While the manufacturing and mining sectors are significant contributors to the South African economy, South Africa also has an established tradition of having a world-class food and beverage industry.
For example, South African wines are sought after internationally and are held in the highest regard amongst discerning consumers.
In order to maintain its reputation and sustainability, the industry needs to be serviced by companies which are able to offer world-class products and services. While Atlas Copco has a reputation as one of the largest companies in the world which services the manufacturing and industrial sectors, the company also plays a significant role in many industries – including food and beverage - with its nitrogen air separation technology.
Rand-Air, a leading South African compressor and generator hire company and part of the Atlas Copco Group, reports that this technology will have a positive impact on the local and export market. According to Rand-Air’s General Manager Louwrens Erasmus, this technology will, amongst others, have a significant role to play in the wine industry.
“A large portion of South Africa’s wines are exported to international markets. In order to preserve the purity of the product, it has to be packaged in a specific manner. Nitrogen occurs in the atmosphere as a natural gas and can be used to replace oxygen in the packaging process. The presence of too much oxygen has a detrimental effect on food and beverages, if over-exposure occurs. By using Atlas Copco’s nitrogen packaging technology, we are able to offer our customers the peace of mind that the product that they are purchasing will be of the highest quality. With nitrogen packaging technology, we can guarantee purity levels of up to 99,5%,” says Louwrens.
A key aspect of wine production is oxidising the wine after it has been opened in order to enhance the aroma and natural flavours of the wine. This is however done at the point of consumption as over-oxidation during the packaging process may result in the product expiring before consumption.
“There are also a lot of applications for this technology outside of the food and beverage industry. The replacement of oxygen with nitrogen will prevent oxidation and the rusting in metals, polymers and chemicals. In fact, the absence of oxygen is a key component in the metal annealing process,” Louwrens points out.
In the high-pressure environment of the chemicals industry, accidents can happen at any time and safety is a significant priority. The industry is characterised by the use of products which can be highly combustible. Oxygen is a fire accelerant and the replacement of oxygen with nitrogen can be used in the effective prevention of fires, which offers significant safety benefits to the chemicals industry.
There are also significant advantages which are offered to the industrial and mining sector. For example, heavy-duty construction and transport vehicles are widely used in these industries. Filling the tyres of these vehicles with nitrogen - as opposed to oxygen - significantly reduces costs and promotes longer tread life.
“Compressed air can cause oxidation of the rubber which will accelerate tyre ageing. Air also escapes easily from the tyre, reducing pressure and causing uneven wear. As an inert gas, nitrogen does not oxidise the rubber and therefore halts the ageing process. Furthermore, nitrogen does not escape from the tyre as quickly. It improves road contact to create a stable level of wear and prevents premature damage.
These are just some practical, everyday examples of the application of our highly versatile nitrogen air separation technology in a very wide variety of industry sectors, from food and beverage to heavy industrial,” concludes Louwrens.