05/08/2023 | Process Innovation

Innovation in the air

Compressors were big news in Frankfurt last summer. And it’s no wonder. They’re part of a market that’s thriving and embracing ever greater levels of technology. Here, we look back at the origins.

Many will consider the Austrian civil engineer Viktor Popp the Godfather of high-pressure air systems, introducing as he did, Europe’s first compressor plant in 1888. Innovative as it was at the time, it was also immensely effective, increasing its production capabilities from 1,500kw to around 18,000 merely one year into the next decade. It was a revelation like few others.

Speculation quickly grew as to its potential. Like the modern computer, it progressed from something noisy and heavy duty to become a model of compact efficiency and sparked much debate about whether it would challenge the role of the then fledgling power source that was electricity. But even before he formed his Compagnie des Horloges Pneumatiques in Paris to run the city’s public clocks, the foot-operated bellows had been a staple part of metal workshops and vacuum pumps had been driving blast furnaces, the scene was set. All of which means it’s no surprise that, as industry advanced in multiple ways and on so many fronts, the compressor sector grew in tandem to meet every challenge, resulting in the sophisticated Rotary Screw, Reciprocating and Jet models we have in use today.  

And the rate of innovation appears to show no sign of letting up, or any lack of awareness of the advantages. The rotary screw option is popular in the pharma and food processing industries, both of which, like the semiconductor business, are reliant on applications that come with a strong reputation for cleanliness. What has made such a difference though is the way the latest technology, be it AI or all that is the IIoT, has increased the level of control, often via remote monitoring, which has in turn improved not only performance and reliability but made them more cost-effective.

Manufacturers are these days more waste aware and know the impact on energy costs of anything that doesn’t match the efficiency of the processes these may be driving. Then there is the question of merging technologies. More and more equipment and systems are interconnected through cloud-based servers which help them share data and easily communicate with each other, leading to self-analysis and therefore providing real-time alerts and actionable choices for operators, all of which increases efficiency and makes them more sustainable, a factor of ever-increasing importance.

Many in the industry predict further advancements in the sort of measuring systems that allow workers to track such things as air flows, pressure rates, and possibly air quality. Then there is the concept of "smart" controls, typically AI-driven and able to assess the load and indicate which compressor type and size may be right in a modern factory with multiple options. Kaishan USA, are a case in point here. This Alabama-based specialist insists its premium rotary screw range is "fully compatible with almost any remote monitoring system. They connect through Modbus, allowing them to work with almost any communications protocol".

Such innovation was on show in Frankfurt in August with a product developed, according to head of global sales Dr Steffen Kuberczyk, "specifically for steam regeneration and mechanical vapour compression processes. The VapoMaxX combines the advantages of our high-performance blowers with the advanced performance of compressor technology for the first time."

Monitoring means year-round visibility

VapoMaxX ensures that the energy from the previously unused waste heat released at the end of a production process is used to ultimately provide steam with a higher pressure and a significantly higher temperature for processes.

Managing Director Christoph Böhnisch said: "On the way to a resource-efficient production, we are contributing to a substantial increase in energy efficiency, decreasing primary energy costs and significant CO2 savings in industrial heat pump applications in the process industry."

Similarly, AERZEN, a German pioneer of screw compressor technology, used the product launch opportunities of the Frankfurt showgrounds as a platform to showcase their expertise in hydrogen compression. The new screw compressor made a public debut and was destined to “set standards in terms of efficiency, installation space and economy in hydrogen compression.

"Screw compressors have already proven their worth for compression. They are particularly suitable for hydrogen compression due to the displacement principle combined with the space-saving design of a rotary machine," the company said.

Kaishan have a good example of an advanced monitoring solution in their Air Watch, which allows users to view a control screen to see what the compressor is doing in real-time. The view can be shared with a consultant, distributor or their technical services organization for expert assistance.

"The goal is not to make changes remotely, but have 24x7x365 visibility within your air compressor system, monitoring all key parameters to give you almost a ‘continuous audit’ of the performance and health of your system. It gives you the opportunity, not only to fix problems, but also to anticipate them and take corrective action before they shut down your air compressor."

Atlas Copco has launched the latest generation of the GA 55+-75+ designed to bring an intelligent performance to the mid-size, fixed-speed industrial compressor market. It is also introducing an improved GA 55-90. And CompAir has launched its DX series range of oil-free screw compressors which it says offers the lowest total cost of ownership on the market, with up to 8 per cent higher flow rates, and with up to 7 per cent energy reduction and with guaranteed air purity.

Such innovation is there in abundance throughout all areas of industry, thanks to the efforts of leading players. You only have to look at the work of Ingersol Rand on refrigeration or Compair on sustainability or what FPS are doing on noise reduction. All a long way from the days of Popp’s Parisienne adventures.

Having been granted French nationality a few years earlier, he obtained a further concession to supply electricity by using the compressed air power network to drive local generators. But, after running the company successfully for years, in 1892 the German banks whose capital drove the expansion, took back control, forcing him to stand down.


ACHEMA Inspire staff

World Show Media


Keywords in this article:

#fluid technology, #process engineering

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