Industrial Utility Efficiency

Sullair of Houston Provides Air Compressor Solutions for Extreme Environments

Sullair of Houston, one of the largest North American distributors of Sullair industrial and portable diesel compressors, loves a challenge. The company designs customized air compressor packages that fit the rough and rugged world outside the walls of an industrial plant. It builds air compressor solutions that operate efficiently in extreme, harsh environments around the globe. This includes offshore or marine environments, high or low ambient conditions—any environment where a standard air compressor will not operate safely or efficiently.

We have been in business for more than 40 years and have solved quite a few compressed air challenges for our customers,” says Loran Circle, director of engineering and sales. “We design everything from a custom single machine to multi-unit skid packages that meet complex requirements of air compressors that operate under severe environmental conditions.”

Sullair of Houston opened at its current location on Jan. 3, 1970. Today it distributes Sullair compressors rated up to 600 hp, portable compressors up to 1,600 cfm, oil-free compressors, air drying equipment up to 30,000 cfm and related ancillary equipment. The company provides customers with air compressor solutions from start to finish—from the time of purchase to preventative maintenance to air system audits.

High-pressure stainless steel enclosures are produced by Sullair of Houston.

High-pressure stainless steel enclosures are produced by Sullair of Houston.

Because Houston is an engineering hub for the world, Sullair of Houston has been called on many times to assist in designing custom air compressor packages. The company has 250 combined years of compressed air application experience on its staff, which includes three U.S. Department of Energy AirMaster specialists.

Along with standard industrial and portable lines, Sullair of Houston offers in-depth capabilities in the customized and packaging fields. According to Owner Brad Fish, the company has built customized compressors and packages for applications on all the world’s continents except for Antarctica. In fact, Sullair of Houston provided equipment that assisted in extinguishing the Kuwait fires during the Persian Gulf War.

What percentage of its air compressors are sold from inventory, as opposed to custom designed? Loran Circle says that depends on whether you are talking total dollars or number of units. “We have an extensive inventory of new machines for immediate delivery and these generally are for the standard industrial market. We also use this inventory for reasonably quick delivery of some of our packages.” The company has a rental fleet of 250 units that are available for customers that experience unexpected events and require quick turnaround.


Building Custom Packages

Many steps are involved when it comes to building custom-designed air compressor packages. “We start with a set of specifications from an engineering firm and study details of the site and application for each project,” Circle explains. “We try to meet as many of the specifications as possible. However, many times we must deal with boilerplate specifications written many years ago. In our meetings with clients, we work with them to provide the proper equipment for the application and site using the best technology.”

For example, Sullair of Houston often receives requests for oil-free compressors. This can lead to greater project costs because of the high maintenance required for oil-free machines. “This is due to the fact that years ago compressors used petroleum-based fossil fuels for their cooling, lubrication and sealing processes. Nowadays, we use polypropylene glycol coolants and filtration that can provide oil-free air with coolant flooded-compressors, which meet ISO 8573.1 standards that exceed 1.1.1 (oil free),” he says.

In order to build customized packages that will operate in harsh environments, the Sullair of Houston team strives to answer the following questions: What is the air being used for? What is the demand profile? Is the unit running 24/7 or is it on standby for emergency? Does the application require 100 percent backup redundancy on the compressor and the air dryer? Loads and air quality standards all are factored into the design of the package.

Current manufacturing of compressors follows the 80/20 rule,” Circle explains. “Manufacturers build for 80 percent of the market—for general industrial applications where the compressor is situated inside a manufacturing plant and is not subject to extreme environments.

To properly engineer a package, one needs to look at the application and site conditions. For example, what will the air be used for and where will the compressor be placed? If the unit is situated in a plant with 65- to 90-degree temperatures and is running general production equipment, a standard 100- to 115-degree ambient machine with a refrigerated dryer usually is practical for this application.”

The big tank is an air start package for large diesel engines.

The big tank is an air start package for large diesel engines.


Many Variables to Consider

Many other variables come into play. If the air compressor will be placed on a land drilling rig where it will be moved over the ground, it needs a specially built frame. If the unit will be moved frequently over its lifetime, it requires a different frame. If the unit will be used in an underground mine, it needs to incorporate fire suppression capabilities and an overhead grating, so that debris falling on the unit will not damage the package parts.

If the air compressor will be operating in climates above 115 degrees, the design needs to incorporate provisions for motor and coolers on the package to survive in that heat. If the unit will be operating in a classified area up to and including a Class 1, Div. 1 hazardous environment and must be NEMA 7-explosion-proof, it needs specially built panels, which involves placing the machine’s controllers in an enclosure to facilitate access. “Some of the electronics used in today’s compressors do not operate well in harsh environments, so we build the packages with standard gauges and electromechanical controls for the environment,” Circle notes.

If the air compressor will be placed in a severe cold environment, a cold weather package needs to be installed. Site-specific conditions such as salt air, corrosive chemicals, gas or possible combustible environments require specifically designed packages. Sullair of Houston also builds stainless steel enclosures for these environments.

Sullair of Houston also builds specialty packages for the nitrogen generation market. Nitrogen packages need high-quality air and pressures from 130 psig to 350 psig. The compressed air package is built and shipped so the customer merely has to hook up the electrical and discharge piping from the skid to the nitrogen generator before use.


Becoming the Standard

Sullair of Houston has designed several air compressor packages that are now used as standard in instrument air requirements for pipeline packages, chemical plants and refineries. “Our packages are now the basis for what many companies come to us and specify,” Circle explains. “For example, our instrument air package specifications are used as standard for many companies that want to control instrumentation in field conditions; they want a package that has a minimal footprint, is ready to go with only electrical and piping hook-up needed from the skid.

Petrochemical plants use our packages with Class 1, Div. 2, Group C and D electrical and controls for hazardous areas with site-specific conditions. These units are already designed for these applications. We’ve done the design and application work for them; they just need to let us know the flows and pressures required for their application.”

Sullair of Houston conducts compressed air system audits to help reduce energy costs for its customers. The company offers AirMetrix solutions that analyze, manage and control total compressed air systems, which encompasses energy-efficient products, compressed air system controls, monitoring and management systems, and air distribution products.

Various steps are involved in the auditing process as well. The Sullair of Houston team conducts a walkthrough and interviews the customer to determine how the plant is currently operating. It then places data loggers on the compressors to measure kW power and pressure.

Our audits are only a determination of where the plant is today,” Circle explains. “It is a starting point of the planning process to create a long-term plan of action. Too often, we’ve seen audits that come complete with recommendations for fixing everything, from replacing all compressors to fixing leaks. If the compressed air system is not energy-efficient to begin with, reducing leaks will not bring the expected results.

“We look at the current demand, the issues, foreseeable growth and (the most important part) what compressors they work with now. From this, we can determine a path to correct the issues and get the plant moving in the right direction. We like to work proactively with the people there, so that any change in the compressed air system is a change in the right direction.”

This instrument package is designed for hazardous locations.

This instrument package is designed for hazardous locations.


AirMasters On Board

Sullair of Houston has three AirMaster specialists on staff, the most of any air compressor distributor in Texas. AirMaster specialists are certified by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Compressed Air Challenge. In order to become a specialist, one must complete classroom and practical training, pass a rigorous exam and demonstrate the ability to use AirMaster software.

The company’s three AirMaster specialists are Loran Circle, Brad Bonnecaze and Robert Gregory. Because of their expertise, these individuals can help customers determine the best practices and most efficient way to design their air systems.

Too often, we see instances where sizes and numbers are generated from many sources of expertise, then additional air is added to cover all possibilities; that number is then sent out for quotes,” Circle says. “Our AirMaster specialists have many years of hands-on experience, coupled with training that can help our customers design energy-efficient air systems. We don’t guess at the system, we design it based on all the information and criteria needed.”

Sullair of Houston has in-house 3D capabilities for drawing customized packages.

Sullair of Houston has in-house 3D capabilities for drawing customized packages.


Experience Reigns Supreme

I have been blessed with incredible talent here at Sullair of Houston,” says Owner Brad Fish. “Our employees, for the most part, have been with the company from 10 to 40 year. That type of longevity is just not found in business nowadays.” Fish offers the following examples.

  • Brad Bonnecaze, chief operating officer, has been with the company for 12 years. His knowledge has helped in the design of piping packages for the pipeline construction industries.
  • Tom Hocking, vice president for the past 35 years, is retiring. Loran Circle, his replacement, has 35 years of experience with Sullair of Houston and 42 years of total compressed air design experience.
  • David Hall, service manager, started with the company in 1972 and is retiring at the end of this year. He has been replaced by George Saez, formerly lead service and training instructor at Sullair corporate headquarters in Michigan City, Ind. Saez is setting up a training facility in Houston to develop and qualify service technician standards to the highest levels.
  • Steve Metcalf, parts manager, began working for Sullair of Houston in 1983. He can recall parts for compressors dating back to the 1970s.


Looking Ahead

While the compressed air industry has made rapid advances over the last 15 years, Sullair of Houston has positioned itself as a leader in building engineered packages that utilize state of the art compressors, controls and air treatment. By using best practices for environmental- and application-specific systems, the company will continue providing these specialty packages well into the future.


For more information please visit Sullair of Houston.

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