5 top compressed air highlights from Hannover Fair

Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Germany for the Hannover Messe, which I call the “nerd's paradise.” I spent the majority of my three-and-a-half days in the ComVac section, where all the latest things about compressors and vacuum are displayed and where compressed gas and vacuum companies display their products. As in my first visit two years ago, I was totally amazed at the number of companies from various countries that attend the fair. These were from United States, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, China, India, Japan, Korea, Finland, Slovenia, Canada, and others (I lost count). So many products were represented that the ComVac section had to be expanded into another hall.

It struck me that I, being located in North America, lead a very sheltered life in the industry. Many of the companies and products I viewed have no presence in our market, probably because of the difficulties gaining distributors and meeting country-specific safety standards. But these companies are knocking at the door with lower-cost products that could very well meet the needs of typical American industrial customers in a few short years.

This increased competition has made the big compressor and dryer companies, the ones with the highest market share, smarter and more innovative, and it showed at Hannover. Their focus clearly was on developing more efficient compressors, dryers, controls and components. This efficiency extended not only to energy efficiency, but also the development of smaller (space-efficient) and more reliable (maintenance-efficient) equipment. 

Improvements to the design of compressors and dryers were front and center.  Innovative control of both single and multiple compressor systems is offered by most compressor manufacturers, and those without product offerings can utilize systems that are being offered by third-party companies that specialize in cutting-edge compressor control.

The big manufacturers are pushing toward what is called Industry 4.0, arguably called the next step in industrial development. For compressed air users, this means the development of various products and components that collect and share data (via the IoT) and send this information to cloud-type databases, dashboards, and web pages that inform the owners and operators about the status of their systems. Further, some systems can use this data to trend and simulate, to identify problems, and even to suggest solutions or warn operators of upcoming problems. The most impressive to me, given that I work in the energy management field, is the significant advancement in energy data collection - almost nonexistent a few years ago - and the efficiency reporting capabilities that energy managers can use to quickly identify problems and potential opportunities.

Here are my top 5 highlights from Hannover, in no particular order:

  • Visiting the Kaeser Compressor booth and learning about the new design improvements of many of their products. Use of synchronous reluctance motors has improved the energy efficiency of the variable-speed drive compressors, especially in the lower speed range. Improvements in compressor control through the Sigma Air Manager has raised the bar in terms of compressor control as it pertains to Industry 4.0 goals. Kaeser was the definite winner of my "biggest and most impressive display area" recognition.
  • Viewing Sullair’s new redesigned LS series of lubricated screw compressor with electronic control of the internal spiral valve. This control will give VSD-type control but in a much more robust package than electronic VSD, something that can handle the harshest and most challenging environments.  A shocking announcement during the fair was Hitachi's purchase of Sullair; it will be exciting to see what comes out of the transaction.
  • Learning about the new cycling air dryers using phase-change material (PCM) that SPX and Kaeser are offering. Rather than using a large thermal mass, the same cycling effect can be gained by storing energy in latent heat (changing from liquid to solid and back again). This innovation has allowed thermal mass dryers to become much smaller and lighter; this and other design changes have improved dryer efficiencies.
  • Being impressed by the number of companies offering data link devices that interface important equipment such as compressors, dryers, and controllers to cloud database and reporting functions. Many use cellphone connections, and some are offering these at no cost to the customer for a period of time. These are being offered by companies such as EnergAir, AirLeader, Kaeser, Atlas Copco, Sullair, Ingersoll Rand, SPX, Airleader, CompAir / Gardner Denver, and Boge. Data links and visualization on smartphones and tablets are even being offered on condensate drains, such as the ones from Jorc.
  • Learning about various companies offering products that reduce energy on the demand side of the system, like Godrej’s compressed air flow-control system, which boasts 4,000 installations worldwide, and the various companies offering leak detector products. I was particularly impressed by the development of an end-use auditing system by CALMS, small company from Slovenia. CALMS has developed a leakage and end-use management system following ISO 11011 and CSA 837 guidelines that works on a smartphone. The company is even developing a low-cost ultrasonic leak detector that attaches to the phone to make for easy detection and analysis. More innovations will come, I’m sure.

This is just a distillation of the many wonderful developments in compressed air showcased at Hannover Messe. If you ever get a chance, be sure to visit.