How air management can halve a manufacturer’s energy bill

The air a factory breathes to complete a day’s production cycle could be having an adverse effect on its cost efficiency. Atlas Copco is championing an industrial compressor that is still at the top of its game.

Building a production facility capable of withstanding Australia’s ongoing energy crisis is no easy feat – with industry standards for the transfer of technology to consider and, in some cases, whether to change the company’s makeup.

For a long time, manufacturers have literally had to build new plants around the latest technology used to maintain product quality and track production load – much like the days when desktops were chained to office desks and mobile phones couldn’t fit in your pocket.

At Atlas Copco, they are championing a slimmer, quieter industrial air compressor – the VSD Plus – which is proven to cut a company’s power bill by 50 per cent on average.

“Whether we are dealing with small, medium or large businesses, they have all been struck by rising power costs and consumption,” said Matthew Gray, Atlas Copco’s business line-manage for Industrial Air.

“The quickest and easiest way to help your company is to data-log its requirements by measuring the exact amount of air the business uses, and to create a real-time picture of the customer’s actual air demand.

“From that, we can create a real-to-life simulation, which we use to predict a company’s potential power savings. It’s a no-brainer. By looking at their data, we can project their power savings simply by implementing one of our machines.”

More than a decade has passed since the industrial innovators at Atlas Copco began a project to build a smaller, ultra-efficient compressor system.

Most reputable variable speed drives (VSD) on the market offer up to 35 per cent cost saving to a tailored business, all the while Atlas Copco’s version is still setting the pace in the industry.

This longevity is a credit to the company’s commitment to research and development (R&D), according to Gray. And, while its VSD Plus model can cut a plant’s energy bill in half, he insists this is only the beginning.

“To put that into perspective, while the first versions of our VSD Plus have been saving Australian companies real dollars for more than four years, nobody on the market has come close to mimicking this type of technology,” Gray continued.

“It is definitely revolutionary with regards to the design and efficiency of the product. It is quite common for companies to have their facility built around their compressors and, when their old compressor eventually dies, they can’t replace it without the use of cranes or simply tearing down and re-building the compressor room.”

With its vertical design, the VSD Plus drastically reduces the footprint on the factory floor and allows for a very simple retro fit to an old machine.

Generally, the better the VSD, the greater a company’s scope is for something the industry calls  “turndown”.

“If you have a large machine to meet your peek demand at full capacity, it will also turndown when the demand falls, sometimes to as much as 18 per cent of the machine maximum capacity,” Gray said.

“In other words our VSD Plus runs in line with your actual demand for compressed air. That, in a sense, is like having an 18kW machine and a 100kW machine working in the same machine.

“It allows you to optimise the high points and the low points. The broader you can make that turndown – while still maintaining efficiency in the air element – the more the customer is truly going to save.”

The big difference in Atlas Copco’s VSD Plus technology is that it no longer works through a coupling or set of gears, and connects directly into the screw element, thus improving the free air delivery and reduces the specific energy requirement.

“This product was released to the market in 2013 but the first R&D unit was run and tested in 2009,” said Nashaat Bakhit, a product manager at Atlas Copco.

“We started the R&D for VSD Plus in 2006, which is the same time we released the second generation of our standard VSD. We never rest on our old achievement, our commitment to R&D is second to none, and this proves this.

“In terms of compressed air technology, variable speed drives aren’t something new. However, the VSD Plus is the next level of efficiency at all levels – we call them small compressors with big ideas.

“At Atlas Copco, we can talk about energy saving from a different perspective. We are up to the fifth generation of our industrial air controllers, and soon another generation will be put out to market.”

Considering the company’s strong links to Australia’s mining, construction, tools, and resource sectors, both Gray and Bakhit believe their engineers have a head start.

“As a principle here in Australia, we have a direct connection with our R&D and production facilities across the world, so we have a first-hand feedback to the other parts of the business,” Gray said.

“So, we can expedite any of those necessary changes and opportunities to make an improvement to the product. If your company is standing still, you are losing.”

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