Industrial Utility Efficiency

Profile: BeaconMedaes

Good morning! How long has BeaconMedæs been in the medical business?

Our roots are the deepest in the entire medical gas industry. Our heritage includes such famous, familiar names as Ohio, Ohmeda Medical Engineering, Medishield, Medaes, Fluid Energy, NASH, Beacon and Puritan Bennett. In our portfolio are the very best known medical gas products: Lifeline® medical air and vacuum, Lifeline® medical air dryers, Diamond outlets, Medipoint alarms, Gem 10 outlets, Diamond Care outlets, Series B outlets, MEGA alarms, MedPlus medical air and vacuum, Reliisys medical air, Total Alert alarms, Envirom medical trunking and headwalls, and Gemini outlets.

   James J. Tapkas, President, BeaconMedæs

Our roots go back to the 1940’s, when the medical air industry began. We have had many ownership changes, so for space we’ll skip to the recent past. In 2003, Hill Rom determined that it was no longer in their strategic interest to be in the medical gas equipment business, and Beacon Medical and Medæs were enabled to join into one company, whose name BeaconMedæs, was chosen specifically to recall this heritage and to build on that strength.

Beacon Holdings Corp, the parent company of BeaconMedæs and Medaes Ltd., was purchased, in 2006, by Atlas Copco U.S.A. Holdings. As a result of the acquisition, BeaconMedæs will become the global competence center for medical solutions within Atlas Copco. This new arrangement brings additional product development expertise, powerful global brand recognition, and the extensive international sales and service distribution network of Atlas Copco to further fuel the global growth of BeaconMedæs.

Medical gas is our only business and we aim to remain the world's most often specified brand.

How is the business structured? What is relative importance of compressed air vs. vacuum and pipeline equipment?

We are the market leader in medical gas systems. It’s important to emphasize that our customers look to us to provide complete systems – not just air compressors or vacuum pumps or outlets. We do have product managers and engineers with technology specialties, but BeaconMedæs makes a concerted effort to keep all employees focused on providing optimal systems.

Our average project consists of roughly 50% pipeline products and 50% source equipment. Medical air typically makes up about 60% of the source equipment portion of the project. While interesting to us as manufacturers, this division is not particularly relevant to the user, however, because all the elements inter-relate to deliver what the user needs, which is of course medical gas and vacuum at the patient bedside.


What is the international presence of BeaconMedæs?

BeaconMedæs has always had a presence in Latin America and in the Middle East. Our new ability to access the worldwide presence of Atlas Copco will make a huge impact on our international business. Atlas Copco brings us 182 customer centers all over the world. Ultimately, we will be promoting our products through all of these customer centers.


How has Medical Air evolved in hospitals?

In the U.S. as an example, the NFPA has taken the view that if your compressor draws in good clean ambient air, the air stays clean through the compressor, is then dried and filtered, when you deliver it to the patient it will be entirely satisfactory. After all, when you went into the hospital that’s what you were breathing and when you leave you will breathe it again! Implicit in this approach is making the effort to get intake air from the cleanest source available, which should be tested if there is any question about the purity. It can be a challenge to source good ambient air when your compressor room is in the basement, but the standard mandates that pipes are run as needed to source that clean air.

Under the NFPA Standard, Level 1 Medical Air details this approach. Many other countries have independently reached similar conclusions. Some of these countries include Canada, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Australia. It is simple logic. Start clean and stay clean. The natural basis for this philosophy is that all hospital air compressors must use either oil-free or oil-less technologies.

The BeaconMedæs Scroll Medical Air Package

Many other countries, however, continue to employ a different and older method. They establish a specification and let the user decide how to get there. For this reason, such systems, if not carefully implemented, may be dangerous for the patients. They may take intake air from more or less contaminated areas and usually use lubricated compressors to compress the air. To meet the defined specification for purity, they must load up the system with purification equipment to take out all the contaminants, many of which were introduced in the compression process. If the purification gear is not well maintained or fails, the air delivered to the patient may be contaminated.


How have medical air compressors evolved?

Years ago in the U.S., any type of air compressor was allowed for medical air. Very early there were several cases where oil was discharged into the pipelines, and some hospitals ended up paying big sums to wash out the pipelines. Oil is a dangerous contaminant, particularly as a main use of medical air is to blend it with oxygen. Many of us on the Committee have had experience with lubricated compressors and the result of using them in medical applications. The NFPA 99 Standards Committee as a result is terrified of oil in medical gas pipelines!

I have been a member of the Standards Committee since 1989. Our next revision will be coming out in 2009.

After the oil-lubricated phase, the industry used oil-free compressors, like the Corken and Joy reciprocating machines, with vented distance pieces. BeaconMedæs came out with oil-less reciprocating machines in 1989 and the oil-free scroll compressor in 1999, and now about 60% of our volume is with that technology. Hospitals choose oil-free scrolls because they are very quiet, have low vibration, and are very compact. A reciprocating compressor, for example, is at least 10 dba higher than a scroll compressor. Real estate is expensive, in a hospital, and compact packages are valued.

The latest development came, in 2005, when the NFPA Standards Committee specifically allowed rotary tooth and screw compressors as an oil-free technology. As a result, we expect the larger packages, above 15 horsepower, to move in the direction of oil-free rotary compressors. We see scrolls continuing to be the preference, due to their compactness, on 15 horsepower and under packages.

Oil-lubricated air compressors discharge oil into the air stream in liquid and vapor form

“Oil-less” air compressors control the oil and prevent it from reaching the air end. An important element is the venting of the space between crankcase and air end seals. “Oil-free” air compressors have no free oil, and thus effectively eliminate any possibility of oil reaching the air end.


How have air drying systems evolved in hospitals?

There are two dimensions to this question. The first dimension is the issue of where we came from. The old standard said “make sure the air is dry”. There was no dewpoint specification or any required dewpoint monitoring. As a result, everyone used the lower-cost technology – the refrigerated air dryer. In the U.S. in 1985, about 90% of hospitals had refrigerated air dryers. Industry insiders knew of problems with water in the pipelines but had no feel for how bad the problem was.

In 1993, as a result of these persistent questions, I was involved with the introduction of a new requirement into the NFPA 99 Standard, which said that dewpoint should be monitored. It also specified an alarm set point and a design dew point for the system. 38 F (3 C). This dewpoint, 38 F (3 C), was based on what refrigerated air dryers claim to be capable of delivering. Although NFPA 99 is not retroactive, hospitals began installing dewpoint monitors and the results were incredible. BeaconMedæs received huge volumes of phone calls, from hospitals, concerned and infuriated over the fact that the dewpoint alarms kept going off. The presence of moisture in the air lines was now open for all to see. What made matters worse, was that after a service person visited the site and found everything in good working order, the alarms would go off again the very next day! As a result, we found many hospital installations where they had literally unplugged the dewpoint monitors because it was driving them crazy.


Why were the dewpoint alarms going off?

The problem was in the sizing and in the design, of the separators, of many (not all) refrigerated air dryers. First, sizing in hospitals is done for peak-calculated demand. Peak-calculated demand represents a worst-case scenario, for instance where a disaster has occurred and all air outlets are being used, in all areas, of a hospital. This sizing practice is unfortunately even more necessary today, than before, as hospitals must have contingency plans for biochemical attacks on the civilian population.

In reality, however, normal medical air demand is normally only 1/3rd of peak-calculated demand. This means that the average air dryer is operating at 1/3rd of its’ designed capacity. What we discovered was, that at 1/3rd load, the average refrigerated air dryer cannot maintain the 38 F (3 C) pressure dewpoint. The reason was (and is today) that most of the mechanical separators used in the dryers, to separate out the condensed water, are not capable of effective separation at the low loads. There is not enough air velocity, for the centrifugal action of the separator to function. Moisture, therefore, would simply get re-entrained into the air stream and would flow downstream of the dryer – triggering the alarm. A surgery center, for example, which operates 10-12 hours per day, might see no problems while they are working and placing a good deal of demand on the compressed air system. Overnight, the compressed air system then has a reduced level of demand and the moisture separators don’t work at the partial load. Moisture is re-entrained into the system and when people show up for work the next day, the dewpoint alarm has gone off.


Why didn’t hospitals just use desiccant air dryers?

In the early 1990’s, industrial desiccant air dryers had several characteristics which hospital engineers perceived as negatives. The first challenge was price. The cost was twice that of a refrigerated air dryer. The second challenge was purge air. Hospital engineers didn’t like purge air primarily because it would force the air compressors to turn on – even when there was little or no demand from the hospital. The third challenge was a perception of higher maintenance- particularly with the valves on a desiccant air dryer. Many industrial desiccant air dryers, recommended yearly valve “rebuilds” as part of standard maintenance procedures. For these reasons, the hospital industry was against desiccant dryers and “lived with” the issues they had with refrigerated air dryers.

Our company, BeaconMedæs, had a lot of experience with desiccant air dryers and we decided to address these challenges by designing a desiccant air dryer, specifically for hospitals.


How did you address the challenges?

We set about solving these challenges one-by-one. Cost was a major issue. The classic industrial desiccant air dryer is designed to deliver a -40 F (-40 C) dewpoint at CAGI sizing conditions (100 psig, 100 F ambient, 100 F inlet). We don’t need (in fact don’t want) too low a dew point. We only need a dewpoint low enough, that no liquid will form. Some moisture in the air is actually good for breathing use. So we designed a dryer which can deliver a -12 F dewpoint at CAGI conditions. The result was that we were able to reduce the size of the desiccant towers vs. the industrial designs. This reduced the cost of the machine and therefore the customer price.

Industrial designs sold purge controls as an expensive “adder” to the standard controller. The “adder” was 50% of the value of a dryer in some cases. Without purge controllers, the purge air drove people crazy because it caused the air compressors to turn on when no air was being used. Our solution was to integrate the dewpoint monitor, required by Code, with the desiccant air dryer and use it for purge control. BeaconMedæs was the first to do this. This again reduced cost and eliminated the concerns created by purge air.

The challenge presented by frequent valve maintenance was solved, by utilizing the toughest valve we could find. We found a valve designed for locomotive braking systems. Locomotive brake systems, of course, expose this multi-port, ceramic valve to the dirtiest and most extreme conditions. The valve is designed for 10 million cycles and we placed a 10-year unconditional warranty on it. We call it the 441 Valve and although it is a very expensive component, the elimination of maintenance concerns make it well worth it.


How has the BMed air dryer been accepted?


We introduced this air dryer design in 1992 and it has become the standard for medical dryers. The market now knows that a medical dryer is very different, in design, from an industrial air dryer. Today, the U.S. hospital market is 90% desiccant air dryers and 10% refrigerated air dryers. This change has occurred over the past 10-15 years.


So what is the NFPA 99 dewpoint requirement today?

In 2002, the NFPA 99 Code changed again and now specified 32 F dewpoint. The text actually says “a dewpoint below frost point” which is, in essence, 32 F. This eliminates any possibility for water vapor to condense in the pipelines.


Can refrigerated air dryers also meet the current NFPA 99 Specification?

There are a few designs which can and many that cannot. We have already discussed the issues with partial loads, separator designs, and moisture re-entrainment in refrigerated air dryers. This eliminates many refrigerated air dryer designs. The other factor is pressure. Most medical air systems operate at 50 psig air pressure. A properly designed refrigerated air dryer can provide a dewpoint, at 50 psig, of -1 F. A refrigerated air dryer, therefore, can comply with the 32 F NFPA 99 dewpoint requirement - if properly designed for 1/3rd load working conditions.


Does BeaconMedæs get involved with breathing air?

We are not directly involved with the OSHA and CAG Standards Committees, which drive their breathing air specifications. We do, however, get involved with breathing air applications through the NFPA.

The 2002 Edition, of NFPA 99, says you can use Level 1 Medical Air for an Occupational Purpose. Occupational air includes the supply of air to Supplied Air Respirators. Prior to 2002, a separate “breathing air” port could only be used for respirators. Now, Medical air can be used. The only difference is that the Medical air must be tested and documentation of the testing most be done on a regular basis. The local OSHA inspector has the documentation requirements for this.

This goes back to the NFPA philosophy of sourcing clean air. If you take average ambient air and take it to a lab, the chances are extremely good that it will meet OSHA requirements.

Using Level 1 Medical Air for breathing air is now more commonplace. The demand for breathing air is increasing. Respiratory isolation is on the rise due to increases in turberculosis. Hospitals must be prepared to work in an environment with contaminated patients who present biochemical or biological hazards to the nurses and doctors. Emergency Rooms need an air supply with hoods, suits, and respirators. Medical Air Systems have had required CO Monitors since 1999. Now the key to be OSHA Grade D compliance is to practice the quarterly testing and documentation. Using Medical Air for Breathing Air eliminates the need for a separate air system in the hospital.

Thank you BeaconMedæs for your insights.

For more information, please contact Mark Allen, BeaconMedæs, email:, tel: 704-588-0854,