Following the last trio of these features, which focused on three sectors in the cryogenics industry, gas analytics is ‘in focus’ for this issue. As I learned to my amazement when joining gasworld two years ago, the end products from our industry are, quite literally, all around us.
But can the same be said of the key components to the processes that aid the construction or creation of these everyday items? In more basic formats, it can be argued that they are. The smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms one can purchase for the home are, essentially, gas analysers - constantly detecting for a particular gas, in a specific quantity. If these two parameters are met, an alarm will sound and the homeowner will be notified to the hazard.
While these analysers, in this ‘basic’ format, are not detecting for trace gases in parts-per-billion for the ever-changing food grade requirements for CO2 to be used in the carbonated drinks industry - there is one comparison between the household detectors mentioned and the industrial gas analysers about to be highlighted. And this similarity is the reliability for accurate readings.
As always ‘in focus’ asks those in this industry, what are the technological trends and what are the growth drivers?
The gas analyser industry is not exclusive to the food and beverages industry as the technology is used in a variety of different ways. However, many of the respondents to our questions spoke directly about the developments in food and beverages. The production of CO2 (July’s topic in focus) for the F&B sector has a direct relationship with our topic this month - due to the impurities that need to be detected, and removed, to adhere to the strict regulations surrounding food grade CO2.
Unisensor’s Head of Sales, Gary Robson, said, “Unisensor provides not only the online analytical device such as Carboscan, but a complete engineered solution that includes automated sample transfer from production plants, liquid to storage lines, storage tanks and truck or rail car filling stations and a weatherproof climate controlled shelter. This entire process is automatically sequenced rather than manual - this technological trend is being driven by the soft drinks industry and their large global CO2 suppliers.”
“Certification, traceability and conformance with food safety requirements is the reason why Unisensor developed the VISU software programme, this is supplied with the Carboscan system as a fully integrated data visualisation programme that can be easily linked to other platforms operated by our client, such as those designed to manage and track the loading and distribution of finished product. It displays and records quality parameters, warnings and alarms, as well as quality trend analysis by channel, by impurity or by date range.”
Many of the company’s we spoke to echoed the same viewpoints that technological trends in gas analytics are being driven by the food and beverages industry due to the increase in quality requirements and the movement towards more automation.
Larry Gallagher, CONCOA’s Specialty Gas Products Manager, explained, “The trends that CONCOA has seen in technology, as it relates to gas controls, have been a movement toward more automation and real-time data and control than previously demanded. The human interface with main pressure controls systems has been moving toward that interface through PLC, web-based or wireless communication.”
“Operations that previously were face-to-face with manual or automatic switching devices by a trained staff are now trending to be handled by less skilled staff. What seems to be driving it is not just the information that can be derived from a pressure control device that monitors, stores and reports events and settings, but also from the shortage of experienced staff or the cost of experienced staff to manually manage gas systems.”
“The cost for automation that was perceived as too expensive five years ago is acceptable and even cost-effective today,” Gallagher added.
While on the subject of costs associated with this question, Bronkhorst’s Wout van’t Wel, commented, “One of the strongest trends seen by Bronkhorst over recent years is the shift by industry to utilise the expertise within their supply chain to drive their own technological advancement within a spirit of open collaboration. This should not be a surprise as R&D budgets have come under ever-increasing pressure as a result of the economic squeeze.”
“This overall trend fits perfectly with the Bronkhorst ethos of being highly collaborative, openly sharing knowledge and experience, whilst focusing on the long-term success of all parties - the customer and the supplier.”
Finally, Ametek’s Process and Analytical Instruments Divisional Vice-President, Mike Fuller, said, “Ametek Process Instruments provides gas analysis instrumentation for the oil refining, petrochemical production and natural gas markets. The most significant technology change in recent years has been the introduction of diode laser based infrared analysers. These analysers use the modulated output of near infrared diode lasers to analyse small gas phase molecules at the parts-per-million level.”
“Common analytes are H2O, H2S and CO2. The Tunable Diode Laser (TDL) analysers have no moving parts and the life expectancy of the laser source is greater than 10 years so the cost of ownership is very low. A single analyser can be equipped with multiple lasers, providing an alternative to resource intensive process gas chromatography.”
Cost, or the reduction of it, is a driver for many businesses involved with the use of gas analysers. David Beirne, from Ntron, stated, “On-site generation offers a cost-effective, reliable and safe alternative to traditional nitrogen/oxygen gas supplies such as cylinder or liquid. More strict international and national regulation have put a great pressure especially in the medical field, in terms of flow, pressure and purity monitoring.”
“On the other hand, due to technological development, today these organisations have the opportunity to install gas generation systems which are more cost efficient then their earlier systems for supplying gas. Which also means the availability of the gas 24 hours, 365 days per year.”
Thermco Instrument Corporation’s Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, Dennis Richardson, claims that cost savings can be made by the customers by using an analyser which uses a cheaper gas, “Users are continuously looking for technology that will reduce their costs. Leak detection systems that use helium/nitrogen mixtures are being replaced with systems that use less expensive hydrogen/nitrogen mixtures. New gas analysers and gas mixers are required for the hydrogen/nitrogen application.”
“We are in the process of creating a new analyser that uses argon in place of helium,” added Orthodyne’s Ralph Schroeder. “This new detector will use argon as the carrier gas due to the cost of helium increasing due to the crisis we are in, forcing the price up and making it expensive for our customers.”
He continued, “Our detector that uses helium is perfect - but the cost of using the gas is just too high. Argon will have the same quality and be cheaper to use than helium.”
As specified at the beginning of this feature, the reliability of accuracy from gas analysers is of paramount importance to all involved in this results-driven industry - from manufacturers to end-users.
AGC Instrument’s Managing Director, Marcus Creaven, said, “The main driver is being dictated by the end-user who demands that the product they purchase meets their high and exacting demands. Consistency of delivered products can only be guaranteed using analytical means. Using a gas chromatograph (GC) which will generate a certificate of analysis using a proven GC technology, as opposed to a continuous analyser, is vital to maintaining high QC (quality control) standards.”
“By not adhering to QC standards, the customer does not have the confidence that their purchased product meets their exacting needs. The customer is the driver and realises that to have a good analytical solution means a customer can see his quality is key.”
“The markets and applications for gas sensing technologies are constantly evolving,” commented Chuck Hurley, President, Servomex Group Limited.
“We are continually innovating and improving these to meet the need for measurements with ever more accuracy, repeatability and uptime. Add to that the overriding customer need for solutions: analysers, systems, a reliable product and a strong service organistion with cost benefits, and the challenge for Servomex is to develop and provide technologies that take specification and value to the next level.”
Returning to the food and beverages industry, Robson feels the growth is in this sector for Unisensor. He stated, “The consumption of gases from the food and beverages sector is steadily increasing; this means that quality incidents are a threat to consumer confidence if not managed adequately. The soft drink industry is setting high quality standards that are continually reviewed and updated. This means these impurities have to be monitored and is strictly controlled. Requirements include the provision of real time online batch monitoring and certificate of analysis for the delivery vessel. And that’s where our technology comes in.”