Finding the right air for extreme environments

By Lurene Haines, VMAC Communications

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During the course of Jason Obenauer’s career, he has witnessed significant improvements in the mobile compressed air industry.  The most notable of these, and the ones that have had the most benefit for him, are portability and the ability of equipment to operate reliably in extreme cold climates.

Now, as the branch manager for Finning (Canada) in Fort Nelson, B.C., Obenauer is responsible for the fleets that provide service to the oilfields and other heavy industries.  And those industries operate in extreme-cold and highly-rugged environments.  Obenauer must ensure that his customers’ needs are met reliably.

“Prior to the compact VMAC UNDERHOOD system, options were too limited [in the mobile compressed air industry],” he says.  “Tow-behind units were not an option due to terrain and reciprocating compressors were too slow.”

Portability and weight are critical in order to run the maximum chassis capacity.

The right CFM, ease-of-use, and space and weight are the three most important factors for a company like Finning (Canada).

“We need to get air quickly and ensure that no customer waits.  The compact, lightweight characteristics of VMAC’s hydraulic system [the PREDATAIR] and their engine-driven systems [the RAPTAIR60 and the RAPTAIR-MF] make them a superior solution and provide the ability to easily transfer the service body and compressor to a new chassis.  However, the VR70 UNDERHOOD is our staple product.  It allows us more payload and doesn’t take up valuable space on a service body side pack.”

With an 80-year history, Finning (Canada) is a massive company that sells, rents and provides customer support services for Caterpillar equipment and engines in western and northern Canada for many big industries including pipeline/oilfield construction, mining, forestry, and construction.  Because of the size of their fleets they expend a lot of effort, before equipment is installed on their vehicles, discovering any issues that might crop up once the equipment is in the field.

Depending on the type of compressor, many different factors can impact optimum performance.  Oil type and pre-warming the system are two factors that have an immediate impact on engine-mounted systems, but the use of the right synthetic oil and simply firing up the vehicle engine can prevent problems.  Hydraulic systems can be remarkably resilient in the cold, since only the PTO needs to be engaged for hydraulics to run, and simple solutions like automated heater blocks for cold climates and hydraulic tank heaters to keep hydraulic fluid flowing correctly provide painless fixes.

Finning (Canada) is also very pro-safety—a primary focus of Obenauer’s job—and mobile compressed air choices are carefully reviewed with that in mind.  Slipping, falling and equipment risks, for example, are part of the overall analysis that Finning (Canada) does when considering equipment acquisitions.

“Correct system-use is key,” says Obenauer, “and for that reason Finning (Canada) conducts many pilot projects with prospective equipment.  Finning (Canada) can’t have any safety issues at all,” he asserts.  “We look for any and all possible issues.  Safety is a priority concern for us and our customers.”

This pre-use analysis gives Finning (Canada) a chance to determine where challenges might exist and ensure that correct operation and maintenance procedures are in place before equipment is deployed.

Finding the right air compressor system for extreme environments is not just a challenge for our most northern neighbours.  Service providers like Finning (Canada) take those concerns seriously and expend much energy and effort in ensuring that the right mobile air compressor system is selected, that it is operated correctly, properly outfitted with the right cold-weather accessories, and regularly maintained.

“As a consumer I am constantly amazed at VMAC’s subtle [product] upgrades,” Obenauer adds.  “They are the right choice for our needs.”

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