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Milestone Vacuum Technology

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| Author: Sabine Mühlenkamp

Understanding the Application and Optimizing the Process

Bremer makes it clear that there are no off-the-peg solutions: “Every application requires highly specific know-how and experience.” And that is something Pfeiffer Vacuum has in spades thanks to its long company history. Particularly in the process industry, it is often necessary to adapt the technology to the application of the customer, for example by using different sealing concepts or motors with better efficiency and a higher IP protection class.

“With every inquiry we keep an eye on the entire process of the customer. Our aim always has to be to optimize the entire process,” summarizes Kuchenbecker the approach. Here, the vacuum specialists trust in their approach of “pumping, measurement and qualification,” which is also reflected in their product portfolio. “Only when all these factors are taken into account is it possible to answer the key question posed by many customers — i.e., whether it is even possible to offer the product they have in mind,” clarifies Kuchenbecker.

Its diverse product range is the ace up the sleeve of Pfeiffer Vacuum. Today, alongside the rotary vane pumps, diaphragm pumps, screw pumps, Roots pumps and turbopumps, the portfolio also includes analytical systems (mass spectrometers, optical emission spectroscopy) and leak detectors, valves and process chambers as important product lines. Last but not least, as well as the actual process itself, process monitoring is becoming increasingly important, because this makes it possible to intervene early on in the process and fine-tune it, for example by adjusting the pressure, temperature or gas composition. “For quality assurance it is for example important that the process gas composition is determined at a very early stage, so that corrective interventions or corresponding warnings are made possible,” explains Bremer.

In the following, we have highlighted a number of separate milestones in the product range of Pfeiffer Vacuum in more detail.

In the Beginning: the Rotary Vane Pump

Let us start with the vacuum pumps and go back into history. The origins of oil-sealed rotary vane pumps go back over 120 years. “You could be forgiven for assuming that this technology has reached its limits, but we have constantly managed to innovate it,” explains Kuchenbecker. “This is not just about making improvements to the underlying technology, but instead it is about modern issues. For example, we can now work on energy efficiency and on monitoring aspects.” Other selected pump milestones: In 1973, Pfeiffer Vacuum presented (at Achema) a gas-cooled range of positive displacement lobe pumps in the form of the WGK 250 series, thereby expanding the range of applications for these pumps, which are generally known as Roots pumps. 1996 saw the launch of the Duo M series of rotary vane pumps, which announced the start of the success story of magnetic couplings in vacuum technology, where they replaced the seals that were prone to wear. In 2003, the success of magnetic couplings was transferred to Roots pumps. 2016 saw the development of the rotary vane pump Duo 11 Atex for processes in potentially explosive environments or for the pumping of explosive gases in accordance with the requirements of the Atex directive. The pump meets the strictest requirements for explosion protection — definitely a unique selling point in the market.

Intelligent Drive Concept

This brings us to the present: The new Hilobe range of Roots pumps for low and fine vacuum applications was presented as a brand-new development at this year’s Hannover Messe. With their individual speed control, these pumps offer a nominal suction capacity of 520 to 2,100 m3/h, allowing them to be perfectly adjusted to customer-specific requirements. The innovative drive concept allows pump-down times to be shortened by approx. 20 % in comparison to conventional Roots pumps, which lowers costs and boosts the efficiency of the production plant. And the creative designers from Asslar have found other ways to dramatically reduce operating costs and increase availability at the same time. For example, the new line only uses state-of-the-art motors. Not only do these offer an energy efficiency class far higher than the currently required limits, but thanks to their design they no longer require dynamic seals. This has significantly lower maintenance requirements and also reduces the demand for sealing gas, which also reduces operating costs. On account of the well-thought-out air-cooling concept, there is no need for expensive water cooling, and installation costs are reduced thanks to the flexible installation position. Deserving of a special mention is Hilobe’s intelligent interface technology, which enables optimized adaptation and monitoring of processes (keyword: condition monitoring). “It is not enough to merely focus on the energy demands of the vacuum pump. Instead, other parameters also need to be taken into account, such as the type of cooling used, the maintenance intervals or the controller,” explains Kuchenbecker. “This is something we have succeeded with on the new generation of Hilobe. We have been able to reduce maintenance and energy costs by more than 50 % in comparison to conventional Roots pumps.”

Leak Detection Made Easy

When it comes to vacuum processes, leaks are your worst enemy. Leaks cost hard cash particularly in freeze drying processes and jeopardize the entire process. For this reason, leakages need to be localized and remedied as quickly as possible. Helium leak detectors have established themselves here — thanks to their high detection sensitivity, short testing times and, in particular, the ease of operation. The leak detector ASM 340 is basically the universal device in the extensive family of ASM leak detectors, while its smaller sibling ASM 310 is designed for mobile applications. Different measuring methods allow efficient leak detection based on the layout and setup of the system under testing. For example, a leak detector is connected to freeze drying systems and the system is sprayed from the outside with the test gas helium. If any actual leaks are present, this makes it possible to determine both the location and the size of the leak, and thus to prevent disturbing influences on the process.

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