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In 2014, MAN Diesel & Turbo launched its second-generation RIKT compressor, the latest chapter in a success story that started in Zurich, Switzerland, a century ago, with the advent of the first isothermal machine that could compress air efficiently and cost-effectively. In those days, the primary use cases for air compression technology included industrial cleaning equipment, as well as pneumatic drills and hammers for the mining industry. Over the years, these applications were overtaken by air separation, driven by the growing demand for industrial gases in the petrochemical and manufacturing industries.
Today, the RIKT compressor is a shining example of the industry-leading solutions from MAN Diesel & Turbo for air separation applications.
Despite significant technological improvements, some aspects of the latest RIKT compressor would be familiar to the engineers working on the 1915 isothermal compressors. In fact, the original design that was used to build the first versions were so good, two essential elements are still state-of-the art and unique to MAN Diesel & Turbo in 2015. Isotherm compressor Product Manager Rudi Ter Harkel explains: “Our compressor uses an inline shaft design that combines all process stages on one shaft. The machinery rotates as one unit at a constant speed. This arrangement allows us to use a very solid, heavy rotor that is insusceptible to fouling. Due to this design, the machine keeps running smoothly despite inevitable wear and tear, all of which contributes to a very robust, reliable machine that minimizes downtime and maintenance for end customers.”
The second unique feature relates to cooling. Air heats up as it is compressed – this is why it is vital to keep it cool in order to maximize efficiency. Other technologies cool the air in separate machinery after the compression process. The isotherm innovation was to include the coolers in the same single machine housing. This is efficient, minimizes the whole compression installation, increases reliability and minimizes pressure losses. Ultimately, this was a huge step forward for customers to produce industrial gases in large quantities reliably and inexpensively.
The results can be seen in the remarkable commercial success of MAN’s compressor business. Markus Keller, Vice President Industrial Gases, comments: “Isotherm compressors by MAN stand as a vital proof of our market leadership in compression technology for air separation. It’s just one of our various solutions – but with its hundred years history, the current RIKT is a real sales driver for us.”
Today, 75% of the demand for MAN’s RIKT compressors comes from China, often (but not always) driven by the need for oxygen in the coal gasification process – an important contribution to the country’s aim of more energy independency. Significant customers of MAN’s isotherm technology – not only in China – include all large air separation companies worldwide. One of them is France-based Air Liquide and its subsidiary Air Liquide China. For example, the company’s plant in Tianjin (China) supplies oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen for customers in various industries, and MAN’s RIKT compressors are a key component in the process. “The RIKT compressors offered us balance and reliability. MAN Diesel & Turbo has also developed a local manufacturing workshop in Changzhou, which provides us with quicker response and lower cost for future maintenance, in addition to timely support from MAN Diesel & Turbo’s European operations,” says Zhang Zhenyin, General Manager of Air Liquide Yongli.
In Many Cases, the RIKT compressor is installed as the main air compression component in MAN’s AIRTRAIN air separation trains, with more than 100 worldwide. These trains, featuring steam turbines and booster compressors manufactured by the company in Oberhausen and Berlin, have really set an industrial standard.
As with any large-scale installation of advanced industrial machinery, benefits are significant but can take time to maximize because of an order-to-operation process that takes up to three years to complete. As Rudi Ter Harkel explains: “The first 12 to 16 months are taken up by the relevant engineering and manufacturing processes. Once the compressor has been built, it is shipped to the customer and installed – a process that takes several months to complete. The end customer then starts their own commissioning phase, connecting the compressor to the rest of the machinery required for their specific production process.”
So, when it comes to the installation of air separation machinery, it’s a case of “Good things take time!” Still, demand isn’t slowing down. Since the launch of the first generation RIKT compressor in 2001, over 200 units have been sold, and order books are nicely filled for the latest second-generation machines, launched at the end of 2014. As a result, the outlook for another 100 years of isothermal compressor manufacturing at MAN Diesel & Turbo is very good indeed.
Since the launch of the first-generation isothermal compressors in 1915, over 1,400 units have left the MAN works.
Explore the history of isothermal compressors with our interactive timeline.
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