Rod Smith, publisher of the trade journal Compressed Air Best Practices, called me several weeks ago. The publication has a forthcoming issue that focuses on the natural gas industry. Our involvement in the upstream gas business had piqued his interest, and he wanted to understand how deliquescent desiccants are being applied to dehydrate natural gas. In short, there was a lot to talk about. We’ve been very busy recently, and an ever increasing fraction of our work is related to gas drying.
For the substance of my conversation with Rod, which will be published in interview format, keep an eye on his website. Or visit the Van Gas Technologies site to read all about our gas drying products.
Rod has a strong background in compressed air treatment, having for many years worked at Hankison and now editing a journal where air treatment is often a topic. As an aside I mentioned to Rod that the compressed air side of our business, especially in deliquescent products, is also quite healthy. At this, he expressed a bit of surprise, commenting that the heyday of deliquescent air dryers has long since passed.
This is true in a certain sense. My dad worked at Van Air Systems beginning in the late 1960s when gargantuan deli dryers were commonly applied in large plant air systems, especially in the big automotive assembly plants of the upper Midwest. It would have been possible then to find several model D156 (16,000 SCFM @ 100 PSIG) deli dryers in a single assembly plant.
Yet the advent of reliable refrigeration dryers pushed this kind of deliquescent drying to the margin. And while model D156 still exists in our catalog, I have no memory of one being sold. Nonetheless, Van Air Systems manufactures more deli dryers (aka single tower dryers) today than ever before, and the reason for this is that we’ve happily fallen into the status of a niche manufacturer. Our dryers are prized for use in special applications, in environments and processes where no other type of dryer comfortably works. Deliquescent drying must account for less than one percent of the total drying market. Yet within this sliver, which is composed mainly of difficult and oddball applications, Van Air Systems shines brightly.
The air treatment business is now dominated by behemoths with multi-billion dollar balance sheets. Parker, SPX, Ingersoll Rand, and Atlas Copco must collectively own more than ninety percent of the North American market. In this context being niche, being unusual, is the only way a family-owned, independent manufacturer like Van Air Systems will continue to survive and thrive.