The rise of the compressor

Everything in today’s world is becoming more intelligent, from cars to washing machines, from building controls to...compressors? Kevin Glass, managing director of Bitzer UK and president-elect of the Institute of Refrigeration explains.

Q. What are so-called ‘intelligent compressors’? How would you defi ne the technology and approach? A: An intelligent compressor is one equipped with the ability to not only monitor its own operation and surroundings, but to do something as a result, should the need arise.

Q. What particular systems and capabilities do intelligent compressors have that conventional systems do not? A: They have monitoring devices, such as temperature sensors and pressure transducers, that allow them to monitor system conditions. These are connected to a bespoke electronic analysis device that interprets the information and converts it to useful data related to the compressor’s operating envelope.

Q. So, what can an intelligent compressor do that a conventional compressor cannot? A: An obvious example is self-protection, whereby a standard compressor would automatically stop when critical conditions occur. Intelligent devices can take ‘evasive action’ to ensure operating conditions are maintained within a safe application envelope, while continuing to provide at least some cooling – a ‘limp-home’ mode, if you will. Intelligent compressors can also make decisions about the most effi cient mode of operation at any given load scenario in order to optimise performance and reduce energy use.

Q. What is driving their development? A: Key drivers are the size of today’s systems and their importance to business and everyday life, along with the associated costs to purchase and operate. Systems are getting larger, and the load variation greater, so the minimum load is a much smaller percentage of the maximum load than it was before. This creates a requirement for a wide effi cient operating band, and this is simply not possible without some kind of intelligence. People also increasingly want data in order to analyse how the system has been operating over previous months or even years. Intelligent systems record and store this for use at any time.


Q. What is the state-of-the-art as currently available? A: One of our own examples at Bitzer is the new OS 9 series screw compressor – it has the ability to change internal slider positions to maximise effi ciency across the whole application envelope, and at whatever current load conditions apply. This is like an engineer tweaking the system 24/7, optimising the compressor at intervals of a few seconds. This is a mind-boggling thought to those of us who began in the industry before the electronic expansion valve was even invented.

Q. What percentage of compressors sold today in the UK would you describe as intelligent? A: The numbers currently are quite small, as the intelligence is optional at the moment. However, some units have it as an integral part of the compressor, so all of these machines have the capability. It is worth noting that the intelligence may be there, but is

not being used to its full potential. For example, the capability for online monitoring and control is quite often not harnessed. This will change as understanding of the potential uses and benefi ts grows.

Recent developments make it possible to add intelligence to existing systems, which were originally installed without this capability. Retrofi tting intelligent systems in this way gives an existing system nearly all the facilities of a current state-of- the-art unit purchased from new.

Q. What are the benefi ts of intelligent compressors – for the manufacturer? A: It can provide data – with the customer’s consent – which gives an insight into the actual operating conditions its products encounter in the fi eld. This could be used to improve the product for the benefi t of all. Imagine if you could see how a certain car driver habitually drove his or her car – armed with this knowledge, you could in theory adapt the vehicle to be most effi cient under that person’s way of driving. In the same way, a compressor manufacturer could adapt the operating envelope of a standard compressor to suit a

July 2018

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