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Compressed Air Piping- A Complete Guide

So you just bought a compressor and are expecting it to arrive at your facility soon. The next step in getting your compressor in place will be to install compressed air piping to carry air from your compressor to wherever you need it. In this guide, we will cover piping options for compressed air, important installation tips for compressed airline, and more.

Factor 1 for Compressed Air Piping – The Type of Piping

There are a few common options for compressed air piping depending on if your looking for a permanent flexible solution.

Permanent Compressed  Air Piping Options

Aluminum Alloy Piping

Aluminum piping is corrosion resistant and well suited for a variety of facilities.  They are easy to work with due to their light weight and are typically cheaper to install due to their lighter weight and not having the need for special tools to thread them during installation. They typically offer a working pressure of about 232 PSI. They also tend to have fewer issues with leaks as the connections secure better. However, the initial costs of aluminum piping can be a bit more expensive than other alternatives. Aluminum piping kits are a great option especially for the ease of installation.

Black Steel Piping

Black steel is one of the oldest piping options around for compressed air.  Compared to alternatives the costs of black steel pipe components are not as expensive as Aluminum. However black steel piping is costlier to install due to having to be threaded. Additionally, connections can tend to be more prone to leaks due to the threaded connections. As we have covered before leaks in compressed air are very expensive. Black steel compressed air piping can be less friendly for future modifications. However the initial cost of the piping can be more reasonable but is harder to install and work with as well. Finally, black steel pipe is susceptible to friction related pressure lost.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel pipe is high pressure rated and resistant to corrosion. The costs of material is initially higher but installation is relatively easy. Additionally, stainless steel piping is chemical compatible. Compared to the black steel pipe it is also lighter.

Flexible Piping Options

If you find that you need a piping option that is somewhat flexible for your compressed air you can consider semi flexible aluminum piping options like these. However, the only downside to a semi flexible option is that it will be limited in pipe size and as a general rule when possible the larger the piping for compressed air that is used the less pressure will drop as it travels, which can be important depending on what you will use compressed air for.

 

Factor 2 – Compressed Air Piping Installation

 

Once you have chosen the piping type you will use for your compressed air the next step to evaluate is to consider installation of the compressed air system.  As a general rule you want to leave at least some space between your compressed air source and where you will be using the compressed air.  Typically a minimum of 25 feet of line will provide enough space for air to be able to cool and allow moisture to drop out of the line.  If you have a refrigerant dryer on your air compressor you may not need the extra line to allow moisture to separate out of the line but it is still a good idea to have some space.  If you need more advice on compressors you can review this guide on choosing a compressor.   Additionally you typically want to consider the largest diameter compressed air piping you can reasonably afford or install to reduce any pressure loss.  Other helpful tips for the compressed air piping include having the piping for your compressed air slope away from the compressor (see diagram below).  Additionally you typically want to bring all drops for your air in your facility off the top of the main air line so that moisture is less likely to get to the bottom of the drop leg and cause problems with your air tools.  At the bottom of all compressed air drops (where the piping comes down for use) the piping should extend slightly below where you will connect an air regulator or similar equipment.  This will allow you to place a drain below where your regulator or air line is used to drain any remaining moisture. After the piping you can consider any additional equipment needed to filter the compressed air depending on your application.  For more on filtering compressed air for painting specifically you can refer to our guide.

 

Summary

Proper set up of piping for compressed air helps ensure you get strong performance from your compressor.  Additionally it helps to reduce any issues with moisture in the air line and similar challenges. By selecting the best piping type and following installation recommendations we have mentioned you will be able to ensure your compressed air piping is well suited for your need.

 

Photo via Binks & Devlibiss

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