Air Products’ goal is to share best practice solutions and commercialise new technologies for the foundry industry, across all the regions in which we operate,” says Dave Saha, Air Products Director of International Application Technology, during a recent visit to South Africa.

“It is common knowledge that foundries are extremely high consumers of energy. Air Products is intent on developing technologies to increase energy efficiency and thereby reduce operational costs,” says Sachin Kulkarni, Sales Manager – Bulk Gases National Sales and Commercial Technology Manager at Air Products South Africa.

“It is important to note the benefit of using oxygen enrichment as a fuel source for the combustion process. While alternative fuel sources, such as waste rubber, have a place in aiding the combustion process, oxygen enrichment does not negatively impact on the environment. Given the emphasis in today’s market on ‘environmentally-friendly’ production processes, this mode of facilitating combustion has definite advantages,” says Saha.

Saha points out that the primary focus for Air Products within foundries exists in the combustion process. “This is the area where the heating and melting occurs and the oxygen levels play a great role in providing maximised combustion. Air Products has developed efficient ways of increasing the oxygen levels from the average 21% up to between 24 and 25%. In addition, we have technology available that eliminates other gases, to provide 100% oxygen.

“Three methodologies are currently available. The air fuel burner utilises the lower oxygen levels, the oxy fuel burner operates with 100% oxygen, and the air oxy fuel burner uses a mixture of gases from the air fuel burner and the oxy fuel burner. Ultimately, the product that is smelted in the foundry, the country in which the foundry is located, and other extenuating factors, will determine the methodology of choice,” says Saha.

In addition to benchmark technology equipment, Air Products also provides an associated service to the industry. “This service refers to the manner in which Air Products is able to simulate existing foundry operations in order to ascertain the optimum levels of oxygen enrichment required. We utilise a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) module to achieve customised results,” says Saha.

He adds: “It is important to carefully consider the specific requirements of each foundry. Air Products invests time and resources to build and sustain solid relationships with its clients.

By carefully ascertaining the client’s needs, we are able to devise a strategic plan for developing and implementing a productivity-enhancing solution. Through its implementation Air Products’ clients benefits from increased productivity and efficiency. As a result of successful implementation and application we can utilise our experience in future projects in order to provide our research and development team with important information on market demands.”

Saha explains that Air Products has developed a sophisticated Clean Energy Laboratory at its headquarters in Allentown in the United States. “The laboratory facilitates development and full-scale testing of actual combustion and gasification systems using a full spectrum of gaseous, liquid, and solid fuels from clients. A recent, exciting development within the laboratory is the ability to remotely monitor real-time combustion tests from various locations around the world. The cost savings and convenience factor for clients is substantial.”

Another Air Products offering is the application of a molten metal blanketing process. “This is particularly relevant where nitrogen and argon are used in induction furnaces. In addition, the methodology protects expensive alloys that are prone to increased oxidising,” says Saha.

Kulkarni says that cost reductions for Air Products clients accrue before a product even reaches market. In addition to its own in-house technical team, the company collaborates with external research and academic institutions to provide customer-centric solutions.

“All our research and development is geared around finding creative ways of safely increasing product yield for our clients. Customer service is critical and does not end with the signing of the order. Only by becoming closely attuned to a client’s requirements, production processes and business philosophies is one able to determine an optimal offering,” says Kulkarni.

“In some instances we have found that in contrast to the outright purchase of capital equipment, it is more advantageous to offer the client a leasing option. This allows the client to concentrate on their core business, while Air Products maintains the equipment and regularly applies updates in new technology. Ultimately, one needs to consider what option provides the best process efficiency and competitive advantage,” adds Kulkarni.

“Air Products South Africa will continue to introduce the technologies developed at our parent company’s high-tech research and development facilities, to the local market. It is our responsibility to service our client base by providing sustainable business solutions. By focusing on increasing client productivity and product quality through technology adoption, we are able to offer our foundry clients improved profit margins and sustainable business in the long-term,” Kulkarni concludes.