Less mess with oil-free compressors

Cleanliness is a line in the sand that can’t be crossed when it comes to food and beverage processing plants. Regulations and by-laws that govern the manufacture of edible consumables are there to protect the public.

By their very nature, factories are not the cleanest of environments. This is why traceability of foodstuffs is becoming more prevalent, not only so consumers can see where their sustenance is being processed, but also if there is a recall, authorities can trace the cause of any food poisoning outbreak. Therefore it is incumbent on those that create food and beverage products to make sure the produce is prepared in the cleanest, most sterile environment possible.

One aspect of ensuring cleanliness is to make sure the equipment that is being used is up to scratch. Air compressors are an important piece of equipment that are used extensively on production lines in many food and beverage factories throughout Australia.

ELGi has been in the air compressor business for more than 50 years, and been in Australia for the past eight years. Aimed at the higher end of the compressor market, the company offers a series of machines including it oil-free range, which is suitable for the food and beverage market.

Tom Fyfe, president of ELGi in Australia, is bullish about the company’s place within the industry and is excited about the potential it has going forward. This includes buying out a major distributor.

“We are determined to become one of the top three compressor companies,” Fyfe said. “And we are definitely up there, which is why we offer a lifetime warranty on the oil-injected units. We started to look at how we could expand in the Australian market, so in August 2018 we acquired Pulford Air and Gas and Advanced Air Compressors, which was basically one company with two entities. This gave us a bigger footprint in the market so we now have offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. It’s helped cement our position as a major player.”

He also sees food and beverage as not only an important market for the company but a growing one, too. He said ELGi is pushing more into the food and beverage and pharmaceutical arenas because they don’t see as much of a downturn in these sectors as much as some other manufacturing sectors.

ELGi has two ranges of oil-free compressors that are suitable for these types of manufacturing environments.

“They’re traditional oil-free units that are dry screw, and come in 75kW to 450kW configurations,” he said. “We also have a new range of water-injected units that was released in Hannover in 2019, which go from 11kW up to 110kW. The dry-screw versions are both air and water cooled. The 11kW and 110W versions are water-injected, air-cooled only.”

Planned maintenance
Fyfe knows that planned maintenance is an important part of any production manager’s schedule. With that in mind, he said that ELGi has developed air compressors that not only work hard, but have extensive back-up service, which is just as important. The buying of the Pulford Air and Gas and the Advanced Air Compressors businesses means they now have more technicians on the ground.

“In Sydney, we have 16 technicians on the road plus two internal technical people,” he said. “In Melbourne and Brisbane, we have five in each. And we work closely with regional distributors. We have very good distributors in WA and SA, and each of those guys has four to six technicians. There’s a huge amount of support for the product. I would say far more than some of our major competitors. I have colleagues who use some of our competitor’s products and they say the support is poor and they charge like wounded bulls.

“Support is a huge thing, and that is why it’s not only important to get assistance from the distributor but the manufacturer, too. As a distributor, you want support from the manufacturers as well. And we’ve experienced pretty poor service from certain suppliers Pulford have been with before. Because of that, we are very mindful of the service we provide to our customers.”

Fyfe is also aware quality is a key driver in the food and beverage market. He said ELGi’s offerings are now up there with the best compressor manufacturers due to a couple of reasons. First, it has undertaken quality improvement measures. For example, one of the biggest factors with the water-injected ranges of compressors is that the company produces its own air-ends, which will need servicing after 4,000 hours. This gives it a longer pre-maintenance working life than most other models on the market.

Second, ELGi also builds its own water separator in the unit, which is a proprietary piece of technology. It allows the company to have more control over the success or failure of the parts. This is why it has its own foundry. It doesn’t outsource the manufacturing of its critical components to third parties.

“We have control over the foundry,” he said. “The foundry is unbelievable – you can eat off the floor it is that clean. And by doing that, we’re controlling the quality right at the start of the process.

Take the air-end for example, which is the most expensive part of the machine. ELGi took over complete control of that component because it wanted to get the quality right and the right cost, too.

The company casts the exterior of the air-end housing and the rotors themselves. The new water-injected range has an aluminium housing, with stainless-steel rotors in it.

The oil-free range has a cast iron housing with steel rotors that have a proprietary coating on them. Fyfe believes that ELGi offers an affordable option to a lot of small- to medium-sized manufacturers, not just the big players in the market.

“I think we are offering a machine at a better price point and a much better lower cost of service over the life of the machine than some of the other options out there,” he said. “With most of the oil-free units available from other companies, you’re required to change air ends after a really small amount of hours.

“For a food processer, you have to build that into your maintenance plan, which can be expensive.”

Into the future
How does Fyfe see the next few years? He said there has been a little slow-down in some of the smaller manufacturing industries – especially for the 5kW to 30kW air compressors. But he is seeing some really good things happening in the larger markets – like the 55kW to 250kW market in both the resources sector and manufacturing. Then there is the foray into the food and beverage space.

“At the moment we have about 20 per cent market share in the oil-injected range. Over the next five years, our goal is to be either number two or three in that oil-free range. We have an incredibly good oil-free range that is low cost of ownership and reliable, which we hope can penetrate the market with good sales and good reference customers that see a benefit of switching over. Things are still going good for us but we have a long way to go.”

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