Advances in the design of air supply systems are helping auto assemblers and component manufacturers to reduce costs and their carbon footprint through savings on power.
An example is the new-generation compressors from Atlas Copco which are designed to use less electricity. The demand for compressed air in production and assembly lines is constantly fluctuating. Through a combination of fixed and variable speed drive compressors, linked to a central controller, air fluctuations can be optimized and idle time eliminated. Demand-based controllers ensure that all consumers are supplied with an optimized air flow. Further overall savings are made by using the heat generated by the compressors for shower water and other applications.
Another of Atlas Copco’s innovations is the development of oil-free air compressors for applications such as the painting of car bodies, where the presence of any oil in the air can cause beading and negatively affect the quality and finish of the paint. Oil-free air is also used for surface preparations prior to applying other types of finishing layers. The robots connected to the Atlas Copco oil-free air compressors monitor air quality, as the presence of oil and sludge in the compresses air can hamper their operations, resulting in production stoppages and other problems.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Stephan Kuhn, President, Compressors Technique, Atlas Copco Airpower N.V. to briefly describe some of the services and products offered to the auto industry.
Kuhn: Atlas Copco is probably the only supplier able to offer almost every compressed air solution for the automotive industry – from compressors to complete Airnet systems, power tools and assembly systems. The extensive product and service package we offer is built on a strong tradition of innovation in combination with our many years of experience. Atlas Copco is a business built on nearly 140 years of innovation, and we remain an innovation leader. Our oil-free compressors serve as good examples of this. The advantages of our oil-free technology have proven very hard to beat. Another strong point is our global organization. We are always close to our customers, serving them out of well over a hundred of own customer and service centers around the world.
AI: What are some of the latest products you have developed that will help the automotive sector?
Kuhn: Atlas Copco’s compressors of¬fer outstanding performance in oil-free air efficiency An example of this is the innovative high-speed drive centrifugal compressor ZH350+ designed to meet the high demands and specific needs of the automotive industry, and which offers outstanding performance and energy savings compared to conven¬tional turbo compressors.
The newly introduced GA 37-90 VSD oil-injected screw compressor range is extremely interesting to the automotive industry. The compressors, ranging from 30 to 90kW, and are equipped with a dedicated Variable Speed Drive (VSD) motor which matches the compressor’s output to the actual demand. This way, the compressor can achieve on average 35% energy savings and a life cycle cost reduction of up to 22%. In compressor design, sustainability is not only producing energy-efficient products, it also involves the manufacturing process and customer productivity. Sustainability in design translates into the use of sustainable components. The GA’s integrated dryer makes use of R410A, an environmentally-friendly refrigerant that does not contribute to ozone depletion. This type of refrigerant also reduces the dryer’s power consumption by 50%.
But, it’s not always the heavy equipment that makes the difference. Compressors and dryers can be connected to central controllers by means of a widely used CAN network. The controller regulates the air net pressure by starting/stopping the different sizes of machines and selecting their optimal operating points. Furthermore, it helps to keep the air net pressure on the lowest possible level in order to gain additional energy savings. For example: lowering the air net pressure by 1 bar reduces not only the energy consumption by 7% but also air leakages by 13%.
AI: What are some of the advantages for automotive OEMs in using Atlas Copco’s compressed air products and services for applications such as painting?
Kuhn: Our customers in automotive industries demand the highest availability and, especially for painting, a 100% oil free air supply. Oil-free air is an area where we have an unmatched offer that really makes the difference for customers. In addition, our engineers and application experts offer a vast pool of knowledge and expertise to our customers.
AI: What are some of the challenges facing automotive OEMs today and how can your company help them meet these challenges?
Kuhn: To make sure that all processes are as efficient as possible in terms of energy use will be of key importance for companies in order to stay competitive, but also in order to comply with pollution legislation and secure sustainable operations. At Atlas Copco we have set aggressive targets both for our products and our own operations in terms of energy efficiency. If you compare today’s average energy consumption to run an Atlas Copco compressor, it is only 10% compared to the technology in the beginning of the 20th century. The need for even better solutions will not stop – and we are working at high speed, and with a constant eye towards the future.
AI: Your company’s motto is ‘committed to sustainable productivity’ – please tell us how Atlas Copco achieves this goal.
Kuhn: We always take the long-term view in everything we do. Our customers need to know that they will be productive not just today or tomorrow, but also 10 years from now. Being committed to sustainable productivity covers many areas: interacting with our customers, developing innovative products, having a good, safe workplace for our employees, investing in competence development, being a good corporate citizen and developing superior products and solutions with the smallest possible environmental impact. This is why we made it again into the top 100 companies of the Dow Jones Sustainability index. We work hard every day to remain in this league.