Operating Under Pressure With Kaeser Compressors

April 2, 2021
In this bonus episode of the Food For Thought Podcast, we sit down with the team from Kaeser Compressors.

A global leader of compressors, blowers, and vacuums, Kaeser Compressors designs and builds compressed air solutions that help facilities optimize and improve their operations. In addition to installing equipment, Kaeser also provides customized solutions—including prebuilt compressor rooms—that food and beverage processors can drop in right next to their facility or plant.

In this episode, we talk about service, reliability, benefits and costs of a Kaeser compressed air solution as well as reasons why a processor might consider moving their air system outside of their plant.


Erin: Welcome to this special episode of the Food For Thought podcast. It is so great to have Bill, Neil, and Michael, here on today's episode. Welcome, guys. Let's get started off by explaining who and what Kaeser Compressors is.

Kaeser Compressors provides products, services and complete systems for supplying production and work processes with quality compressed air. Learn more about Kaeser Compressors' products and services on their website

Neil: Kaeser is a global leader of compressors, blowers, and vacuums. We've been around since 1919. We have a lot of experience in design build, specifically system design and optimizing for specific applications.

Michael: While we make equipment, compressors, blowers, vacuum equipment, our focus is on providing solutions that really optimize and improve the customer's operations, both from a cost and performance standpoint.

One of the things that we do, in addition to installing the equipment in somebody's plant, is provide a customized solution, or even a prebuilt compressor room that is ‘plug and play’; they can drop in right next to the plant. This is something that some customers find benefit in and there are a number of reasons that a customer may want to do that.

We have a nationwide network that provides complete support from start to finish—from helping design the system and understanding the needs, to quoting it and selling it, and then installing, commissioning, and then all of the servicing throughout the lifecycle of the equipment. We commonly evaluate existing systems to solve common and sometimes uncommon problems, which includes doing compressed air and blower energy audits.

Erin: Can you elaborate on the custom solution?

Michael: Most systems are installed in the plant with individual components— compressors, dryers, tanks, piping, filters, etc.—that are all selected and sized for the application. The custom engineered solution is where we put the system together before we deliver it to the plant. That could be in a skid or it could be in a fully enclosed, weatherproof enclosure. And the customer can buy that package or, in some cases, they opt for having that capability on-site but actually not buy it. And it's basically a service rather than them spending capital dollars on new equipment.

Erin: What are some of the top benefits of moving the air, or rather moving the air system, out of the plant?

Bill: The main benefits of moving the system out of the plant can range from high to low. Some examples are the ease of service access, increased security, and contamination control. It frees up in-plant floor space and also it reduces the time of installation. By doing so, you also remove sources of heat, noise and it provides a better overall environment for the system.

Michael: I would add that in doing that, it often eliminates the need for building renovations or new construction in the case of an expanding plant. It's much faster than having to have an architect and engineer design new building space because we're doing the building and it can just be more or less dropped in on-site. And it can be moved. If it's a temporary solution and the plant relocates or needs the air somewhere else on its campus, these systems can be moved.

And in some specialized cases, such as Class I, Div I maybe in a chemical plant, or a gas processing plant, sometimes having traditional rotating equipment or electrical equipment is not safe too close to the application. Instead of buying very expensive explosion-proof compressors or specialized, engineered equipment, you can have this solution dropped in somewhere outside the Class I, Div I area, and then pipe in the air which increases safety. It also greatly reduces costs.

Guest Profile: Neil Mehltretter

As Engineering Manager, Neil Mehltretter is a key player in Kaeser’s Technical Department with responsibilities including product management, system design, and more. An authority on compressed air assessments, Neil has conducted and supervised thousands of industrial compressed air studies, helping users achieve significant energy savings and operational improvements. 

Erin: We talked a bit about service, so I'm curious, how does it impact reliability?

Neil: Over time, compressors are certainly affected by anything that's in the ambient air. If the inside of the facility is hot, or you have all kinds of debris, these things over time can affect the operation of the compressors, dryers, etc. Specifically, compressors have a significant amount of cooling air required. And if the cooler gets clogged with dust and debris, this will affect the machine, cause it to run hot. In those cases, you're going to have issues with over-temperature or operation faults on the machine, etc. So, by allowing the compressors to move outside, you can control that environment in a better way. You can certainly put banks of filters on the outside (of the enclosure), which allows you to maintain operating temperature within that enclosure. It makes it a lot easier to see.

In a lot of cases, these enclosures would have some kind of interface back to the facility. It could be a master controller, like our Sigma Air Manager or an individual compressor controller, like our Sigma Control 2—these can bus information back to the facility. You can see how those compressors (or other rotating equipment) are actually operating, get the alarms, get the faults, get the warnings. There's a lot of great information that's shared, in addition to being able to build that kind of redundancy into the enclosure.

Once you have a compressor room, you're limited in that size and scope. So, if you wanted to add, for example, a 100-horsepower compressor, for your packaging process, you may not be able to put it in the standard compressor room. So, what can you do? The joy of an enclosure-based system is that you can make that enclosure as big as you necessarily need, and/or look at making various pods. It's very scalable, and that can allow for easier service of equipment.

When we're looking at the design, you're dealt a hand in regard to your compressor room. But when you're building these enclosures, you can decide, “How much space do I really need?” or “How am I going to service this equipment?” “Oh, you know what? I'm not going to put the tank right in front of the electrical control cabinet, I'm going to give it the required space in the NEC codes.” There are a lot of things that allow us to expand the scope when we have full control over where the equipment is going to go.

Erin: How does the cost compare to traditional methods?

Bill: At first glance, they appear expensive compared to traditional methods; with those traditional methods being buying components such as compressors, dryers, or filters, and placing them in a room. But those traditional methods do not account for all the major work or trade work to be done on-site. I refer to trades as being plumbing, electrical, and ventilation.

Also, you have to account for the cost of renovating or new construction as a true comparison. And as an added point, the traditional methods typically come with lost production time, this is an important part, because we're always waiting for such things as engineering work, building permits, etc. By far it is less expensive than building or expanding. With a custom engineered solution, the package is complete and the items like ducting, piping, and electrical are already installed.

Erin: I'm curious, is there any limitation on the system size?

Guest Profile: Michael Camber

Michael Camber is Kaeser’s Marketing Services Manager and has served in numerous roles throughout the company since joining Kaeser Compressors in 1997. Michael has been a member of Kaeser’s active training team, educating both Kaeser’s distribution network and customers on reliable and energy efficient compressed air system design. He is KFaCT Master Certified and has completed the US Department of Energy's Compressed Air Challenge Level I and II training. 

Neil: We've seen skids, enclosures, etc., as small as 10 horsepower and systems installed over 1,000 horsepower. So, it really depends on the scope of work, and then also the physical area available outside of a customer's facility because they can be, as I alluded to earlier, a pod type system where you have one compressor or blower in an enclosure, or you could have multiples. But as Bill probably will point out, there are weight, height limits on these things in regard to what you can move. So, the travel permits around the country or shipping overseas, are some limitations.

Michael: I would just recap that and say, no, there are no real limitations on the system size. It can be done for any size system, but the transportation is a limiting factor. What we do sometimes is bring several enclosures together on multiple trucks, and then put them together on-site, or they will be multiple independent pods or enclosures that are then manifolded together with piping, but each one stands on its own. The enclosures can come in many different sizes. But again, ultimately, the length, both the dimensions and the weight, are limited by the mode of transportation, which typically is commercial trucking.

Erin: What about weather, what about extreme temperature, high winds, do those impact?

Bill: Many people tend to overlook this very important factor. The packages can be designed for that exact location. We take into consideration local climates, which includes extreme temperatures, the winds, driving rains, snow, and other such factors. If you're in California, we would even consider any seismic considerations for that. The packages are designed and can be provided with any necessary certifications or professional engineer stamping to allow them to operate in those said areas.

Neil: A compressor is a very efficient heater, so, the joy of working with this type of rotating equipment is you're making a significant amount of heat. During blizzard-like conditions, as long as the compressor is running, there's the ability to re-circulate that heat within that container, and our engineering team, headed by Bill, does a great job of ensuring that the temperature within the enclosure or container is able to maintain necessary operating temperatures, and that the equipment is running appropriately.

That’s another thing that we definitely take into consideration. If there's additional insulation that's required, or like Bill said, professional engineering stamps in regard to seismic locations, those can be done. And it does allow us to be very versatile in where we are and where we're going with this type of product and support for customers.

Michael: The ventilation is all thermostatically controlled. And we design each of these enclosures to the climate so that someone in a moderate climate isn't paying for the extreme preparation. So, again, it's all custom.

Guest Profile: Bill Kemph

As Project Manager for Custom Engineered Solutions, Bill Kemph is a key player in Kaeser’s Technical Department with responsibilities including innovative system designs, project management, construction supervision, quality control and more. Bill has more than 20 years of experience with building, testing, designing, and installing compressed air systems. An authority on compressed air packaging, Bill has designed or supervised the design of countless industrial compressed air package builds, helping users achieve optimal compressed air system utilization and operational improvements. 

Erin: Something that you were talking about really got me thinking about the containers and the way that you can be very specific about the way you could customize. I'm curious how big or small of a system will fit into one container?

Bill: We've mentioned containers, enclosures and such, so, I'd like to make a little clarification here. The main difference between an enclosure and a container: an enclosure is a custom-built device from the ground up. We have the ability in the beginning to determine its length, width, and height, and what we can accommodate within that. A container is typically referred to as an ISO shipping container you use, and you see them carrying freight back and forth across the country. They do have their benefits. They're more robust. However, they do have their limitations. With the container, we are left with a fixed length, width, and height. With that said, to answer the actual question, we're, kind of, limitless on what we can package with an enclosure system because we have the ability to scale them up, or make them modular, make them multiple pieces. It’s fairly unlimited as long as we go back to the previous answer about the transportation needs.

Michael: Because while we sometimes use containers, especially if we know that the customer is going to frequently move the enclosure, a container is sometimes preferred, but most of the time other custom containers or enclosures are more versatile.

We have also put systems as small as a 10-horsepower instrument air package in a remote location. And then we have some that are 45-feet long and have 300 or 400 horsepower worth of compressed air with three or four machines and dryers and all the filtration all in one structure or we can marry them together. There’s a lot of flexibility there.

Erin: I want to do a bit of a pivot and talk about skid mounting equipment. Can we talk about the advantage in skid mounting equipment?

Bill: First, let's define what a skid is. A skid is simply a weatherproof enclosure that is minus the weatherproofing and the climate controls. They basically have the same function. However, a skid is perfect for an indoor system as long as the conditions are good. Skids are quick and allow for an easy installation in the startup. They're very portable. As with enclosures, they come with all the factory pre-assembled components. There's no chance of a mishap in the field or for anything incorrect—for instance, piping, wiring, etc.—placed in the wrong order.

Michael: That’s a particularly important benefit because when these packages are put together, it's a single source.

Because everything is put together before it ships, you're not at the mercy of a third-party installer who may not be as well-versed in compressed air equipment. They may be a perfectly fine mechanical plumbing contractor, but if they don't know their compressed air equipment, they might plumb it backwards, they might plumb the inlet air to the outlet of the filter or the dryer, or they might not use the right size piping and it might cause restrictions in airflow. These are very common problems. Likewise, electricians who are not familiar with the equipment may mis-wire them. There are a number of common problems. Having these things all put together by compressed air professionals before they arrive, reduces problems during commissioning, and again, reduces downtime or accelerates the commissioning and getting the plant going with its compressed air.

Erin: Is there an advantage for some type of processes versus others to go with this route, with their compressed air system?

Bill: There are a lot of applications out there; we've seen so many, and they all differ. The focus is that we can provide air for any food facility, any application, of any volume, or air quality level.

It's very helpful if we have portable processes, such as for a service company that needs a dedicated air source as well. When we say “Is there any specific process that's better served one way or the other?” it really depends. I work with piping projects as well, and what we find is compressors may change over the course of time in a facility, but the piping infrastructure is always the same unless we're adding or changing something in the process. This sometimes makes it very difficult to get the air to whatever point of use it is you need. And it's the same thing with the compressors. We put the compressors in this one part of the facility that worked great in the ‘80s, but here we are 40 years later, and production equipment has changed significantly. Putting those compressors in that particular location is not a good option now because maybe the environment is really poor. Moving the compressor room outside of the plant and putting it in an enclosure allows us to design the system from the ground up.

In a lot of cases, just because there's a certain type of equipment that's in the air filtration, it doesn't mean that’s what the customer actually needs. What we pride ourselves on here at Kaeser is really talking to the customer, figuring out what the air quality level required is, and then designing the system from the ground up to meet that.

Erin: For companies that are just looking to expand but not replace, could they tie this into their existing compressed air system?

Michael: Yes, absolutely. It's very easy to do. It really is about piping it in and making sure that if you're adding additional flow, that you have the right amount of storage and the valving, so that you can shut things off for service and so forth. This is standard practice in compressed air systems. It's a very fast and convenient way to expand your compressed air system without having to knock down walls or add floor space to the building.

Bill: Right. It can be done practically without any interruption to the production.

Erin: You mentioned before something called Sigma Air. Can you explain that in a little more detail what that is?

Michael: Sigma Air, or Sigma Air Utility, is Kaeser's name for buying air as a utility. Some people call it "air over the fence." The user pays for the service of getting air instead of buying and maintaining the equipment. It's just a different model from traditional ownership. We take on the burden of monitoring the equipment, servicing the equipment, and include it in a monthly fee that guarantees the customer a certain flow, minimum pressure, and air quality. All of the services are included; they don't have to touch it. It's all on us for the cost of that fee.

Erin: I imagine there will be other people that are curious and want to learn more. If someone wanted to learn more or get in contact with someone at Kaeser Compressors, how could they go about doing so?

Michael: They can visit us on our website at us.kaeser.com/engineeredsolutions. From there, you can watch a video about the process, take a tour of one of these systems, and then if you're so moved, contact someone to discuss an application.

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