Pneumatic Conveying Systems

By Thomas E. Leary, Jr.

If you have a need to move product from one location to another, a pneumatic conveying system may be a great solution. However, front-end planning is critical to success, and creation of a comprehensive, three-dimensional model can become quite beneficial to the engineers, construction crew, and plant operations staff.

This model should not only depict the components of the new pneumatic system, but also the origination and destination points of the product, the surrounding building, and any other potential obstacles for the system. Furthermore, the three-dimensional model will allow the designers to coordinate with great accuracy. This is key, because a well-coordinated plan will allow the pneumatic system to be built very closely to how it was designed. The realization of this design intent will allow the pneumatic system to operate with optimal performance – but construction accuracy is critical.

If there are leaks, extra elbows, bad joints, or crooked components, the performance of the system, and product being delivered through it, will ultimately suffer. These issues could cause the product to travel at a different velocity than intended, wearing out the elbows and joints. The product may also break down and degrade. Flowrate may also suffer, which means that the system cannot perform at the speed in which it was intended, causing a ripple effect throughout the plant. The pumps or blowers will have to work much harder to move the product if the system is not installed as designed. Saltation is one of the worst problems to occur, and happens when product is moving too slowly that it falls out of the flow stream. Saltation will cause the system to clog, further reduce the flowrate, and increase pressure drop through the system. Essentially, the system will not be very successful if it has any one of these problems, and the lifespan of the system’s components will be reduced.

Avoiding Pneumatic System Problems

By “virtually” constructing an accurate model, these problems can be avoided. A 3D model is a great tool for capturing the engineer’s design for an owner to see and understand how the pneumatic system will fit and function in the building before it is even built. The communication that is initiated from the owner’s observations of the model allows all parties to be on the same page from the early stages of the project. The model also provides an intentional way to track the progression of the project through its stages.

To an engineer, the model becomes not only a means to convey information to the client or the contractor, but it becomes a piece of “artwork”! A lot of love and effort must be put into creating an excellent model. The engineer’s main purpose for the model is to clearly convey their design to anyone who views the model or reads the plans. Thus, an accurate 3D model is beneficial for many reasons. One way is the ability to showcase any element in the system at any time. Being able to rapidly create a section view or a 3D view is a quick and handy resource to answer questions and improve the efficiency of the project. Imagine having to draw the same detail over-and-over again, project-to-project. With the computer model, the same detail can be used repeatedly, with great speed, instilling confidence that the finalized product is consistent and correct. Another benefit to the engineer is the ability to coordinate with other disciplines and the existing environment. Intentional coordination leads to smooth construction, all while saving time and money.

Furthermore, an accurate model of the pneumatic system will give the contractor a 3D model to build from. The 3D model can provide much more information than 2D plans ever could. The ability for the engineer to convey the design intent to the builder is greatly enhanced as the contractor gains an exceptional understanding of how the engineer intended the system to be built. This alleviates some of the time and resources the contractor would have to otherwise spend in the field, increasing the efficiency of the construction crew.

Successful construction and installation of a pneumatic conveying system results from the creation of a highly-accurate three-dimensional model that allows the contractor to accurately replicate the “virtual” model in the real world. With good coordination, construction interruptions will be minimized, resulting in fewer changes to the original design while minimizing costly change orders.

Interested to learn how JDB Industry builds virtual models? Contact Jeffrey W. Pauley, PE at 717.434.1560 or email him.

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