A Pump Is Used To Maintain Rate Of Flow Medical Air Systems for Healthcare Facilities

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Medical Air Systems for Healthcare Facilities

Medical air systems are an important component of all hospitals and most other healthcare facilities. When selecting a system for a particular project, the engineer must consider cost, capacity, physical size and weight, space limitations, and mechanical and electrical usability. It is important to coordinate equipment selection with the owner as well as other engineering and architectural disciplines.

First priority is life safety. Medical air is used to calibrate medical equipment for respiratory therapy and respiratory applications. Providing clean, oil-free air is mandatory. Medical air systems should not be used to supply air for any other purpose (eg, hospital laboratory use) because of the opportunities for contamination of the distribution system. If a patient inhales medical air contaminated with oil from a defunct compressor or nitrogen from a brazing purge, the effects can be irreversible. In addition, utility or pipeline shutdowns must be coordinated with hospital staff to prevent accidental termination of service while patients are connected to the system. Engineers must be aware of the requirements before designing any medical gas system.

delivery system

A medical compressed air system must be designed to prevent contaminants or liquids from entering the pipeline. A medical air system requires:

• Supplied from cylinder, bulk container or medical air compressor sources; or oxygen USP and reformulation from oil-free, dry nitrogen

• Meet medical air requirements

• No detectable liquid hydrocarbons

• Contains less than 25 ppm gaseous hydrocarbons

• 5 mg/m3 or less of persistent particles of 1 micron or larger at normal atmospheric pressure.

In typical fully operational healthcare facilities, medical air is supplied by a high-pressure cylinder manifold system or a medical air compressor system. Manifold distribution systems are typically used in facilities with very low demand for medical air. Medical air compressor plants are typically for larger facilities.

Existing facilities may choose to upgrade their equipment and associated pipelines or add medical air plants as the facility expands. When selecting a piece of equipment for a new facility, the possibility of future expansion should be considered. To allow for future growth, it is best to be conservative in system sizing.

Duplex Medical Air Compressor Source Systems

Engineers have more options when designing for a new facility than for a renovation or replacement project. Electrical and mechanical utilities can be calculated more easily, and chilled water, ventilation and electrical services can be sized and adequately located. The ideal schematic design has a well-ventilated, easily accessible mechanical room dedicated to medical gas equipment.

When selecting a medical air compressor for upgrade, the engineer may have some difficulty with mechanical usability inefficiencies (eg, poor cooling water quality, poorly ventilated mechanical space). The local electric utility may not be able to support the pump system or poor equipment access may require the breakdown of equipment parts and significantly increase costs. A thorough survey of the surrounding mechanical space and utility is imperative before deciding on the best type of compressor for the project.

It is a good idea to select more than one type of compressor at the schematic design stage. You should develop a master plan that shows existing demand and estimated excess capacity. The owner may want to estimate the cost before making a final decision.

Types of compressors

All medical air compressors must be capable of delivering oil-free compressed air. This article deals specifically with medical air systems for Level 1 hospitals.

There are three acceptable types:

• Oil-free compressors: These reciprocating compressors have no oil film on the surfaces exposed to compressing air. They contain oil in the machine and the oiled part must be separated from the compression chamber by at least two seals. Interconnecting shafts and seals must be visible without separating the compressor.

• Oilless Compressor: These reciprocating or rotary-scroll compressors have no oil in the machine. Lubrication is limited to sealed bearings.

• Liquid Ring Pump: These rotary air compressor pumps have a water seal. It is recommended to use a heat exchanger to protect the seal water.

Medical air compressor plants should be sized for maximum calculated demand when the largest compressor is out of service. In an efficient design of a large system (ie, three pumps or more), each compressor is sized to handle an equal percentage of peak demand and create redundancy. Never have less than two compressors.

Accessory equipment

A medical air compressor system consists of several pieces of mechanical equipment:

• Intake: Compressor air intake should be outside the home, above ceiling level and at least 10 feet from any door, window, other access or other opening. The intake must be closed, inspected and equipped with an intake filter muffler. These filters remove large particles (fine particles of solids or liquids) and contaminants from the compressor inlet.

• Air receiver: The role of air receiver is to store air and balance the pressure difference. It should have a full-size bypass as well as manual and automatic drains to drain any collected condensate. It must meet the American Society of Mechanical Engineers ( https://asme.org ) Section 8 Boiler and Pressure Vessels Construction Standards. Receiver size is based on system demand, compressor size, and compressor run time.

• Compressed Air Dryer: A dryer is used to remove water vapor from the air stream. At a minimum, it should be a duplex system valve to allow one unit to be serviced. Dryers shall be of desiccant twin-tower type, sized at 100% of rated load as per design conditions. They should be rated at 32°F (0°C).

• Duplex Final Filters: These should be rated for 100% system efficiency, 1 micron or greater with at least 98% efficiency. The filter should have a visual indicator showing the remaining filter element life.

• Medical Air Regulators: Regulators control the pressure of the air system. They should be sized for the calculated demand at 100% peak design conditions of the system. Pressure regulators should be set to provide the furthest outlet with 50-psig medical air.

• Alarm sensors: Medical air compressors must have alarm sensors nearby where they can be continuously monitored by hospital staff. Typical alarms are for high pressure, low pressure and other disturbances (eg lead/lag pump operation, high temperature, high dew point, carbon monoxide). Additional alarm signals can be added depending on the type of compressor and the owner’s preference.

• Anti-vibration mountings: These should be provided for compressors, receivers and dryers, as per manufacturer’s requirements.


Medical air piping is sized by flow rate calculated in cubic feet per minute (cfm). Compressed air piping is made of brazed Type-L copper designed for oxygen service. Piping should be laid towards the central plant, drains at low points and should be valved and identified.

The flow rate for medical air outlets is typically 1 cfm. Pipeline flow rates are calculated by counting the number of connected medical air outlets and applying a utilization factor. The flow rate from the total number of outlets is called the total connected load. Since not all outlets are used simultaneously, a simultaneous use factor must be applied to reduce the system flow rate. The rate is then applied to pipeline and compressor sizes. The American Society of Plumbing Engineers ( https://aspe.org/ ) has developed a chart that quantifies medical air consumption in various areas of a hospital.

When the total connected load is calculated and a utilization factor is applied, the main pipeline and compressor equipment can be effectively sized and selected.

In summary, engineers must exercise care when sizing and specifying medical air equipment to meet the needs of healthcare facilities and patients. Before beginning the project, be sure to review the most recent code’s medical gas system requirements. Both the information at hand and the technology are evolving every day and it is the responsibility of engineers to stay informed.

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