Compressed air systems are versatile and provide a range of uses. They can be equipped with many additional features which extend their usefulness across their applications. Because they are so powerful, they are regulated to keep those who work with them safe.
The air will usually be compressed using one of two major design types. These are known as Reciprocating compressors and Helical or Rotary compressors. Each of these designs offer several variations and can be augmented for nearly any related purpose.
Reciprocating compressors are driven by a piston, sometimes a rocking piston or a diaphragm, which oscillates, alternating with each stroke to draw in and pressurize the air.
Rotary compressors continuously draw in and compress air by sealing it between to intermeshed helical, screw-like, gears which rotate against one another.
The basic principle of an air compressor is that an intake allows ambient air to enter into the mechanism, where it is compressed and ultimately delivered in a pressurized state. Of course, there can be a lot of additional steps in this process. Some steps, like filtration and lubrication, are almost requirements for operation–and definitely required for longevity.
Commonly, a filter is placed at the intake to remove particulates from the air. Another filter is placed after the air has been compressed, to remove excess oil from the lubrication process. Secondary filtration and air drying components can be applied as well as connecting the compressor to receiver tanks.
Tanks hold the excess pressurized air which is produced and store it. This provides a way to compensate for compression pulsing and also allows large volume usage to go uninterrupted. These tanks can further filter or dry the compressed air, depending on where they are integrated in the system.
OSHA Compliant Lockable Exhaust Valves (LEV)
At this scale, compressed air systems begin to present potential hazards and, when used in professional settings, are regulated to by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration or OSHA.
Because unintentionally starting the system while it is being serviced can pose a danger to maintenance personnel, OSHA requires the energy source to be tagged with a warning and locked. LEVs are OSHA compliant ball valves which, when can be padlocked in the exhaust position.
OSHA regulations are not binding when you are working with a compressed air system in a personal capacity, but they should be adhered to whenever possible. After all, a construction foreman values their employees, but you value the safety of yourself and your family much more.