Thomas Trachsel is one of the true gentlemen of our industry but there is much more to this personable character. He has, literally from the heart of Europe, established a niche CO2 business that has gained a reputation for quality and expertise around the world over the past 30 years. gas
world visited ASCO\\$quot;s head offi ce in Romanshorn to learn about the development of the company, the nature of the business and Trachsel\\$quot;s views on the CO2 and industrial gases market in general.
Trachsel originally came from outside of the gas industry but established a relationship with Arthur Schmid in Romanshorn. At that time Schmid got to know the CO2 plant manufacturer Carbonic Industries in Christchurch New Zealand and
agreed to become their agent for the Northern Hemisphere. Trachsel and Schmid set up ASCO in 1975 to properly market these plants to Europe,the Middle East, Africa and other regions. According to Trachsel, the period from 1973 to 1990 was the boom time for suppliers of CO2 production plants to developing or emerging countries and regions around the world. The demand was mainly driven by expansion in the soft drink manufacturing industry.
To understand the CO2 business more, ASCO became a CO2 supply company, mainly purchasing CO2 wholesale from producers and supplying customers in Switzerland. Until 1986 the business remained a mainly equipment-based selling agency, which was run with few people. However, Trachsel saw much more potential in the business to develop and grow both the equipment and the applications technology.
His fi rst major step in growing the business was the acquisition of Carbonic Industries in 1986. The company had been operating since the 1920s and was not only a manufacturer of CO2 plants but also an important player in the merchant CO2 business in New Zealand. Trachsel knew when he acquired Carbonic Industries that the dynamics of the industry would change in the long-term and that he had
to build on the business\\$quot;s strengths by developing more product offerings to customers of both plants, equipment and of CO2.
As part of the learning process ASCO has always maintained its presence in the merchant CO2 business but over the past 15 years has developed a business portfolio of equipping end-users of CO2 with the technologies they need to expand its CO2 applications. During this period, the company entered the CO2 tank business (including tankers)but found it hard to compete from its Swiss base so now out-sources its tank/tanker requirements. However, a move into the dry ice blasting equipment market in 1990, was the right move as this segment of the business had become an important part of the ASCO business portfolio and currently accounts for 25 per cent of turnover. Where once the plant business accounted for all 70 per cent of the company\\$quot;s turnover, this has since fallen to 25 per cent as the company\\$quot;s other operations have expanded. Trachsel adds: "CO2, dry ice and related equipment have become our main products, resulting in a full product line and respective know-how. Over the last 15 years the equipment side has grown enormously."
We have never been questioned over quality because of our flag or the Made in Switzerland label
Over the same period, the company has developed and marketed other support equipment to the CO2 business - such as cylinder fi lling systems and vaporisers, which are like all other equipment sold to over 100 countries around the world.From the beginning
ASCO Carbon Dioxide Ltd produces and manufactures carbon dioxide plants for the worldwide CO2 business. The plants vary in size from 70 to 1000kgs an hour and are built in ASCO\\$quot;s Christchurch facility in New Zealand. The company essentially builds on-purpose fuel or natural gas fed CO2 production plants which are mainly geared towards remote locations where no other source of CO2
exists. ASCO has over the past 30 years been very successful in selling such plants to the Middle East, Africa, the Far East, South America, the South Pacific and remoter parts of Europe. ASCO has supplied plants and equipment to over 100 countries.
The company also produces some recovery CO2 purification units on stack gas to a maximum capacity of 2000 kgs an hour. As Trachsel explained, while the demand for these type of plants has lessened, there is sufficient to maintain a plant building presence even though other parts of the business have expanded in recent years.Quality speaks for itself
Although CO2 plants are made in New Zealand, being a Swiss based company naturally has its benefits. The country, which is famous for high quality watches and effectivpharmaceuticals (with sporting successes e.g. current Wimbledon tennis champion), has provided ASCO an ideal platform to operate from.
"We have never been questioned over quality, because of our flag or the Made in Switzerland label, and that has been a great help over the years," the proud managing director continues.
At the same time it\\$quot;s not all about the location - it is also about the company\\$quot;s loyal staff and experience. We combine quality with expertise and this forms a very powerful marketing tool.
ASCO certainly does understand this well and the expansion in the company shows the success of this policy. According to Trachsel, the company has been averaging 10 per cent annual growth over the past few years but he expects 2006 to be a
record year \\$quot;“ driven by increased demand for CO2 and dry ice equipment.One stop shop
Observing ASCO\\$quot;s endless range of equipment in its show room at Romanshorn proves that the company truly lives up to its slogan All about CO2. Trachsel says the idea of having a company supplying almost everything associated with the CO2 business developed at a very early stage. "We noticed that companies wanted more than just CO2 production plants.
"CO2 is the most difficult gas to handle because of its physical characteristics (the product can exist in three different forms - gas, liquid and solid). Handling CO2 requires slightly different equipment and marketing opportunities also differ. Over the past 20 years major international gas companies in Europe have acquired CO2 market positions through buying out specialised CO2 companies. However, we continue to be surprised by the way CO2 know-how has not been advanced by such companies and therefore we have structured our company to offer turnkey solutions to both the gas companies and end-users in order to maximise the business opportunities for CO2.
"If you like, we offer a one stop shop for the CO2 business in which we can advise on applications, provide equipment to support the supply of gas to
those applications and very importantly, provide the back-up service to ensure the customer continues successful operation of their technology. In effect we can offer solutions from supplying liquid carbon dioxide, tanks, equipment, maintenance and safety."
But what does this All about CO2 really mean? According to Trachsel the motto means exactly what is says. "The fact that we are able to offer the whole
package from A to Z enables us to stand out from the rest. We don\\$quot;t just provide dry ice block machines but we\\$quot;ll take the sole responsibility for the whole package from conveyors, operations in the packaging room to tank locations.
"For example last year we had a customer from Italy who wanted to purchase a complete dry ice production plant for two major airports in the country. The customer was not experienced in the CO2 or dry ice business but he had the connections and he knew exactly what he wanted so we were able to offer him a total packaged solution in order to service the contract.
"If you just want to buy a single dry ice machine or a blaster, you can buy it from anybody but when we are talking about the whole package we really are the number one. And this is what we are pushing today, total packages."
Today the total solution packages are an important part of the ASCO business and this is the segment Trachsel gets really enthusiastic about.The 57-year old private entrepreneur refers the New Zealand production plant business as bread
and butter for ASCO. "Selling a plant takes an awful lot of energy and man hours. When the product is sold, that is it. If the product is good you rarely
sell additional parts to make more business out of these customers.
"On the other hand when a CO2 customer relationship is established, this may continue for decades. In fact we still have all original customers we had 30 years ago when we started. The key is to visit them, maintain the relationship, look after them and take care of upcoming demands. This is a people business."Future growth
Although the New Zealand operations will continue manufacturing plants to supply global opportunities, ASCO is focusing on dry ice blasting and other CO2 associated equipment. "Our European business is growing significantly at present as well as our international business, which reflects the general positive mood of the industry as a whole."
For this particular reason Trachsel is not concerned with competition in Europe nor in the United States. "There are competitors like Cold Jet in the US that manufacture pelletizers like we do but this is only a part of our product range and we include our own pelletizers in an overall solution package to the customer. We have plenty of work especially in Europe, Middle East and Africa and therefore I have no current intentions to expand ourselves into new regions such as China."
China, which keeps attracting more and more foreign businesses, is not on ASCO\\$quot;s current radar scope. This is mainly because the country is able to produce dry ice cheaply already. Trachsel realises that China is becoming a major industrial force and gas companies are participating with their presence there. However, he does express concerns over technology and patent infringements and although it appears the Chinese Government is starting to address this he will stick to known markets until the technologies which ASCO offers can be protected.
But one thing\\$quot;s for sure: the future looks bright for ASCO. Trachsel explains that 15 years ago they had to educate people about what dry ice blasting was, today the knowledge is already there. He continued: "At the same time the field of dry ice blasting keeps expanding, and the possibilities and how to use the application are bigger than in any other field.
"Europe continues to be our main playing field simply because there are more and more developed areas where we can supply our hi-tech products. However, we have important businesses and customers around the world and we intend to maintain those strong relationships.
"Therefore I am confident that this business will have a long and secure future ahead of it."Concerns about CO2 supply in Europe
While visiting ASCO we had to ask Trachsel for his views on the current dilemma on CO2 sourcing in Europe and the very tight supply position. He confirmed that ASCO, like all other companies supplying CO2, were experiencing supply shortages as a result of a number of ammonia plants being down at this time of year because of the high natural gas prices and for maintenance.
"While I see the current shortage a temporary situation, there must be long-term concerns about future CO2 output from ammonia based sources. One of the shared problems for most gas companies supplying CO2 is that the CO2 sources are generally some distance from the demand centres with the resultant higher distribution costs."
Trachsel believes that companies may have to look at sources of CO2 nearer the end-users, even if they are smaller in size, in order to guarantee supply and reduce distribution costs.
Thomas Trachsel jointly founded ASCO in 1975 in Romanshorn,Switzerland///Thomas Trachsel
Thomas Trachsel jointly founded ASCO in 1975 in Romanshorn, 100km from Zurich, Switzerland. The business originally started by selling CO2 production plants manufactured in New Zealand to Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and China.
ASCO eventually acquired the plant manufacturer - Carbonic Industries in 1986. Since then the company has moved into supplying a complete range of equipment to the CO2 market.
Today the company has 40 staff in Switzerland, 10 in France and another 40 in New Zealand. It boasts healthy double digit growth and is expecting a record year in 2006.Fountain of success
One interesting part of the ASCO story is that the link between Christchurch in New Zealand and Romanshorn in Switzerland was literally cemented in concrete when Thomas Trachsel commissioned the building of a similar fountain to that in Christchurch to confirm the bond between the two towns and the fact that ASCO was located in each.
The original fountain was built in the 1980s by an Australian sculptor on behalf of Christchurch city council and Thomas had the privilege to see this on his numerous visits to Carbonic Industries (now ASCO New Zealand Ltd). He really liked the sculpture and fountain effect so much and following the acquisition of Carbonic Industries felt that the bond between Christchurch and Romanshorn should be celebrated by commissioning the same sculptor to make an identical fountain for Romanshorn, and position it next to Lake Constance. This was completed in 1993 and was opened by the Australian Ambassador to Germany and donated by ASCO to the Romanshorn community.
///The art of dry ice blasting
ASCO is one of the leading providers of Dry Ice blasting equipment but what is this process all about and what are the benefits of dry ice blasting?
Essentially, the starting point is making the pellets. Liquid CO2 is supplied to the pelletiser machine under pressure from the liquid CO2 storage tank. The quick expansion (release of pressure) of the CO2 results in snow or dry ice being formed. This is then compacted and compressed and past through an extrusion plate (die) to produce pellets of 3 mm in diameter (the pellet size can change depending on the application).
The pellets are fed manually into the dry ice blaster hopper. This is then supplied with compressed air with a pressure range of between 2 and 15 bar pressure. The operator sets the pressure depending on the cleaning application. The operator holds a Dry Ice nozzle or \\$quot;gun\\$quot; and when ready, sprays the pellets at the target object for cleaning.
The process of dry ice blasting takes into account three aspects or properties of the CO2.
• Kinetic Effect \\$quot;“ the dry ice pellets do not contain much mass and generally the speed at which they hit the surface results in almost instant sublimation. Therefore the dry ice blasting process is non-abrasive.
• Thermal Shock Effect \\$quot;“ as the dry ice pellets impact the surface at \\$quot;“80oC, there is an immediate temperature gradient formed between contaminant on the surface and the surface itself. This releases the bond between the two, which assists in \\$quot;dislodging\\$quot; the contaminant.
• Gas Expansion Effect \\$quot;“ as the dry ice sublimates on impact with the surface \\$quot;“ there is rapid gas expansion (800 times volume expansion) causing a mini explosion that breaks the contaminant into pieces and pushes it away from the surface \\$quot;“ resulting in a clean surface.