Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Atlas Copco Enters the Rough Vacuum Utility Market


Jerry Green

Jerry Geenen, VP and Business Line Manager North America, Utility Vacuum
Figure 1Figure 1: Atlas Copco is bringing variable speed drive technology to the rough vacuum utility market with itsGHS VSD+ Series of oil-sealed rotary screw vacuum pumps.

Atlas Copco recently released a new series of oil-sealed rotary screw vacuum pumps specifically designed for the rough vacuum utility market. Their new vacuum pumps, called the GHS VSD+ Series, boasts a unique technology that is relatively uncommon in the rough vacuum utility market, namely variable speed drive (VSD) controls. According to Jerry Geenen, Atlas Copco’s VP and Business Line Manager of the company’s Utility Vacuum Division in North America, there are not many, if any, companies that utilize VSD technology in their vacuum pump products.

“Hardly any OEMs install VSDs on vacuum pumps right now,” Geenan said in a recent conversation with the team at Blower & Vacuum Best Practices. “Our vacuum pumps consume around 50 percent less energy than alternative technologies. They are the most energy-efficient oil-lubricated vacuum pumps on the market in this capacity range.”

And that is where Atlas Copco sees the market opportunity. The company is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of VSD technology, and some of that well established technology has found its way into the design of the GHS VSD+ Series. Given that vacuum pumps are traditionally fixed-speed machines, the air compressor giant wants to bring the energy savings that VSD technology can yield to benefit companies that use rough vacuum utility machines.


What is the Rough Vacuum Utility Market?

The term “rough” is one of a series of descriptors used when defining the various levels of vacuum that are required by certain applications. The other classifications include medium, high and ultra-high, and each describes a particular market segment across the vacuum industry. According to “Industrial Vacuum 101,” a series of books that delves into the basic principles of vacuum science, the rough vacuum segment consists of systems that “operate within the pressure range of 760 torr to 1 torr,” or from 0.00” HgV (Inches of Mercury Volume) to 29.88” HgV (Bott 16).

For a quick reference, here are the basic parameters of each vacuum market segment, as outlined in “Industrial Vacuum 101”:

  • Rough Vacuum: 760 torr to 1 torr
  • Medium Vacuum: 1.00 torr to 0.001 torr
  • High Vacuum: 0.001 torr to 1 x 10-6 torr
  • Ultra-High Vacuum: Below 10-6 torr

To put these measurements into perspective, keep in mind that 1 torr is equivalent to 29.88” HgV.

The benefits of using VSD-controlled vacuum pumps for rough vacuum utility applications will be discussed later in the article. For now, it is beneficial to know that industries like woodworking, food processing, material handling, plastic thermoforming, and various applications in hospital settings all operate within the rough vacuum range.


Attacking the Status Quo

Atlas Copco sees an opportunity to improve upon the processes within the rough vacuum market segment. As mentioned previously, there are not many OEMs that utilize VSD technology for controlling vacuum pumps, and Atlas Copco believes that the GHS VSD+ Series of oil-sealed rotary screw vacuum pumps can help manufacturers reap significant energy savings.


Atlas Copco Screw Vacuum Pump

Figure 2: The GHS 730 VSD+ is part of Atlas Copco’s
new series of oil-sealed rotary screw vacuum pumps.

In our conversation with Geenen, we discussed several examples of specific applications that can potentially benefit from the new technology, examining the status quo of these applications and reviewing how VSD controls can help each application achieve energy savings.



One application area that could benefit dramatically from VSD-controlled vacuum pumps resides in the woodworking industry, specifically in facilities that use computer numerical control (CNC) routing machines. According to Geenen, that industry has undergone some significant changes.

“CNC routing has changed a lot over the last 10 years,” Geenen told us. “Even three-person shops now have a CNC router using vacuum hold-down.”

These manufacturing plants can range from small, three-person shops to operations with over 500 personnel. Larger operations could have as many as 40 router tables running at a given time. Generally, this application requires approximately 20” to 25” HgV at the point of use.

Geenen walked us through a theoretical example. A typical vacuum pump system for a medium-sized woodworking facility might include three 10-hp dry vane pumps, which are generally stacked on a frame with inlet filters on the products. These machines are simple, on/off machines that operate at a fixed-speed, and they run constantly throughout the shift. Depending on the size of the facility and its production rate, these machines could run 8 hours a day, or they could run on a 24/7 basis.

Since fixed-speed machines are sized to handle the peak demand, these vacuum pumps run at 100 percent load, even when demand may only require 60 to 75 percent. Operating all-out, regardless of the demand, can waste significant amounts of energy (Refer to Figure 2). That’s where Atlas Copco believes a VSD-controlled machine can make the most impact.

Vacuum Pumps Energy Consumption

Figure 3: Vacuum pumps with variable speed drive adjust to match energy consumption with demand.
Click here to enlarge

In this scenario, Geenen recommends implementing one of Atlas Copco’s new GHS 900 VSD+ vacuum pumps, which would eliminate the three-machine setup and all of the maintenance that goes along with it. With its soft start option, the VSD+ consumes less energy at startup. The VSD-driven machine maintains an optimum vacuum level (anywhere from 10 to 100 percent), and adjusts to the facility’s demand. If no machinery is being used, which might be the case during a lunch break, the machine scales down to 10 percent. The vacuum pump can then ramp up to 100 percent during peak demand times. It even boasts a sleep mode, which enables the machine to stop automatically if demand drops to zero for a set amount of time.

The machine’s “sweetspot” or “deadhead” vacuum power, as Geenen mentioned, is when it operates at a range of 60 to 80 percent, meaning that the machine will be sized to meet the facility’s typical demand at that output. This gives it leeway to meet peak demand hours, while operating at its deadhead vacuum power (equivalent to a fixed-speed machine running at 100 percent) for the majority of the time. The ability to adjust to the vacuum power demands of the facility can create a tangible ROI (Refer to Figure 3), yielding significant energy savings after the VSD installation.

Variable speed vacuums energy increase

Figure 4: Variable speed drive vacuum pumps increase energy savings by up to 50 percent compared with fixedspeed vacuum pumps.


Food Packaging

Another market within the rough vacuum utility range is the food packing industry. In an application like meat or poultry packaging, the air within the package needs to be evacuated by a vacuum during the sealing process. This generally calls for about 1 mbar, or a little less than 29.9” HgV. At the point of use, however, the desired vacuum pressure is 26” HgV.

According to Geenen, the typical setup for an application like this would include a 25-hp lubricated rotary vane vacuum pump, which might be supplemented by a vacuum booster at the front end close to the production area. In this installation, the lubricated rotary vane pumps would be centralized, and the vacuum boosters would provide the extra “pop” to bring the pressure to the desired 26” HgV.

The opportunity for improvement again lies in the variations of demand that occur during production, since there are generally multiple packaging lines that intermittently shut off and go online. In this situation, Geenen recommends replacing the existing system with a GHS 730 VSD+, which is a 15-hp machine that generates 60 cfm more at their desired vacuum pressure. While it might seem contradictory to see a machine with less hp produce more cfm, Geenen explained that it is possible due to an inlet valve that modulates the flow at startup, allowing the use of a smaller motor in the vacuum pump.

In addition to installing a smaller hp machine with an improved cfm output, Atlas Cocpco offers a ZRS vacuum booster to improve productivity. With the ZRS booster, an operator can turn on the machine at atmospheric pressure (the worst condition for vacuum operation) with a hydrokinetic drive that uses oil viscosity to transfer power from the motor to the vacuum booster. Where typical machines may turn on at 50 mbar, the Atlas Copco GHS 730 VSD+ would already be running, helping the operator achieve the desired vacuum level quicker and improving production.


Key Advantages of Using a VSD-Controlled Vacuum System

The recurring theme of these rough vacuum utility applications is the variation in demand, and traditional vacuum systems use fixed-speed rotary screw vacuum pumps to supply the required pressure. With that in mind, Atlas Copco believes that there are number of benefits to implementing a VSD-controlled vacuum pump for these applications.

1. Response to Varying Demand: As a market leader in VSD technology, Atlas Copco can leverage its existing VSD expertise in the rough vacuum utility market. The variations in demand that are common in rough vacuum applications make VSD controls a logical choice, especially for those looking to enhance the energy efficiency of their facility.


Figure 5

Figure 5: When the demand decreases, the VSD slows down the vacuum pump, consuming less energy.
Click here to enlarge


2. Maintaining Optimum Pressure: The VSD-controlled vacuum pumps from Atlas Copco help facility managers achieve an accurate control of their pressure supply. While pressure from fixed-speed machines may continuously fluctuate during operation, the VSD controls provide a more stable pressure band (Refer to Figure 5).


Figure 6

Figure 6: Holding the pressure constant with VSD technology reduces energy utilized by fixed-speed vacuum pumps operating within a pressure band.
Click here to enlarge


3. More cfm, Less hp: As mentioned previously, the implementation of an Atlas Copco VSD-driven vacuum pump can deliver more cfm at a lower hp, again reinforcing the fact that the machine can deliver a tangible ROI through energy savings.

4. Consolidation: Maintenance professionals may have nightmares about the countless machines that operate within their facility. Replacing three machines with one easy-to-maintain vacuum pump can help facility managers sleep a little easier and help reduce maintenance costs.

5. Centralization: While some installations have already adopted the centralization strategy for vacuum pumps, there are still plenty of opportunities to replace multiple machines and centralize vacuum pumps in one location, which could help optimize system performance.


Dispelling the “Black Magic” of the Rough Vacuum Utility Market

As Atlas Copco enters the rough vacuum utility market, they are bringing more than just their established market leadership in VSD technology. During our conversation with Geenen, he explained that the industry jargon of the vacuum market can be overwhelmingly complex. He added that the vacuum industry maintains that mystifying complexity as a sort of “black magic” that only they can understand. One of Atlas Copco’s major initiatives as they enter the market is to relate vacuum industry jargon with compressed air terminology, effectively dispelling the black magic and making the technical details more accessible.

In addition to that new philosophy, Geenen mentioned that Atlas Copco has some existing synergies that will help the company enter the rough vacuum utility market. The combination of its sales force, distributor network and its recent acquisition of Edwards, an established developer and manufacturer of vacuum products, will work together in Atlas Copco’s new venture.

Overall, the message from Geenen was very clear: “Atlas Copco has gone into the vacuum market. We are here to stay. We bought Edwards and want to get into the utility and rough vacuum space.”


Works Cited
Bott, Dan. "Chapter 1: Pressure Scales." Industrial Vacuum 101: The Basics of Vacuum Technology. United States: DENCO Printing LLC, 2011. 16. Print.


For more information on Atlas Copco’s GHS VSD+ Series, contact Jerry Geenen, VP and Business Line Manager for Utility Vacuum in North America, or visit

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