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No waste
lOW emissions
Industrial compressors and vacuum pumps consume a lot of power. But what if there was a way to make them use much less energy by adapting their speed to the current production need? This innovative idea has put Atlas Copco at the forefront of energy efficiency.
Most industrial manufacturing processes rely on a steady supply of compressed air to power the tools or robots, or to separate gases and fluids, and more. The compressors producing this air are often hidden at the back of the factory but carry the entire production flow. They are powerful workhorses that keep on going, day in and day out. Consequently, they consume a lot of power, and power use translates into emissions and costs. Industrial companies are therefore constantly looking to maximize their energy efficiency, or put more simply, ways to use less energy to perform the same tasks. Machines that are constantly running will also sooner or later wear out.
Thanks to continuous innovation, Atlas Copco is an industry leader in both performance and energy efficiency. The key enabler of the high energy efficiency is the variable speed drive (VSD) technology. Instead of running at the same speed all the time, this technology enables the motor to adjust and adapt to the current demand.
In 1994, Atlas Copco was the first supplier to integrate this technology into compressors, a game-changing idea that revolutionized the market. About 20 years later, a new industry standard was set with the in-house innovation of VSD+, bringing energy consumption to a record low.
A breath of fresh air
The ZR VSD+ oil-free rotary screw air compressor is one recent example of Atlas Copco’s efforts to excel in energy efficiency and performance. This machine provides oil-free air in environments where even the slightest contamination would ruin the product, such as pharmaceutical or electronic component manufacturing. This level of cleanness is also vital in food and beverage production, the textile industry and in car painting processes. “Reliability and energy efficiency are very important factors for a customer since electric costs represent 75 to 80% of the total cost of ownership over a 10-year period,” says Jeroen Hoen, Global Product Manager for oil-free screw compressors, and a 25-year veteran of the company. However, the road to the product’s launch was a long one.
“The idea behind it had been with us for quite a long time. It actually goes back to 2006. My first job at Atlas Copco was to test the motors that were meant for this product, but there were technical challenges and it was hard to make it cost-effective, so it was put on hold,” says Thomas De Bontridder, previously R&D program leader for the ZR VSD+, and now Team Leader Engineering for oil-free screw compressors.
It wasn’t until 2014 that the innovation process started up again. “By that time there’d been new technical developments, so we sat together with people from engineering and brainstormed ideas saying, 'Now we have everything available to make a product that will bring a real benefit to the market,' "says Thomas.
Later, colleagues from various customer centers joined service technicians, production, engineers and marketing as the product was developed. The first units were tested at 10 pilot customer sites, including producers of beer, baby food and medical equipment. The feedback from these initial customers was vital to the refinement of the final product.
“We took a quantum leap with this product,” says Jeroen, who remembers the launch as if it was yesterday. “When I was standing there on the stage in front of all the people, that was an enormous thrill. We managed to bring customers a 10% saving on our previous compressor, which for example means savings of almost 10 000 euros a year on a 160 kW compressor.”
Money talks all right, but so does sustainability. “Since the launch, we have installed more than 300 units, and every unit saves 40 to 60 tons of CO2 a year depending on the air demand profile,” says Jeroen.
The customer reactions have surpassed expectations, and Jeroen Hoen’s and Thomas De Bontridder’s work was recognized in 2020 with the prestigious John Munck Award for technical innovation. Their Compressor Technique colleague Dieter Bertels also shares the prize for his vital contribution.
“It is great to receive this award. I’m really proud because we worked so hard to bring it to market,” says Thomas. And for Jeroen, the development of the ZR VSD+ still ranks high in his long career. “It makes you proud to work for a company that has the best product in the world. Even now, I still feel very enthusiastic about the product. It’s my baby.”
Main feature: Delivers clean, oil-free air using flexible speed and minimal energy.
Super powers: Amazingly CO2 smart, saving 11% compared to compressors with more traditional VSD technology. As much as 90% of the energy can be recovered and used for heating or as steam needed in other industrial processes.
Used at: Food and beverage production, in pharmaceutical industries or at electronics and automotive manufacturers.
Meet our innovators
Jeroen Hoen
Global Product Manager
Did something unusual happen in the development?
Yes, we made a marketing film at the Birra Peroni plant in Italy, which was a lot of fun. Because we were from Atlas Copco, being the specialist in compressed air, we even managed to get permission to visit the Aula Magna at the University of Padua, where Galileo Galilei tried to measure the weight of compressed air more than 400 years ago!
Thomas de Bontridder
Team Leader Engineering
What motivates you?
I love solving technical issues and seeing good ideas being implemented and paying off. Now I can support the team members I lead to bring new products to the market. I’ve done that myself and I use my experience to advise them. It’s great to see people developing within the team, finding their place in the company and getting things done.
Dexter Dai
Senior Development Engineer, Qingdao
What motivates you at work?
I’m happy that my ideas are encouraged. There’s so much freedom here. I helped create a product like this one, and that feels fantastic. Because of this product I also got the chance to visit several countries in northern Europe, India and Australia, and this was really great. To work with people from different countries gives me a true understanding of diversity and it’s changed my life in many ways.
LRP VSD+ vacuum pump
Main feature: Flexible, robust and easy-to-use.
Super powers: Matches the exact vacuum demand and reduces the water consumption thanks to its two intelligent variable speed drives that work in perfect synchronization.
Used at: Humid, steamy and sometimes dirty environments where robust technology is required.
Meet our innovators
Andries Desiron
Vice President Marketing Atlas Copco branded industrial vacuum solutions
How did you end up working with industrial solutions?
I’ve always worked with R&D, so when we started up the Industrial Vacuum division I was VP for engineering, but then switched to marketing. I’ve always liked innovation, and Atlas Copco gives you the freedom to innovate. The idea of achieving something as a team, working together to bring something to life that improves things for our customers is my main motivation.
Alistair Darroch
Product Manager Liquid Ring Pumps & Sales Tools
What has been your most fun experience at work so far?
The event I’ve enjoyed most in my career so far was the launch of the LRP VSD+ in Qingdao, China, in October 2019. Over the entire week we as a marketing team were ramping up to prepare for the event and then it came off. It was brilliant.
Expanding into vacuum
Just like compressors, vacuum pumps are essential in many industrial and scientific processes. They can create controlled environments for processes that need "clean rooms". They can cool and dry or form and shape. They can hold, lift and move products or help to preserve them; and they are also used in distillation and chemical reactions.
Having set a new industry standard for compressors, the logical next step for Atlas Copco was use the same energy-efficient technology in vacuum pumps. One of the people behind the innovative VSD+ technology is Andries Desiron, then working in Atlas Copco Compressor Technique, today Vice President for the Atlas Copco branded vacuum business.
The days of switching a vacuum pump on and leaving it to work all day at continuous full load are long gone,” says Andries. “There are industry standards which say that companies must actively seek ways to reduce energy consumption. That’s becoming more and more important and naturally a very important part of each product development project, not least to meet our own sustainability goals.”
One of the key vacuum pump types is the liquid ring vacuum pump. When you go to the supermarket to buy meat, cheese, a bottle of juice or a packet of chips, they’ve been processed or packaged using vacuum, and somewhere in their production a liquid ring vacuum pump is likely involved.
But these ingenious machines use up lots of energy and water. A more efficient update to a decades-old technology was needed, so in 2019 Atlas Copco introduced the LRP VSD+ pump. It’s a much more compact system that offers intelligent vacuum control. The customer can accurately meet their vacuum demand, meanwhile allowing the pump to do its own troubleshooting, protecting itself and providing valuable feedback.
“Everybody in the industry said that it was not possible to speed-control this type of pump. But with our heritage in variable speed drive technology we wanted to prove it could be done,” says Andries.
“We saw from the market reaction to another vacuum pump, the GHS VSD+, that customers really benefited from a more intelligent interaction between the pump and their production process,” adds Alistair Darroch, Product Manager Liquid Ring Pumps & Sales Tools.

“It’s a bit like our homes, where we now have controllable heating systems that are fully regulated depending on the number of people in the house and the temperature outside, rather than a system that you just switch on and off.”
The LRP VSD+ provides energy savings of up to 40% and uses up to 90% less water than previous "less intelligent" liquid ring pumps. Apart from financial and water savings, this also brings CO2 reductions.
“Many customers share our passion to address climate change and lower the industrial footprint, but even customers who don’t think in those terms still see the benefits, as the energy savings go hand in hand with reduced costs,” says Alistair.
So how did this innovation happen? As usual, it all started with a customer need. “We work closely together with our customers to understand their challenges and how we can address their specific needs,” says Alistair.
Once the product management team had identified the needs, it was time for the R&D department to get on board. The three-year development involved a truly international effort, including engineers from China and Belgium, technical input from the U.K. and marketing input drawing on global sources.
Meet our innovators
Pamela Cateland
Senior Product Manager
How did you end up at Atlas Copco?
I’m an Atlas Copco "baby". I joined just after my graduation, starting at a customer center in France and then got the opportunity to move into vacuum, which was a new field for Atlas Copco. It was like a start-up, super-exciting. I’ve also spent time in China and now Germany. The company offers so many opportunities and I never get bored. For me, it’s all about customer satisfaction. II find satisfaction when we have good feedback from happy customers.
Linda Li
Technical Lead
What is your main motivation?
I really appreciate our corporate culture and commitment to sustainability, for example through the determination to do the best possible for the environment. There’s also a good platform here for young talent with good ideas. If you have ideas, you have the freedom to activate them. The most exciting time is when I can solve a difficult problem for the customers. To accomplish this is a great feeling.
GHS VSD+ vacuum pump
Main feature: Smart, energy-saving, plug and play.
Super powers: Considered the best technology platform for central vacuum systems thanks to its large turn-down ratio.
Used at: Glass molding, canning, electronics, food packaging, pasta degassing, clay extrusion, etc.
The reception has been very good. The customers who specifically requested an intelligent pump have said it’s been everything they’ve hoped for and in some cases even better. But the feedback I enjoy the most is when a customer orders a product, receives it and is blown away by added benefits that they hadn’t even considered,”
Alistair Darroch Product Manager Liquid Ring Pumps & Sales Tools.
Senior Development Engineer Dexter Dai, who’s based in Qingdao, China, worked as part of the R&D team and helped to bring the comprehensive expertise needed to develop the LRP VSD+.
“I joined the project as a development and testing engineer and I did a lot of the verification of this product, to validate the idea, together with other engineers,” says Dexter. “We also had support from technical service colleagues in India, as well from colleagues on the compressor side who had more experience of the VSD+ technology than we did at first.”
“We don’t just touch in and out. The interaction between the R&D teams and marketing is 100% integrated,” says Alistair. “Even now the same R&D team, including Dexter, is working with me, getting customer feedback for continuous improvement and optimization of the product, and that continues throughout the product’s life cycle.”
Benefitting from friendly friction
As Alistair Darroch mentions, the GHS VSD+ oil-sealed rotary screw pumps first introduced variable speed drive in vacuum machines. Since the launch in 2015, these products have been bringing their energy-saving, "plug and play" magic to multiple applications, such as the pick and place of electronic items, food packaging, food processing and glass molding, as well as in humid applications such as clay or plastic extrusion.
“It all started back in 2012, when we were still only selling fixed-speed vacuum pumps,” says Pamela Cateland, Senior Product Manager in the Industrial Vacuum division.
“We found that a lot of customers were interested in having a centralized vacuum solution instead of using one pump for each individual machine. The beauty with a centralized system is that it can serve several machines and adapt to the actual, current need.”
The team looked to the experience already made by colleagues on the compressor side of the company.
“Our market was in the same situation as the compressor market was back in 1994, when the VSD technology was first introduced. So, while our competitors were focusing on fixed-speed machines, we were calling on our internal knowledge, doing the market analysis, meeting customers and developing the first vacuum product with variable speed drive,” says Pamela.
Initial production was in Europe, but by 2017 it was clear they also needed to focus on the Far East as the Chinese market is especially strong in IT and electronics. This is when Linda Li, Technical lead for Oil-Injected Screw products at the product company in Qingdao, China, got involved.
“Our engineering department worked with marketing and across the functions to develop the product specifications,” says Linda. “We reviewed and aligned our objectives, manufactured the prototype, and reviewed it together. This is the way we always work. We only launch when the product has been thoroughly tested in the field and when we’re all aligned.”
“And we constantly challenge each other. We have different perspectives, and a bit of friendly friction drives the development. It’s always focused on the product and making it better.”
The solution is definitely innovative. More than 7,500 GHS VSD+ vacuum pumps have been sold worldwide, with customers appreciating that it’s easy to install, easy to use, easy to service and has great energy-saving potential. It’s also compatible with different needs for different markets, big and small.
“It has a very large turndown ratio. You can decrease the rotor speed and the flow is proportional due to the technology. And the technology’s power consumption is also proportional. So, if you are only running at 5% of the flow, you’re also consuming only 5% of the power,” says Pamela.
“The VSD+ control is a big achievement compared with older products,” adds Linda. “It’s an intelligent technology and there’s more control intelligence on the way. Different countries already have different targets to achieve zero emissions, and with a product like this Atlas Copco is already a step ahead of other companies. I’m proud that we are taking that responsibility.”