Industrial facilities use compressed air for a multitude of operations. Almost every industrial facility has at least two compressors, and in a medium-sized plant there may be hundreds of different uses of compressed air.
Uses include powering pneumatic tools, packaging and automation equipment and conveyors. Pneumatic tools tend to be smaller, lighter and more maneuverable than electric motor-driven tools. They also deliver smooth power and are not damaged by overloading. Air-powered tools have the capability for infinitely variable speed and torque control, and can reach a desired speed and torque very quickly. In addition, they are often selected for safety reasons because they do not produce sparks and have low heat build-up. Although they have many advantages, pneumatic tools are generally much less energy-efficient than electric tools. Many manufacturing industries also use compressed air and gas for combustion and process operations such as oxidation, fractionation, cryogenics, refrigeration, filtration, dehydration and aeration. Table 1 lists some major manufacturing industries and the tools, conveying and process operations requiring compressed air. For some of these applications, however, other sources of power may be more cost-effective.
Compressed air also plays a vital role in many non-manufacturing sectors, including the transportation, construction, mining, agriculture, recreation and service industries. Examples of some of these applications are shown in Table 2.