We are in the process of finalizing renovations for a private innovation lab. We have about 12,000 sq/ft open space that will be divided into a “dusty” side and a “clean” side, and I need to make a decision and purchase a system for shop air and I know you guys have been around the block with this type of stuff and would appreciate your expertise to help guide me.
- We need to design the space for the unknown / flexibility / spaces shifting around as we grow and learn
- Our needs are somewhat unknown
- We don’t know what this air system should power vs not
- We don’t know all of the equipment we are purchasing yet and their air requirements if there are any…
- We don’t know all the equipment we will buy in the future
How might we get the proper shop air system to meet our needs, both today and tomorrow?
Be able to have shop air available to us from pretty much any where in the shop (flexibility) and supply each of our areas / machines with the appropriate air to meet all needs
Leverage what we can if possible and if it makes sense
- 7 axis robotic arm
- laser cutter
- cnc machine
- DA sanders
- blow guns
- 1/2" impact wrench
- Misc pneumatic tools
- What brands are the best?
- What size receiver tank would you recommend?
- Do we need extra filters?
- How can we leverage our existing air compressor?
- Does it make sense to have an external dryer for expandability later?
- What should the architecture of the system be?
Brand wise it doesn’t make a massive difference initially, better brands have warranties but are worse cost\performance, I personally haven’t had issues with cheaper “in house” brands like renegade but your mileage may vary. Otherwise you generally get what you pay for. If your really working a compressor very hard point a fan at it since the uncooled head\reed valves are one of the few failure points thats not a cheap screw on part, but if your not buying something thats old, abused or worn out to begin with it’ll serve you faithfully for a long while.
Airtank is very application specific, but for most workshops bigger is better and normally brands pair the bigger or more industrial mindset machines with a bigger tank instead of being independent factors for purchase (although external tanks are also an option to increase capacity). This is mostly because tools like the impact gun will use more air than any compressor in your price range can make, but if a guy using them is putting it through more than 50% duty cycle he’s more likely to need a boot to the head than a gold star. Air use on laser cutters, most CNC and general use of blow guns for cleaning the shop is honestly very small so a home gamer compressor\tank is adequate, but if your likely to have multiple on air tools at once or do a lot of spray painting you certainly won’t regret the biggest machine you can afford… it’ll normally live longer too (if nothing else a bigger multistage compressor has heat spread out more and more thermal mass). The last critical factor about air tanks (and biggest advantage of using an external tank to increase capacity) is that tools like the before mentioned impact gun don’t want to be too far down a flexible line or they won’t hit as hard, so unless your installing large bore rigid lines in your shop, you effectively have a range from the compressor. But by placing the compressor at the the 25% of longest axis mark the shop, and the external tank at the 75% will halve your max distance to tank vs just a compressor, and the tank doesn’t make an annoying noise so it can also help separation from quieter space. Having said that, this makes no difference to any tool\machine with very low air use, or that runs adequately at reduced pressure, so if you have one “metalworks” style area you’ll normally just be fine to place the compressor there and use longer lines for the rest.
For workshop requirements an external drier isn’t needed, but I don’t know what your laser or CNC requirements are, so I’ll leave that to another HSBNE member with more experience in those areas.
A final note is while things like the compressor are pretty easy to upgrade with a larger unit in future, at HSBNE we’ve pretty much found “if you build it they will come” in that people don’t tend to request a upgrade for a project, they tend to build a project within the tools they have. Expanding your tools just seems to make the builds less tedious to complete, and how tedious a task is determines how likely they are to attempt ideas in future.
As for air lines, there’s a few routes you can go. Either steel, copper or plastic (designed for air). Personally I’d recommend plastic as its somewhat flexible and able to be joined without soldering or brazing. Steel requires you to cut and thread the lines to length, and makes further additions pretty painful. Plastic can bend enough to get new fittings in after the initial install.
As for air dryers, it depends on what you’re going to use it for. In our air systems I’ve found the moisture tends to accumulate in any air drops that aren’t frequently used (consider designing these in to collect water), however doesn’t seem to impact the tools we use too much. If you’re spray painting etc you’ll probably want to look into dryers. Dessicant dryers will dry the air much more effectively than a refrigerant dryer can, look around and see what suits your price point.
However on our small (seperate) air system for the laser cutter and vacuum former, it has a tendency to collect a lot of water in the lines and has made it rain in the laser cutter on a few occasions. If you don’t go with a dryer, ensure you have sections of line to let water drop out, and water/oil seperators ahead of anything important.
As per Hamish’s response, try to get the compressor centralised to minimize losses over the lines. If not, ideally you’d put an air reservoir somewhere in the middle to help buffer. Or put bigger lines in to compensate.
With regard to the unknown area/s that you are working with… I’d try to make a generic distribution methodology that gets at least overhead air pipes within ( say ) 10 meters of every point in the building. ( or every area where you might possibly need air in the future.). So, I’d perhaps start with a solid steel or copper “spine” or “backbone” pipe that goes the longest length of the area, and ( say) every 10 meters have a join ( eg, an X ) that splits off and creates “offshoots” ( which have the other end plugged).
These offshoots should have a T join every ( say ) 10 meters that allows future connection of flexible hoses that can be “plumbed” to specific equipment when u know it’s specific location in the facility, and in the interim they should have a bung to plug the unused part of the T. So, in short, you are creating an overhead airpoint roughly in a 10mx10x grid across the entire site.
When walls and future equipment have been located, then “drops” that come from the nearest point in the roof down the wall can be installed, and this can be made flexible etc.
Check out - http://www.pilotair.com.au/product/quickline-air-delivery-system/
for an aluminium pipe and fittings system, not the cheapest but is quite flexable, the fittings have an o ring so can be repositioned when required and the pipe itself just needs to be cut with a hacksaw and then the burrs taken off before the fittings are put on and tightened.
The pipe size for size is smoother internally and flows better than steel and is cheaper than copper.