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Australia lags Europe in compressor energy awareness

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THE markets for air compressors in Australia and Europe are largely the same, however according to Atlas Copco’s new managing director, Ignace Cappuyns*, Australian manufacturers are still trailling behind their European counterparts in energy awareness.

“People still consider a compressor just as a machine that has to produce air, without looking closer at the total picture in the longer term...in Australia there is a clear concern for the environment, but when it comes to energy consumption and saving energy, still there is room for improvement,” he told Manufacturers Monthly.

Cappuyns said Australian compressor users often failed to take advantage of the technology available, making price-based purchase decisions which do not consider long term costs.

“If you look at the cost involved in [operating] a compressor over let’s say five years, 70% of the costs are energy related, so it’s just paying the electricity bill to the supplier of the electricity. Then there is the small part, something like 10 to 12% related to maintenance, and the original investment of the compressor itself is small; it’s only 7, 8 or 9%,” he said.

For example, variable speed drive compressors have been widely available in Australia for over ten years, but Cappuyns claims their uptake in industry has not been extensive, even though their use could save companies between 30 and 35% on average energy consumption compared with standard compressors.

Cappuyns claims there is a strong drive in the European compressor market for energy savings, “because a compressor is an important consumer of electrical energy,” he explained.

In the maintenance arena, Cappuyns believes Australian manufacturers are keeping pace, with predictive maintenance techniques gaining popularity.

“The second trend [in Europe], of companies requesting predictive maintenance rather than proactive, is also clearly detectable [in Australia]. Some of our bigger customers insist even on having remote monitoring installed,” he said.

In proactive maintenance systems, maintenance schedules are established that seek to ensure equipment never fails by making conservative estimates of the lifespan of components, and servicing or replacing equipment before it fails. “So there is a risk of overdoing things,” Cappuyns commented.

“Now there is a trend to predictive maintenance using remote monitoring equipment so the actual condition of the compressor can be followed and so that maintenance work is only done when really necessary.”

He added Australia’s vast geography and small population adds to Australian manufacturers’ needs for reliable and cost efficient compressor maintenance. “The security and safe-guarding of production is sometimes more emphasised here [in Australia] than in Europe where territories are much smaller and infrastructure is much more developed.”

The third major trend Cappuyns identified was increasing demand for quality air. “The quality of the compressed air is more and more of a concern. It needs to be free from moisture and dirt particles in order again to preserve the equipment of the customer and have less production interruptions,” he said.

Cappuyns said he expected future developments in air compressor technology would work towards improving the quality of air produced, particularly in oil injected compressors which currently leave a small amount of residual oil in the compressed air.

“There might be developments to reduce this or eliminate completely it with different types of technologies which you could class under oil-free compressor technology,” he said, adding other advances would focus on improving air compressor efficiency.

*Until August this year, Ignace Cappuyns was based in Athens as general manager for Atlas Copco Compressors, Greece and Cyprus. He also has worked for the company in Belgium and France, and has 15 years experience in the compressor industry.

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