As an industrial distributor for 65 years, C.H. Reed, Inc. has been providing ideas, concepts and sustainable solutions to help manage issues associated with three key areas of industrial plants: compressed air systems and equipment; assembly tools and ergonomic material handling; paint finishing and fluid handling equipment. Compressed air has always been a strong focus for C.H. Reed, and it’s a common thread running through all of its product families.
In general, this article focuses on the operating principles of centrifugal air compressors, discussing them in simple terms to provide an understanding of application limitations and opportunities. One primary goal is to define often-confusing terminology, such as “rise to surge,” stonewall and surge,” “mass flow,” and “dynamic compression.” This article is not intended to be an engineering discussion of the various types and designs of centrifugal and other air compressors, but rather, a guideline for deciphering operating curves and understanding general performance.
There are many distributors in the industrial air compressor industry that are very concerned about the future role of distribution—or, more specifically—if there even is a role for distribution in the new business environment. The industry has changed, and doing business in the current environment is very different from what distribution has become accustomed to. You may describe it as a “changing of the paradigm” or “moving the cheese,” but make no mistake—it has changed drastically. There are examples of progressive distributors that have succeeded in managing change and have adapted their business strategy accordingly.
In 1979 I received a call from a business friend that had just purchased his first single-stage base cup blow machine. He was surprised to find out that he actually needed something more than 100 psi of plant air to blow bottles. This was my entry into engineering a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) compressor system. Since then, I have engineered and delivered over 350 systems—from Tobago to Tibet—and many locations in between.
Acrylon Plastics located in Winkler, Manitoba, Canada manufactures an extensive variety of custom plastic parts for a wide range of end use applications. Years ago changes to their production volumes increased the compressed air flows to above what their compressed air system could deliver. As a result the plant pressure would fall to low levels during production peak demands, which negatively affected sensitive compressed air powered machines. In addition to this during light plant loading conditions the air compressors would run inefficiently. Plant personnel tried a variety of strategies to deal with the plant peaks, with the most efficient solution coming as a result of installing VSD style compressors and pressure/flow control.
The beverage industry has been using polyethylene terephthalate (PET) 2-liter plastic bottles primarily for packaging carbonated soft drinks since the 1970s. As that market has grown to encompass bottled drinking water, stretch blow-molding machines continue to produce those plastic bottles. The concept is simple: A pre-form plug is inserted into the blow molding machine heated, and compressed air is injected, “blowing” into the pre-form to create the bottle.
A culture change is in the air at Sullair, a pioneer in air compressor technology, as the company celebrates its 50th anniversary. A global manufacturer of rotary screw air compressors used to power air-driven industrial equipment and tools used in manufacturing as well as the energy, mining and chemicals industries, Sullair operates five manufacturing facilities worldwide.
QCAS provides service, sales, parts and rental solutions for plant air systems, medical air systems, compressed air treatment and nitrogen generating systems. The company prides itself on being client-focused with a commitment to respond to service needs 24/7. “Our relationship with clients involves more than us just selling equipment, parts and maintenance. We provide system auditing, training, testing and information about innovations in our industry,” says Michael McCulley, president.
Quite a number of worst-case compressed air scenarios have been encountered over the years but none may compare to the conditions that existed in a metal foundry somewhere in North America. For reasons you are about to discover, we will not reveal the name of this factory or its location, in order to protect the innocent from embarrassment.
The Department of Energy estimates that compressed air systems in the U.S. consume about 30 trillion Watt-hours of energy per year. Of all the energy used in manufacturing, compressed air systems have the greatest potential return for implementing energy efficiency practices, according to the DOE. One approach to access some of that return is to eliminate waste by producing compressed air efficiently and only in the amount demanded. Another approach is to leverage compressed air system data to assess the impact of any system changes on energy consumption and productivity.
During my forty years of involvement with distribution (companies that sell and service compressed air system products) as a Vice President of Sales and Marketing and Account Manager, I have witnessed a tremendous amount of change in the compressed air industry. As much as we like to reminisce about the good old days, it is quite apparent that the resources, capabilities and knowledge of distribution today are significantly better than ever before.
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