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Guidelines to plan for compressed air changes

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article image Compressed air changes

Increasingly rigorous compressed air purity standards are being introduced worldwide to help increase product and process quality throughout industry in general, and the food industry in particular. But, says one of the world’s leading manufacturers of compressed air treatment technology, domnick hunter, this does not mean manufacturers and processors have to panic. John Davis explains.

Simple guidelines help plan for compressed air changes. Winds of change are sweeping toward Australian industry as workplace and environmental regulations are introduced to govern the quality of that common industrial utility, compressed air.

There was the new International Standards Organisation ISO 8573.1: 2001 Compressed Air Quality Standard which - while not a law in itself – is one of the foundations on which international practice is established.

Then another step in the education and understanding process was taken when the internationally respected British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) / British Retail Consortium (BRC) published a Food Grade Compressed Air Code of Practice designed to help food manufacturers and processors by providing recommended levels of air quality.

Both these developments are relevant to Australia because the changes they lead to will filter their way Down Under via the practices and requirements of leading companies that adopt these major changes and to subsequently require them of their suppliers.

As with any new regulations, or codes of practice, manufacturers and processors will be concerned about existing equipment and may find new product selection a minefield.

In reality, the majority of existing compressed air systems may already comply, or can be easily and cost effectively updated to satisfy the new requirements with air treatment equipment such as high efficiency compressed air filters and dryers.

Based on its experience in more than 80 countries worldwide, BCAS member domnick hunter can provide some guidelines to help industry plan its response to change. domnick hunter’s Comprehensive range of high quality innovative compressed air treatment solutions is independently validated to ISO standards by Lloyds Register.

What is the main contaminant in compressed air?

As air is compressed, large volumes of wet atmospheric air are drawn into the compressed air system, which when cooled in storage vessels and distribution piping, condense into liquid water, making this the major contaminant in the compressed air system. If this bulk water is not removed, it can lead to corrosion of the distribution system, blocked or frozen valves and machinery and can ruin finished products. More importantly is the fact that water provides the ideal environment for the growth of micro-organisms including bacteria.

How big is the water problem?

Up to 99.9 % of the total liquid contamination found in a compressed air system is water and the volume of water condensed in the system is staggering. In a typically sized manufacturing unit, a compressor and refrigeration dryer combination can produce over 100,000 litres of liquid condensate per year. The volume of condensate increases for larger compressor systems, or during operation on hot, humid days.

So what about oil?

Food grade compressed air does not need to be oil free, nor does it need to comply to ISO 8573.1 Class 0 and, because it accounts for only 0.1 per cent of liquid contamination, it can easily be removed using filtration.

What equipment should be considered to meet new regulations, such as the new Code of Practice?

Coalescing filters are probably important items of purification equipment in a compressed air system. Designed to remove aerosols (droplets) of water and oil, Coalescing filters also have the additional benefit of removing solid particulate and micro-organisms. Installed in pairs, users believe one to be an oil removal filter and the other to be a particulate filter, when in fact the first one is a general-purpose filter used to protect the high efficiency filter against bulk contamination. This dual filter installation ensures a continuous supply of high quality compressed air with low operational costs and minimal maintenance.

Do filters remove all contaminants?

No, water vapour is water in a gaseous form and is removed from compressed air using a dryer, its performance being measured as pressure dewpoint. A pressure dewpoint of less than -26degC will not only prevent corrosion, it will also inhibit the growth of micro-organisms within the compressed air system and for this reason, the British Code of Practice recommends a pressure dewpoint of - 40degC or better for air in direct contact with food, which is only achievable with a desiccant dryer. Refrigeration dryers are also available, however they can only achieve dewpoints down to +3o C and are therefore only used for air that will not come into direct contact with food.

A word of warning: Desiccant and refrigeration dryers are only designed to remove water vapour, not liquid water; therefore they require coalescing filters to work effectively.

How important is the compressor type to air quality?

No matter what type of compressor is installed, they all draw in large amounts of airborne contamination and therefore the level of air purification equipment is not dependent upon the type of compressor installed. Adequate filtration and separation products will always be required to remove the large volume of dirty contaminated water as well as dust, rust, pipe-scale and microbiological contamination.

Should food manufacturers be concerned by ISO standards for air quality?

The BCAS/BRC code of practice, is aligned with the compressed air purity levels shown in ISO 8573.1 : 2001 and although not directly stated, the purity level for air that is in direct contact with food or could come into contact with food is equivalent to ISO 8573.1 Class 2.2.1, whilst air that will never come in contact with food, is ISO 8573.1 Class 2.4.1. Additionally, test methods in the code refer to the test methods of the ISO standard.

Do food manufacturers need to comply with ISO 8573.1 Class 0?

No, the BCAS/BRC Code of Practice recommends minimum acceptable levels of compressed air quality, which is specific to the food industry and does not require the extra expense required to meet Class 0.

How can food manufacturers comply with requirements such as the Code of Practice?

It is important to remember, the aim of such Codes is to provide air quality recommendations to the food industry that will protect both the manufacturer and the consumer, not to over-specify air quality in an attempt to sell plant equipment. Compliance may require little on the part of the food manufacturer as many will find that they already comply with all of the requirements.

A full audit of the compressed air system should be conducted as part of the HACCP process and where required, equipment updated or additional purification added. Additional filters can be installed simply and relatively inexpensively at point of use. Costly compressors do not have to be changed in order to comply.

Dominick hunter will provide advice specific to Australasian conditions and specific applications. The comments above are general in nature and should be considered in conjunction with professional advice.

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