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Maintaining momentum in uncertain times

08 August 2016

Welcome to AirUser - Your independent guide to Air Powered Systems which this year celebrates its 20th birthday.

Over the past 20 years there have been many challenges for UK manufacturing and these continue today with the uncertainty that follows the Brexit vote. Economic forecaster, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) says that the UK has a 50:50 chance of falling into recession within the next 18 months with a marked economic slowdown this year and next. There are, of course, those who take a far more pessimistic view about the effect of the Brexit decision on the UK economy. However, there are also those who see it as opening up a plethora of new opportunities. The only certainty in all this is that nobody knows for sure what the long term effect will be.

In such unsettled times, trade associations become even more important in listening to members and representing them at home and abroad. The British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) is the only UK trade association that represents manufacturers, distributors and users of compressors, vacuum pumps, pneumatic tools and allied products. In her BCAS report for AirUser, Vanda Jones, executive director, stresses the need for the compressed air industry to provide a united voice in the face of a changing political climate.

Andy Jones, who later this year comes to the end of his two-year term as president of BCAS, outlines some of the changes that have taken place during this time, including  the launch of the UK Motion Control Alliance (UKMCA) in which BCAS and the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA) have formed an alliance to benefit members of both trade associations. Training has been another area of focus for Andy and he explains that during 2016 the Society has been updating and expanding the courses available.

Training courses, both e-learning and classroom-based schemes, are explained in greater detail in a separate BCAS article. The Society points out that there are currently no formal accreditation schemes for designing, installing and maintaing compressed air systems. With compressed air used extensively across the globe, it is essential that operators have a thorough understanding of its uses – and risks – to ensure systems operate efficiently and safely.

Safety is the central theme to to two more BCAS articles. The first focuses on the horrendous accidents that can occur when users of compressed air are not aware of – or become complacent about – the potential hazards. BCAS reminds readers that, although in times of financial constraint, it might be tempting to make cost savings by cutting back on training, using inferior tools or reducing maintenance, the risks in terms of human suffering and lost production must always outweigh such temptations.

AirUser asked Vanda Jones to outline a few of the questions BCAS most frequently gets asked. One of those that sprang immediately to mind concerns the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations. As Vanda points out, if pressure equipment fails in use, it can seriously injure or kill people and cause serious damage to property. Vanda explains more about the PSSR, how it affects the owner/user of the equipment, and what to do to achieve compliance.

Maintenance, of course, is essential to ensure the safe and efficient operation of compressed air equipment. Stef Lievens of Atlas Copco Compressors UK, looks at how increasingly sophisticated technology is playing a part in the evolution of predictive maintenance and how the next phase of this evolution will see the Internet of Things rise to the fore and reach all areas of manufacturing – including the compressor room.

Energy efficiency is a key theme of several articles. Mark Whitmore at Boge focuses on variable speed drives, while Andy Jones at Mattei looks at factors that can affect the efficiency of a compressed air system. There's also a case study by Teseo in which the company describes how its aluminium pipework has helped cut energy costs and is ensuring a steady airflow for a 3D print bureau.

Gareth Topping at Gardener Denver is encouraging the industry to be aware of the potential risks from exhaust air quality from vacuum pumps due to the lack of standards in place and, with the food industry continuing to search for ways to prevent and eliminate mineral oil contamination in food products, Martin Potter of Beko Technologies discusses what this means in terms of compressed air.

There is also an article on filtration in which MANN+HUMMEL warns against choosing filters based on price alone.

We are grateful to all those who have provided content for this year's edition of AirUser and, in particular, we thank Vanda Jones at BCAS for all the articles she has contributed. We hope you find the guide interesting and that it will prove a useful reference tool.

We're already starting to plan our 21st issue of the guide, so if you have an idea for an interesting article or if there are any particular topics you would like us to include, please get in touch.

Val Kealey