New and (actually) improved: Compressed air innovation in focus

New data collection and storage functions promise to deliver smarter control and better efficiency.

By Ron Marshall

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One of the notable highlights of this year’s Hannover Messe trade show in Hannover, Germany, was a focus on enhanced efficiency and reliability of compressed air systems. Product improvements, including wireless and cellular communications links, were showcased seemingly everywhere, from the most complicated compressor controllers to lowly but important condensate drains. Particularly exciting developments were found in the control and monitoring of air compressors.

Compressor controls and sequencing controllers have been steadily advancing over the years from simple relay logic to complicated microprocessor-based systems. These devices typically operate on an internal design logic that will control compressors based on preprogrammed set points, with the control making a change to system operation based on one or more parameters that might vary past a programmed limit. These controls have various other functions to monitor and report faults in the system or to remind operators when maintenance is due based on some internal timer function.

At Hannover, four companies featured noteworthy product developments. All four have developed or enhanced control, analysis, and communications tools that can help compressed air users keep their system running reliably and at the highest efficiency. 

Sullair announced a communications and monitoring system called Sullair AirLinx (see Figure 1). Released in conjunction with the launch of the company’s newly redesigned LS90-110 range of compressors, the system provides a cellular data link from each compressor controller to a cloud database. This link allows remote monitoring of key compressor parameters by computer, tablet, or smartphone, and, if desired, immediate reporting of problems to key plant personnel.

On-board the redesigned compressors is a new Sullair Touch Screen controller that provides enhanced visualization of all compressor internal conditions and that features a redesigned compressor sequencer that can efficiently control a group of compressors with similar controls. This controller is smart enough to take control of onboard spiral-valve variable-capacity controls (if present), and in a system of multiple compressors, it will coordinate multiple spiral valves to give VSD-like control on a single pressure set point. This allows customers with compressors located in extreme environments that would not allow the installation of VSD controls to have excellent pressure regulation and optimum compressed air system efficiency.

Kaeser Compressors had its enhanced Sigma Air Manager 4.0 on display (see Figure 2). Operating within a Kaeser Sigma Network, this control system offers many enhanced communications and data analysis features. The network connects all site compressors together, forming a high-speed data highway within the plant that provides optimum control and monitoring of connected compressors. Designed with user interests in mind, the controller is shipped preprogrammed to the customer, and when installed, it will “learn” the characteristics of the system, such as storage volumes and compressor response times. Based on this information, the controller will take things like pressure rate of change, compressor idle time, compressor unloaded kW, and unit cycle times and use this information to make decisions about how to control compressors to provide optimum operating characteristics.

This provides not a fixed pressure band as with traditional controllers but a flexible band that works within set user defined minimum and maximum limits. The network can be connected to a Kaeser cloud server that collects key system data allowing compressed air users to monitor their systems via any smart internet connected device. Alerts can be automatically sent to compressor operators and service personnel if parameters cross preset limits.

Energair Solutions from CMC announced its new product, called the Compressor Gate (see Figure 3). This stand-alone product will initially not control compressors but is designed to work to monitor any brand and type of compressor to provide affordable continuous monitoring via broadband cellular link of key compressor parameters. The keys to the system are 4G-linked communications modules that are installed within each compressor as a retrofit. These modules capture parameters like operating status, temperatures, pressures, and alarms and send them to a database server.

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