose debris can completely clog a line or damage the equipment connected. Corrosion and loose debris dramatically affect air quality and therefore make it unsuitable for applications requiring clean air.

Aluminum Outperforms Copper

Copper piping is another solution for compressed air systems as it doesn’t corrode as much as steel pipe, which you can read more about here. Though, it can corrode, but it doesn’t have pipe scaling like steel pipe. This means that copper pipe compressed air systems have fewer air flow problems and air cleanliness problems than steel pipe but can still experience flow restriction over time.

Therefore, aluminum outperforms any copper alternatives. Copper pipes have fittings that must be soldered, causing its own set of problems as soldering requires skill to accomplish along with time. If joints are not soldered properly then you will receive leaks, leading to increased energy costs. Finally, not all types of copper piping are suitable for use with high air pressures.

Why Aluminum Pipe for Compressed Air Systems Over Alternatives?

So, why use aluminum pipe for compressed air instead of other materials like black iron, galvanized steel, copper, stainless and plastics? In recent years, aluminum piping has become a solid alternative to the piping materials mentioned because of the many advantages on offer.

Alumimum pipe systems are far easier to install and modify over steel or copper pipe systems. You could save labor costs of up to 50%, as aluminum is supplied ready for installation. No particularly difficult or time-consuming preparations are required beyond cutting, deburring and chamfering, and no special tools are needed. Labor accounts for only 20% of installation costs, compared to the 50-80% of costs associated with traditional steel or black iron compressed air piping.

Alumimum pipe is available calibrated, meaning that its diameter is strictly controlled. This allows for quick connect components to fit securely and each connection in the system being automatically secure.

Aluminum pipe is far lighter than steel pipe or copper pipe, helping to reduce the installation and modification costs. And, because aluminum pipe doesn’t require threading or soldering like copper or steel does, the installation and modification is far easier.

Aluminum pipe’s corrosion resistance allow optimal air flow, reduced energy costs and better air quality. The air quality being delivered is far better than steel, and in most cases, better than copper. If your application requires air to reach the air quality standards  ISO 8573-1: 2010, aluminum pipe can help you achieve this.

Naturally, there are a few disadvantages, where material costs are higher for aluminum pipe systems compared to steel pipe systems, and about the same as copper. But overall, aluminum is a solid alternative for compressed air systems.

Aluminum Pipe Fittings for Compressed Air Systems

Aluminum piping is available with engineered polymer fittings which are reusable, interchangeable and enable your system to save great amounts of time when making changes. This ability to change your system layout quickly is a key differential between aluminum pipe and copper or black iron piping systems.

This ease of use can help minimize your downtime and increase productivity along with efficiency. The polymer fittings simply push or bolt together, allowing you to disassemble quickly, unlike copper or black iron which are permanently crimped or welded.

A couple examples of the type of fittings you can expect with aluminium pipes are provided below, readily available on Amazon, and manufactured by RapidAir.

RapidAir also have a youtube demonstration on installing a 3″ compressed air piping system.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is aluminium good for piping?

Yes, aluminium is very good for piping systems like compressed air as it has excellent corrosion resistance, which allows optimal flow, reduces energy costs and better air quality. Aluminium fittings are secure and easy to install/modify as well as being less likely to leak.

Is copper pipe stronger than aluminium?

In terms of tensile strength, copper is roughly 40% stronger than aluminium. This means that copper is less likely to break than aluminum.

Useful Reading

If you have any questions regarding using aluminum pipe for compressed air, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!