Is my gas purity adequate for my process?
Industrial gases (such as nitrogen, hydrogen, and argon) for furnace atmospheres are characterized by their very high purity (>99.995%). Typical impurity levels are much less than 10 parts per million by volume (ppmv) oxygen and less than 3 ppmv moisture (<– 90° F dew point). This purity is typically adequate for many processes involving a wide array of materials. Some materials, though, due to their high reactivity, may require additional purification to reach even lower levels of impurity, especially with gases supplied via bulk or tube trailer supply modes. Some facilities install in-line purifiers as an added precaution against impurities picked up from the houseline. In-line purification typically involves the removal of oxygen and moisture. Sometimes with argon supply, it is necessary to remove trace nitrogen impurities. The choice of purifier is dependent on the gas and the type and amount of impurities to be removed.
I know my flowmeter tells me that I have a certain gas flow rate, but how can I be sure?
Flowmeters must be sized properly for each particular application, type of gas, gas pressure, and operating range. First, make sure that your flowmeter is calibrated for the specific gravity of the gas that you are metering. Check the label or the glass tube of the flowmeter or call the manufacturer to be sure. Second, operate the flowmeter only at the pressure for which it was calibrated. As an example, a variable-area flowmeter calibrated for 80 psi and reading 1000 scfh will really only be delivering 760 scfh if it is operated at 40 psi. This is a 24% error! Third, for best accuracy and to allow room for adjustment, size the flowmeter so that your normal flow rate falls within 30%–70% of full scale. These three steps will help ensure that you have good control over your gas flows and, ultimately, your process.
I use high-pressure gas cylinders and am concerned about safety. Is there a better way?
Traditionally, high-pressure gas cylinders have been the supply mode for users in the low- to medium-volume range. This has left companies vulnerable to safety risks associated with moving cylinders and exposure to high pressure. Consolidating to a centralized microbulk system eliminates the need to handle cylinders and reduces the risk of product mix-up. Further benefits include decreased exposure to high-pressure containers and reduced traffic congestion with less frequent supplier deliveries. Air Products developed the microbulk supply option as a cost-effective, reliable alternative to high-pressure cylinders for nitrogen, argon, oxygen, and carbon dioxide supply. In addition to efficient and flexible storage systems, innovative piping solutions are available to help you have a smooth transition from cylinders to microbulk.
What nitrogen purity do I need for my heat treatment process?
That depends on your process. Nitrogen-based atmospheres for metals processing have been successfully proven over many years, and due to the enormous range of requirements in furnaces for various materials and surface needs, the use of gas mixtures is now an industry standard. Different products can tolerate differing concentrations of oxidizing components in the furnace atmosphere due to additional reducing or reactive components in the blend. For this reason, the use of on-site generated nitrogen with residual amounts of oxygen can be tolerated. By understanding your oxygen tolerance levels we can help you reduce your costs.
My nitrogen-hydrogen flow control panel seems to be working properly, but is there anything I should be checking?
There are many aspects of a flow control or blend panel that require periodic maintenance for proper functionality—especially those related to its safe operation. You should check the operation of the solenoids to help verify that the combustible gas flow is automatically turning off and the inert gas purge is automatically turning on as intended. They should be tested in accordance with recommended maintenance frequency—typically every six months. Plus, you should rebuild the solenoids as needed. It’s also important to check the purge timer setpoint to help confirm that it can adequately purge the furnace. And you should verify and document the low-flow alarm setpoints on the inert gas purge and process flows. These are just some of the items that should be reviewed on a regular basis.
Nitrogen - When does on-site nitrogen generation make sense versus liquid nitrogen delivery?
The amenability of on-site gas generation involves many factors—nitrogen flow and purity are the most important ones. Flows with a steady or sufficient baseline rate can be great fits for on-sites. Periodic or erratic flow patterns can be amenable if the volumes, pressure and purity are sufficient to allow gas storage that covers peak flows. Also, the lower the purity requirement, the greater the amenability—although high purity is amenable at higher volumes. Other factors include local power cost and pressure required. There are no firm rules defining when to switch from delivery to an on-site. Different on-site options are available to meet your nitrogen requirements, including pressure swing adsorption, membranes or cryogenics. Count on Air Products’ extensive experience in on-site technologies to help you determine your optimal supply mode.
How can I address a cooling issue within my process?
In its liquid state, nitrogen is -320 degrees Fahrenheit! This makes it one of the most effective coolants available. Depending on your process, liquid nitrogen can provide temperature control, shorten cycle time, and improve product quality. Nitrogen is also a green product, as it leaves no residue and is sourced from the air we breathe. It’s used in many industrial processes and can be adapted to heat treating, machining, thermal spray, and many other applications that have problems related to excess heat.
Can nitrogen reduce costs and improve operations in my dissociated ammonia (DA) atmosphere?
Nitrogen-DA dilution can be a cost-effective alternative to 100% DA. Since many materials being processed do not require the 75 percent hydrogen content in DA, you can reduce your atmosphere cost by using less costly nitrogen to dilute your DA. The use of nitrogen also provides an economical means for purging in addition to a lower cost for furnace idling. Also, using hauled-in hydrogen with nitrogen to replace DA can be cost-competitive and completely eliminate ammonia—a toxic, more expensive gas.
Air Products applications engineers can help you compare atmosphere costs and recommend ways to reduce atmosphere consumption to further reduce your total cost of ownership.