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How to Determine the Right Size and Capacity for Nitrogen Generators

Nitrogen generators’ ability to provide cost-effective, reliable gas makes them vital in sectors from food packaging to electronics manufacturing. Selecting the correct size and capacity is crucial for optimal performance in your operations. 

Whether you’re new to this machinery or want to optimize your current setup, our advice will guide you through the intricacies of sizing nitrogen generators to meet your needs. Let’s begin!

What Do Nitrogen Generators Do?

There are two broad types of nitrogen generators — pressure swing adsorption and membrane technologies. The difference between these two depends on the required purity, flow rate, application, and operational costs. 

Each offers unique advantages tailored to specific industrial needs.  

  • PSA nitrogen generators adsorb oxygen and other gases from compressed air, leaving high-purity nitrogen of up to 99.999%. This level is ideal for pharmaceuticals, food packaging, and laser cutting.
  • Membrane nitrogen generators use semi-permeable membranes to separate nitrogen molecules from compressed air. They may provide purity levels of around 95% to 99.5%, which is perfect for applications like oil and gas pipe purging and manufacturing.

Other differences to consider when choosing a nitrogen generator include size, weight, life span, and effect on water. These factors will determine your generator’s capacity and may impact its performance and efficiency. 

Determining the Size and Capacity of Nitrogen Generators

Sizing a nitrogen generator requires determining the appropriate capacity or output to meet a particular application or process’ nitrogen demand. But what factors should you consider when sizing a nitrogen generator? How do you size a nitrogen generator? 

Here is a step-by-step process you can use. 

1. Determine Your Nitrogen Demand

Sizing a nitrogen generator to your needs is like getting a tailor-made suit — you want it to fit perfectly. To do this, start with a demand analysis. This step requires you to calculate the total nitrogen consumption in your operations — for example, by determining your current volume of nitrogen used per cycle, the frequency of cycles, and operational hours. 

For instance, if you have a food packaging business that uses nitrogen to preserve freshness, look at the volume of nitrogen you need per packaging cycle and how many hours you spend on these tasks per workweek. Similarly, nitrogen creates a clean, oxide-free cut in laser cutting applications. These businesses can analyze the frequency of cutting operations and the duration of production runs. 

Knowing these numbers can help you conduct a demand analysis to ensure your nitrogen generator fits your current needs and allows for scalability for future growth and operational changes. 

2. Specify Purity Requirements

Purity is a critical factor when sizing a nitrogen generator. Think of it as the grade of gasoline your car needs — using the wrong one can lead to engine trouble. Similarly, different applications need varying nitrogen purity levels to ensure optimal performance.

For example, trace amounts of contaminants during electronics manufacturing may wreak havoc. Ultra-high-purity nitrogen can prevent defects in sensitive technological components. On the other hand, while nitrogen preserves freshness in food packaging, it doesn’t need to reach ultra-high levels. Typically, purities ranging from 98% to 99.5% may suffice for displacing oxygen and extending shelf life.

Here is a general list of the nitrogen purity requirements for various applications.

  • Oil and gas: 95% to 99%
  • Power generation: 95% to 99.9%
  • Laser cutting: 97% to 99.99%
  • Pharmaceuticals: 97% to 99.99%
  • Food and beverage: 99% to 99.9%
  • Electronics manufacturing: 99.99% to 99.999%
  • Laboratory and research: 99.99% to 99.999%

Understanding the level you need for your process can help you select the correct size and type of nitrogen generator. So, be crystal clear about your purity needs before you size up your nitrogen generator. It’s essential for ensuring your nitrogen supply matches your industrial operations’ requirements.

3. Calculate the Required Flow Rate

Now, it’s time to crunch some numbers to determine your required nitrogen flow rate. But how is the required nitrogen flow rate determined for a specific application? 

First, you’ll want to ensure the flow rate matches your operational consumption. Matching usage patterns helps prevent shortages or excess production, optimizing efficiency. Start by identifying how much nitrogen your operations use per cycle, hour, or production run. Then, factor in variables such as the frequency of usage and high-demand periods.

For example, in a metal processing facility, calculate the flow rate based on the volume of pipelines you need to purge over time. In a laboratory, determine the flow rate based on the instrument requirements and analysis duration.

4. Consider Pressure 

Operational pressure needs are the final deciding factor when sizing a nitrogen generator. Too much, and the component might burst — too little, and you’ll struggle to complete tasks. 

To determine your pressure requirements, start by understanding your processes. Some applications require nitrogen at low pressures, while others need elevated pressures to ensure proper functioning.

Once you’ve identified your pressure needs, ensure the generator can consistently maintain them under varying demands. Ideally, you want to avoid fluctuations disrupting your operations or compromising product quality.

For instance, maintaining steady pressure is essential for achieving clean, precise cuts in laser-cutting applications. Similarly, consistent pressure ensures product integrity in chemical processing.

How Do I Choose a Nitrogen Generator?

Here’s a guideline to simplify the decision-making process.

  • Purity requirements: Determine the nitrogen purity level needed for your specific application. Do you need ultra-high purity for semiconductor manufacturing or moderate purity for food packaging?
  • Flow rate: Calculate the required nitrogen flow rate based on your operational consumption patterns to ensure a sufficient supply without wastage or shortages.
  • Operating environment: Consider factors like ambient temperature, humidity levels, and altitude. Each of these may impact the nitrogen generator’s performance and efficiency.
  • Pressure requirements: Identify the pressure your processes need and check that the generator maintains it consistently.
  • Size and space considerations: Check whether you have enough space available for installation. Choose a generator that fits within your facility’s constraints.
  • Scalability: Some industries are more dynamic than others. Opt for a nitrogen generator that can accommodate future growth and changes in production demands.
  • Cost of ownership: Assess the nitrogen generator’s initial investment, running costs, and energy consumption. Considering the various costs may help you determine its long-term affordability.
  • Maintenance needs: How often does the generator need routine servicing and replacement parts? Proactively keeping up with its maintenance may minimize downtime and operational disruptions.
  • Reliability and durability: Choose a nitrogen generator from a reputable manufacturer known for producing reliable and durable equipment.
  • Manufacturer reputation and support: Research the manufacturer’s reputation for product quality and customer support services. Look into their technical help and spare parts availability.

Partner With General Air Products for Your Nitrogen Generator Needs

Determining the right size and capacity for nitrogen generators involves thoroughly assessing various factors. Before deciding, conduct a detailed analysis or consult with experts.

At General Air Products, we understand this process can be challenging, and we’re here to help. As a trusted nitrogen generator supplier, we’ve served the industrial sector since 1936 with top-quality products and exceptional customer service for a long time. Our expert engineers can help you find the best solution for your most complex industrial challenges. Count on us to answer all your questions about sizing, installation, or ongoing support.

Contact us today to learn more about our nitrogen generators and how we can help you optimize your industrial operations.