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September 17, 2022

Prior to expanding into North America a decade ago, ELGi gained decades of experience in the international market. With a product line spanning more than 400 compressed air products, the company works with many of the world’s largest food and beverage processors and is rapidly expanding these efforts from its US base in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Anvar Varadaraj, President of ELGi North America, shares insight into how oil-free air compressors are crucial to improving air quality in food and beverage operations by reducing the amount of oil droplets reaching food supplies, thereby increasing product quality and complying with FDA Regulations for the food and beverage industry.

Q. How important is air compressor technology to the food and beverage industry?

Varadaraj: The US food and beverage industry is a large and growing industry, with $281.14 billion in 2021 and forecast to grow by 9.5% between 2021 and 2028. Compressed air is often referred to as the “Fourth utility” after water, gas and electricity. Without compressed air, food and beverage companies could not effectively prepare final products for consumers. Some examples of this include the actuation of conveyors, cleaning of storage bottles and actuation of pneumatic cylinders in food processing lines. Compressed air is also used in sorting, moving, freezing, mixing, packaging and transporting.

One of the most common applications for food grade air compressors is as part of the packaging process to force air into canned goods or inject air into vacuum sealed bags. They are also used in product mixing, liquid dispensing, beverage carbonization, product freezing, among other applications. In addition, some wine and beer production lines also use compressed air in the aeration and fermentation process.

The food and beverage industry is heavily regulated in the US. Some of the popular regulations in the US that apply to food and beverage industry equipment are Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), 3-A Sanitary Standards, among many others. The food and beverage industry must deal with increasingly demanding regulatory challenges and ensure that food production facilities meet requirements.

Q. What is “air quality” and how does it affect food and beverage production?

Varadaraj: To talk about the quality of compressed air, it is important to understand the three most commonly found impurities in compressed air: dust particles, moisture and oil. Compressed air purity is measured in accordance with ISO8573, an international standard that specifies particle, water and oil purity classes in a compressed air system. For example, typical air quality for the food and beverage industry should achieve class 1 purity for particles, class 3 purity for water and class 0 purity for oil.

Applications that require class 0 purity for the oil typically also have stringent quality requirements for particles and moisture; therefore, class 0 quality compressed air is considered to be the highest purity in the industry. The only reliable way to consistently deliver class 0 quality compressed air is to choose air compressors that do not use oil in their compression chamber – what we call “oil-free compressors”.

Q. Why are oil-free air compressors vital for food and beverage production?

Varadaraj: While dust particles and moisture in compressed air can be controlled using dust filters and downstream dryers respectively, controlling oil in compressed air presents its own set of challenges for food and beverage manufacturers. A general misconception is that oil exemption can be achieved by using a series of downstream filters to filter out oil particles. This solution might seem to meet the requirement in theory, but it can lead to a number of consequences including oil passing through the filter, decreasing filter age and efficiency time, filter rupture, and so on. There is no viable solution to detecting oil carryover in an active compressed air system, so a manufacturer will not notice the problem until the damage has already been done. Traces of oil that reach the equipment can damage it irreparably.

For food grade air compressors directly in contact with food products, oil contamination would completely damage the products. The penalty of having oil in the system or food product can range from a huge fine to legal liabilities and lawsuits. Food and beverage companies are starting to shift to implementing oil-free air compressors to avoid these risks.

The only reliable way to consistently deliver Class 0 quality compressed air is to choose oil-free compressors.

Q. Are there any examples of how oil-free compressors have helped companies in these efforts?

Varadaraj: Many food and beverage producers are using oil-free air compressors in their daily operations. Take an organic winemaker in France as an example. It utilizes ELGi AB series oil-free air compressors that deliver disruptive benefits in terms of efficiency, reliability and air quality. For a premium winemaker, it is crucial to ensure that the compressed air used is of the highest quality to avoid possible contamination. Oil-free compressors provide Grade 0 quality nitrogen that is used during the inerting process and prevents flavor or color variations. Since installing the ELGi AB series oil-free compressors, the compressor has worked flawlessly and helped to produce the world famous French red wine. We also have several other case studies upon request.

Q. Do oil-free air compressors offer other benefits for food and beverage production?

Varadaraj: In addition to providing class 0 quality compressed air, oil-free compressors have many significant advantages over oil-flooded air compressors. First, oil-free compressors can help food and beverage producers save costs. An oil-free compressed air system does not require downstream oil filters, which reduces the initial cost of installation and the cost of replacing filters, as well as removing unnecessary pressure drops in the compressed air system. The system pressure can be maintained according to the pressure requirement of the application, which results in energy savings.

In addition, condensate exiting an oil-free air compressor can be safely disposed of without further treatment. This saves money for the installation and maintenance of condensate treatment and disposal equipment, making oil-free air compressors a cost-effective and sustainable solution.

About the author

President of ELGi North America Anvar Jay Varadaraj serves as President of ELGi North America and serves on the Board of Directors of ELGi Equipments Limited, the parent organization of ELGi North America. This may interest you : Advice You Asked To Learn About Commercial Measuring Cups And Spoons in The Hammocks, Florida.

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