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Compressed air contamination is a real problem for industry

Author : Richard Moore of Parker Hannifin

22 August 2012

In today’s modern production facilities, the use of compressed air is often pivotal to manufacturing processes. 

Irrespective of whether the compressed air comes into direct contact with the product or is used to automate a process, provide motive power, packaging, or even to generate other gases on-site, a clean, dry, reliable compressed air supply is essential to maintain efficient and cost effective production.

Sources and types of contamination in a compressed air system

Understanding the sources of compressed air contamination and the types of contaminants which must be reduced or eliminated is a key factor in planning an efficient compressed air system. In a typical compressed air system, there are ten major contaminants that have to be removed or reduced to protect the consumer
and provide a safe and cost effective production facility. These contaminants come from four different sources.

Source 1
Atmospheric Air

Compressors draw in huge amounts of atmospheric air which continuously fills the system with invisible contaminants such as:

• Water vapour

• Atmospheric dirt

• Oil vapour

• Micro-organisms

Source 2

The Air Compressor In addition to the contaminants drawn in from the atmosphere, oil lubricated compressors will contribute small amounts of oil from the compression process. The oil will be in the form of:

• Liquid oil

• Oil aerosols

• Oil vapour

After the compression stage, the after-cooler will cool the air, condensing water vapour and introducing it into the compressed air as:

• Liquid water

• Water aerosols

Sources 3 & 4 
Compressed air storage devices & distribution piping

As the air leaves the compressor it now contains eight different contaminants.

The air receiver (storage device) and the system piping that distribute the
compressed air around the facility can store large amounts of this contamination. Additionally, they cool the warm, saturated compressed air which causes condensation on a large scale adding more liquid water into the system and promoting corrosion and microbiological growth:

• Rust

• Pipe Scale

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