WorldWide Drilling Resource

34 JULY 2021 WorldWide Drilling Resource ® The Fourth Utility ~ The Air Compressor Compiled by Editorial Staff, WorldWide Drilling Resource ® Compressed air is one of the driving forces of modern life with air compressors as a core component in a range of industries and services, including construction, manufacturing, industrial, automotive, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, agriculture, and the drilling industry. People worldwide rely on compressed air for the success of their business operations. Just how did this pivotal machine develop to become such an important utility today? Air compressors have been around for thousands of years with people first using their own breath to blow on cinders and create fire, but the devices the ancients used for compressing air bear little resemblance to modern air compressors, although the basic principle is the same. As people began melting metals such as gold, copper, and tin, higher temperatures and a more powerful air source was needed. The evolution of the air compressor began with the use of wind and blowpipes by Egyptian and Sumerian met- allurgists. This was followed by the invention of the first mechanical compressor - the hand-operated bellows - and then the more efficient foot bellows in 1500 B.C. Most people today would not equate a blacksmith’s bellows as an air compressor, but that is exact- ly what it is. In the past, only human and animal power was possible to power crude air compressors, and this severely limited the utility of these primitive devices. Fast forward to 1762, when John Smeaton, the first professional engineer, designed a waterwheel-driven blowing cylinder which slowly replaced the bellows. Later in 1776, John Wilkinson, an English inventor, introduced a more efficient blasting machine able to produce high amounts of air pressure. This became an early prototype for all mechanical compressors. With the industrial revolution, the first mechanical air compressor was born. Engines running from steam power became the first method to power air compressors. Early rock drills were powered by steam. However, hot steam is far more hazardous than com- pressed air, so steam-powered rock drills eventually gave way to drills powered by air compressors. Through the years, these prototypes improved and evolved, and in 1829, the first compound air compressor, a device com- pressing air in successive cylinders, was patented. Started in 1857 and completed in 1870, the first major construction powered by compressed air technology was for the Fréjus Rail Tunnel. This eight- mile tunnel joined Italy and France through Mount Cenis in the European Alps. Teams from both countries used pneumatic drills, along with wet compressors used to cool the air inside as the miners drilled their way deeper into the rock. In 1888, Austrian engineer Viktor Popp unveiled Europe’s first compressor plant in Paris. Soon afterward, other inventors patented a variety of tools and acces- sories running on compressed air. During the turn of the century, portable compressors on wheels were introduced, and by 1910, most factories commonly had one large, single-stage compression cylinder driven horizontally by steam or oil engine. In 1933, the first two-stage air-cooled portable compressor was manufactured, and soon after, standard sizes and ratings on actual free air delivery were established. Later, a Swedish professor named Alf Lysholm designed the first twin screw compressor while working on steam and gas turbines. The screw compressor was patented in Sweden in 1935, and then found its way around the world, including the Americas. As global development continued, peo- ple found more ways to utilize this technology, such as the min- ing industry, especially in the United States, where compressed air not only powered drills, but other machines such as hauling, pumping, and stamping machines. Gasoline engines are used today in the common piston type air compressors. In larger industrial applications, a rotary type air compressor is used. These turn a vaned rotor inside a long enclosed chamber. Rotary vane air compressors work very well in industrial applications because they are capable of producing large amounts of com- pressed air for extended periods of time. The gas and oil industry in particular utilizes industrial air compressors for both large and small operations, in everything from pneumatic drilling equipment to pipeline transportation. Petroleum refining is a common application since 95% of petro- leum gas is processed through compression before transporting in a pipeline. Petrochemical synthesis also requires very specific air and gas pressurization in the manufacturing process. Gas reinjection in oil fields uses a series of compressors, which also can help maintain reservoir pressures and facilitate recovery of crude oil. Since reservoir pressure tends to decrease gradually over time, both centrifugal and high-pressure reciprocating com- pressor systems are needed to maintain or boost gas flow into the pipeline transportation system. Photo courtesy of Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. G&O Register Today! 2021 NDA Convention September 28-29 Embassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte- Concord Golf Resort & Spa, North Carolina For more information, call 877-632-4748 or visit j Golf Outing j President’s Dinner j Awards & Entertainment j Exhibits Keynote Speaker - Richie Parker, NASCAR Engineer Grouting for Offshore Wind Farms - Dennis Duty, Baroid IDP Growing Your Business by Adding CPT - Ryan Langlois, VERTEK Don’t Kill Your Golden Goose - Larry Oxenhaum, Author and much more! Presentations include: