Atlas Copco Compressors is celebrating the 20th anniversary of technology that has had a major impact on energy efficiency in the industrial world. In the two decades since the company first introduced variable speed drive (VSD) technology into its air compressors, it calculates that UK industry has saved around 240 million kWh of electricity by using Atlas Copco VSD compressors.

The figure, based on a comparison with conventional fixed speed compressors, represents sufficient electricity to supply all of the households in the city of Cambridge for a year, and in terms of carbon emissions is equivalent to taking 42,460 cars off the road for a year.

With compressed air accounting for around 10% of overall energy consumption in British industry, the arrival of VSD technology, which reduced compressor energy consumption by as much as 35%, has been a significant contributor to energy efficiency.

However, ongoing advances in technology are further increasing the potential of VSD compressors, with smaller compressor sizes now able to incorporate variable speed drives.

Atlas Copco turned the compressor world on its head in 2013 with the launch of the VSD+ range, offering an additional 15% improvement in energy savings to take the total to 50% on average, and housed within a canopy less than half the size of traditional fixed speed compressors. Initially available in 7-15 kW options, the range was more recently extended with models between 18-37 kW.

2014 saw another breakthrough as  Atlas Copco began manufacturing its own inverter, the Neos, tailor-made to suit the often tough and dusty working conditions of a compressor. These advances have pushed Atlas Copco nearer its target of 80% of new compressor sales incorporating VSD by 2018, and ultimately raising that ratio to 100%.

Paul Clark, business line manager for the Industrial Air division of Atlas Copco Compressors in the UK, said: “The introduction of VSD technology into compressors was a huge breakthrough in 1994 but we didn’t stop there. Our commitment has continued and in the past 12 months alone we have added the VSD+ range, which offers even greater energy efficiency, as well as our own Neos inverter. With products of this standard coming into the market, there is every reason to be confident that, in the near future, every new compressor sold will incorporate VSD.”

In their infancy, VSD motors were used in heavy industry, but were initially considered too large and expensive to incorporate into compressors. However, an Atlas Copco research team solved the problem and produced a prototype in the late 1980s. This was developed as a market-ready product and launched in 1994, gathering plaudits and awards from many corners of the industrial world.

The first UK company to benefit from the GA VSD 90kW compressor was Kingfisher Lubrication, a precision manufacturing company based in Leeds, which purchased the first unit in the country in 1994. This proved to be a wise investment as the same compressor is still in operation at the site.

John Fisher, chairman and managing director of Kingfisher Lubrication had this to say: “Our family company was founded back in 1867 and, as the fourth-generation MD, I attribute my company’s continued success to the value we place on total quality and reliability in engineering and in everything we do. That was why, acting on the recommendation of Atlas Copco’s local premier distributor, Pennine Pneumatic Services, we opted for Atlas Copco’s VSD compressor. We were assured then that when it comes to performance combined with energy efficiency and reliability, VSD was the way to go and this has proven to be absolutely correct after 30,000 hours of trouble free single-shift service.”