Compressed air is used extensively in manufacturing, production, industrial applications, and in simple things such as bike tyres!
In essence, compressed air is a mixture of gases. You’d be correct in assuming that’s, well, air, but it’s usually:
- 21% Oxygen
- 78% Nitrogen
- 1% other gases
That composition is essential since different air molecules have alternative kinetic energies. So you’ll get very different performance from alternative gases or higher concentrations of one molecule or another.
A vast amount of technical equipment uses compressed air – a smartphone or tablet will be produced using compressed air in the manufacturing process.
So, what is compressed air, why do we need it, and why are air compressors a vital part of product manufacture? Read on, and we’ll explain!
Why Does Air Need to be Compressed?
We’ve mentioned kinetic energy, which means when the air is warmer, molecules move faster, and they have a higher energy level.
The opposite applies to lower temperatures.
The heat of compression is the foundation of an air compressor. By squeezing air into a smaller space, the molecules are forced to move faster; they get hotter, releasing energy.
A basic example of this principle is when you release a balloon, and the compressed air inside is released with the stored energy, causing it to zoom across the room.
What Are the Benefits of Using Compressed Air?
The crux of air compression is that it is an energy source – compressors store and deliver energy safely and flexibly.
Of course, there are other methods of storing and transmitting energy, including batteries, electricity and steam.
The issue is that each option carries with it either a health risk or a cost inefficiency.
- Batteries are heavy, bulky, and have a limited lifespan.
- Steam isn’t cost-effective to produce and becomes extremely hot, requiring specialist equipment for manual handling.
- Electricity carries risks of electric shocks and requires professional management given the potential for systems becoming overloaded and causing injury.
Pneumatic tools and air compressors eliminate these challenges and are flexible enough to use in any heat or weather conditions, making them an all-around more convenient option.
For example, air compressors are commonly used in road works, high-humidity workshops, underground mining facilities, and a range of environments on construction sites.
Portable air compressors are ideal for remote work.
Given that air-powered tools run at relatively low temperatures, they are easier to handle, lighter weight, and don’t have potential risks to worker safety when handling bulkier equipment that can quickly cause fatigue.
While compressed air is more expensive than electricity, the equipment itself is substantially cheaper.
Simple equipment designs and robust components ensure that air compressors are economical to run and can last for years with correct servicing and maintenance.
What is Compressed Air Used For?
The applications of compressed air are limitless!
Almost every industrial facility you might visit will have at least a couple of compressors and sometimes use these for thousands of processes.
Equipment using compressed air includes:
- Automation equipment
- Packaging tools
- Pneumatic tools
If you’re wondering what is compressed air used for outside of manufacturing, you’ll find an equally vast list of potential applications.
Examples include air brakes on theme park rides, sprinkler systems on golf courses, vacuum filters used for wastewater treatment, and even pressing machines used in commercial laundry businesses.
One of the main reasons compressed air is used so diversely is that it is inherently safer than other options.
An air compressor doesn’t spark or build-up to high heat levels. It can’t overload, which can be a nightmare scenario for electricity-powered tools.
Are There Downsides to Using Compressed Air in Industrial Applications?
For most industries, compressed air is a valuable resource that guarantees smooth operations and faultless handling.
However, it’s always wise to consider alternatives and identify any potential downsides.
They can include:
- Lower energy efficiency than electric tools. However, air-powered devices can deliver variable torque control and speeds. They are also lighter and easier to handle than equipment with electricity-driven motors.
- Higher cost than electricity. That said, the energy itself is more costly – the equipment, handling management, training requirements, servicing, and maintenance implications all make compressed air far more efficient in the long run.
While you can use compressed air in combustion processes, it is widely used in production as a fast and safe way to deliver bursts of energy.
Whether that’s in dehydrating food products, powering assembly stations, spraying cars, or clamping fabrics, compressed air is a fundamental resource that sits behind a massive amount of industries and products we use every day.