Oh the times they are a changin’. My apologies to Bob Dylan but this lyric holds true in the world of desiccant compressed air dryers. During my time in this business, spanning more than four decades, a lot of things have changed.
Back when mastodons roamed the parking lot it took a lot of work to convince a customer that wet compressed air was worth drying. When starting a discussion about air dryers, common customer responses were:
* There must be something wrong with the air compressor, because the air going into it doesn’t have any liquid water.
* We don’t need a dryer. We’ve had this wet air system for years, and we’re still in business.
* The air system only makes a few gallons of water per hour.
* The after cooler, that’s my dryer.
* Compressed air dryer? Never heard of that.
More recently attitudes have changed. Most customers ask, What type of dryer and filter do I need? Rather than, Why do I need an air dryer? In most cases today, users of industrial air compressors recognize the value of air treatment. Fortunately, air treatment products are no longer treated with suspicion.
In our company’s infancy, we, too, didn’t realize the full benefits of drying a compressed air stream. When this company began in 1944—it was then called Van Products--it made air operated vises and presses. But these pneumatic devices did not always work well. Moisture caused most of the malfunctioning. Searching for a solution, the owner of Van Products ran across someone at a nearby brewing company who’d developed a small device to get moisture out of a compressed air stream. Van Products tried out the device. The gizmo worked so well that Van Products bought the rights to this simple little air dryer.
Soon Van Products began to market the dryer as a standalone product in a variety of sizes. Van Products kept making vises and presses for a while but eventually sold those product lines to focus on air dryers. The company was soon re-named Van Air Systems. The tail officially took over the dog.
I’ve observed a lot of other changes in the compressed air industry since I started.
* Rotary screw compressors were still off on the horizon.
* Most compressors and aftercoolers were water cooled.
* Coalescing filters were just emerging.
* Heatless regenerative and refrigerated dryers were relatively uncommon.
* Compressor manufacturers didn’t get involved downstream of the aftercooler.
It seemed that if someone needed dry air, they got a heated regenerative type, as refrigeration and heatless dryers were in their infancy. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone using -40 dew point air to blow dirt off of a floor. This is like using Perrier® water to wash your car. It’ll do the trick, but it’s very wasteful.
Occasionally you’d see the use of over compression as a method of dew point suppression. Compress air to a higher pressure than necessary, cool it, then cut the pressure. This will reduce the dew point but it’s very energy intensive and seldom seen today.
Our products and markets have gone through a lot of transition. The process is not over. Change will keep on happening. That’s not an especially bold prediction, I know. (If I could truly foresee events I'd be a rich and powerful man.) However, there are some things our customers will always want:
* A product that saves more than it costs.
* A product that works dependably (“Set it and forget it,” says Ron Popeil.)
* Solutions to problems.
* Someone that is around after the order.
* A fair price.
Because compressed air is used in so many places, I've seen how just about everything is made, for better or worse. I’ve been to ultra clean pharmaceutical plants. I’ve also witnessed hot dog production. Believe me, it’s gross.