Industrial Utility Efficiency

Compressed Air, Nitrogen Generation, and Assist Gas Technology for Metal Fabrication at FABTECH 2019

FABTECH is North America’s largest metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing event. Held at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, FABTECH 2019 closed with a record total of 48,278 attendees from 95 countries. Three massive exhibit halls featuring more than 1,700 exhibitors with more than 500 new products being revealed allowed attendees to see the emerging trends and technologies influencing the future of manufacturing. Attendees also had access to more than 175 educational sessions with 15 technology tracks, expert-led presentations, FABx Tech Talks in the style of TED Talks, even a head-to-head welding tournament. Many booths featured hands-on displays and live product demonstrations. 

Fabtech 2019

One of three large exhibit halls at FABTECH 2019.


Uses of Compressed Air

Whether you’re forming, punching, welding, water jet or laser cutting, pressurized gas is used in many ways in the metal fabrication industry.

The Festo booth featured a model of the YHBP balancer kits. The balancer kits are designed for several process applications: loading and unloading, stacking and unstacking, rotating, swiveling, tilting and emptying containers, assembly in production lines, and loading goods. These capabilities are essential in the metal fabrication industry for cutting out manual labor, sorting parts more efficiently, preventing damage to the metal, and facilitating overall productivity in plants. The balancer kit uses ISO 8573-1:2010 (6:4:4) compressed air purity to move loads up to 999 kg (2,202 lbs.). The controller automatically detects the weight of the load, automatically sets the balancing force, and accounts for weight changes in the suspension state.

Fabtech Festo Booth

Richard Swindail and Scott Kendzorksi with a model of the Festo YHBP balancer kit (left to right).

One important factor of production in the metal fabrication industry is dust collection. Dust collectors are frequently used in metal fabrication shops to keep the space clean and free of particulates, and to prevent damage to expensive machinery. Compressed air is used in short blasts or pulses, to clean and extend the life of the filters in the dust collectors. One of the many technologies on display at one of the SMC booths, was the JSXFA Series Pulse Jet Valve, for reverse pulse jet type dust collectors. The JSXFA Series is designed to be energy efficient and reduce air consumption. This is done with the Pulse Jet Valve’s ability to maximize the initial peak pressure air pulse that knocks away the bulk of the dust particulates collected on the filter. After dust collector valves are opened and the initial peak pressure air pulse is delivered, the air’s ability to knock away dust isn’t nearly as effective. To cope with this potential for wasted air, SMC designed the JSXFA Series to close quickly after the initial and most effective pulse is delivered, so the ineffective air that follows is closed off and not wasted. Another feature of the JSXFA Series is the demand system with a differential pressure switch, which will automatically blast air when the filter needs it, versus having air blast on a timer inefficiently. In addition, SMC has replaced the spring technology used to close the valve with a high-strength elastomer diaphragm, allowing for easy maintenance and long service life. Another relevant technology at the SMC booth was the MHM Series Magnetic Gripper for lifting steel plates with different surface textures. With a magnetic holding force up to up 320 N, the MHM Series can be an alternative to using vacuum and air.

Scott Minato SMC

 Scott Minato with the SMC Pulse Jet Valve JSXFA Series.

The year 2019 marks 100 years of business for Kaeser Kompressoren. Representatives from Kaeser Compressors were on-site displaying Kaeser’s custom fabricated enclosures and modified container solutions. The engineered enclosures eliminate the hassles of space, weather and accessibility constraints. The enclosures can be pre-assembled and shipped in custom enclosures or modified ISO shipping containers, preventing the need for building renovations. To display the versatility of the engineered enclosures, the booth had both a 15 hp variable speed and a fixed speed compressor installed in the container, and both a refrigerated and regenerative dryer installation. Depending on demand and application, the engineered enclosures can be installed with the proper air system to deliver lasting value with no impact on system efficiency. Also on display was the compact AIRTOWER Series compressor equipped with a receiver tank and refrigerated dryer for metal fabrication, machine shop and light industrial applications. The AIRTOWER Series is a light duty rotary screw compressor with models ranging from 3 to 7.5 hp, capable of reaching 125, 155 or 217 psig from 9 to 29 cfm. Kaeser’s SmartPipe+ was also showcased at the booth. The aluminum piping system is available in multiple sizes from 0.75” to 2.5”; comes with a 10-year warranty, and is designed to reduce friction and pressure drop.

Rob Williams at the Kaeser booth

Rob Williams at the Kaeser booth.


Nitrogen and Assist Gas Supply

One topic up for discussion in the metal fabrication industry is the assist gas used for laser cutting. The assist gas is fed into the laser head, and surrounds the laser as it cuts the work piece. The assist gas is intended to facilitate a smoother cut, increase cutting speeds and productivity, and to prevent discoloration, oxidation, scale, burred edges and other defects that can arise from the hot cutting temperatures. Since Nitrogen is an inert gas, it is used as an assist gas on many laser cutting systems to prevent oxygen from coming into contact with the metal while it’s being cut. Nitrogen is supplied to users in traditional cylinders, liquid nitrogen, and with on-site nitrogen generation.

On display at the Atlas Copco booth was the NGP8+ Premium N2 generator. The NGP8+ uses compressed air as a stock feed for nitrogen generation to remove oxygen, CO2 and water vapor to create clean, high purity nitrogen. Designed with pressure swing adsorption exclusively for the metal fabrication industry, the NGP8+ is capable of achieving high pressures with a low oxygen content. Equipped with an external booster, Atlas Copco nitrogen generators can reach pressures up to 4,500 psi. Using compressed air efficiently, the NGP8+ is capable of generating the “five 9s” (99.99999% pure nitrogen) for those users who want high purity nitrogen.

 Atlas Copco Fabtech 2019

Bob Boyd and Peter Asquini alongside the Atlas Copco NGP8+ N2 generator (left to right).

The nano-purification solutions team was present displaying the GEN2 Series nitrogen generators and discussing their typical packaged solutions for nitrogen generation. Modular skid packaging solutions can be designed with or without feed air compressors and boosters and pre-treatment packages with all necessary receivers. Features and benefits include PLC controlled operation, simple installation, performance testing prior to shipment, and reliable performance. A unique control feature called ecomode energy saving control, uses an outlet pressure monitor to reduce energy consumption during periods of lower demand, to ensure a continuos supply of nitrogen, while minimizing power consumption. The GEN2 Series nitrogen generators and modular skid solutions are designed to fit end-user specific applications in the metal fabrication industry among others.

nano Fabtech booth

Jane Sexton, John Haslam and Jim Tomczyk from nano-purification solutions displaying the latest GEN2 Series nitrogen generator coming in the first half of 2020 (left to right).

At the Parker booth, the Parker dominick hunter N2 NITROSource generator was on display. The NITROSource generator ensures high efficiency nitrogen generation with efficient compressed air usage. It comes in a modular design for optimum use of factory space with a five-year warranty, and ensures return on investment within six to 24 months of use depending on existing arrangements and consumption. Also capable of reaching the “five 9s” (99.99999% pure nitrogen) that many users like to have for laser cutting, the NITROSource generator has an easy to use control panel to exactly match the compressed air flow with the nitrogen gas outlet flow to set your nitrogen purity to four 9s, three 9s, or whatever purity the user requires. The purity has a direct impact on energy efficiency because as the purity goes up, so does the utility bill. 

Parker Fabtech 2019

Rob Lear with the Parker dominick hunter N2 NITROSource generator.

Based out of Minden, Nevada, INTO-N2 manufactures nitrogen generators specifically for the laser cutting industry. On display was the PSA-3K-PB500 model that provides both high purity nitrogen, and shop air for the end user. Also capable of reaching five 9s of purity, the model can achieve nitrogen pressures of 450 psi using a reciprocating booster, and shop air at 145 psi. INTO-N2 provides compressed air for those users choosing to eliminate the high cost of nitrogen. Also, the controller on the model can mix shop air and nitrogen so laser shops can cut with any combination of nitrogen and compressed air that suits them best.

 INTON Fabtech 2019

Bill Craig with the INTO-N2 model PSA-3K-PB500 nitrogen and shop air generator.

Airgas, an Air Liquide company, provides the more traditional method of assist and shield gas supply with a wide variety of high and low-pressure cylinders, and liquid nitrogen solutions. Airgas revealed a new line of cylinders, the SMARTOP™ and EXELTOP™ cylinders. Since Airgas is storing nitrogen at 2,600 psi, and safety precautions are a priority, these new cylinders are equipped with safety features such as a protective cap to protect the valve and regulator on the cylinder, and an easy on/off switch. The SMARTOP™ and EXELTOP™ are also equipped with a content meter so users know when the cylinder is empty, preventing users from returning cylinders with product still in it. The Airgas team was also discussing the Dynamic On-Site Mixer (DOM). Available in standard and mini sizes, the DOM provides mono-mix with one fixed gas composition, or dual-mix with two outputs of different fixed-gas compositions of their trademarked ARCAL shielding and welding gas. The DOM has a robust design, suitable for outdoor installations from -40 °F up to 122 °F. Airgas also supplies assist and shield gases in liquid cylinders. All dewar sizes, materials and valve types meet CGA, DOT and TC guidelines.

Airgas Fabtech 2019

Ron Weber alongside the Airgas EXELTOP™ and SMARTOP™ cyclinder display.

The MSS Americas NitroCube takes advantage of both the traditional and emerging method of nitrogen supply, and is designed specifically for laser cutting applications. The NitroCube is a packaged solution that produces high purity nitrogen (99.9975% or 99.999%) boosted up to as high as 882 cfm at 4,350 psi, then stores the nitrogen in cylinders that are ready for use. The NitroCube is available in ten models to meet demands for nitrogen production (11,020 to 203,400 ft3/day), flow (45 to 882 cfm) and storage solutions (105 to 630 ccf or hundred cubic feet). Also available is the NitroCube mini range for lighter demands. The solution reduces machine downtime for cyclinder changes, guarantees facilitation of faster carbon steel laser cutting with an oxide free edge, and eliminates the need for cylinder rental and delivery and the environmental effects that come with it.

MSS Fabtech 2019

Amit Diamond showcasing the MSS Americas NitroCube nitrogen generation system.

Among the different piping systems on display at the TESEO booth was the Hollow Bar System, the Modular Piping System as well as other aluminum piping accessories. TESEO aluminum piping offers traditional piping solutions, as well as unique structural solutions. Some of these structural solutions include trolleys for air tools that can that can hold up to 30 kg (66 lbs.), workbenches with piping installed, swinging arms for assembly and production lines, modular manifolds, and more. Suitable for both small workshops and big plants, TESEO pipework provides reliable distribution of compressed air, vacuum, nitrogen, and fluid power.

 Teseo Fabtech 2019

Andrea Nodari and Paolo Nardi representing TESEO (left to right).

Among other technologies, the Siemens team showcased the Manage MyMachines application running on Mindsphere, the Siemens cloud for industry. At FABTECH, Manage MyMachines was remotely connected to various Siemens Technical Application Centers around the world, showing machine status, operating modes and program status in real time. With this technology, end users and machine builders can accurately monitor their installations and machine performance globally.

With regards to compressed air, several topics of discussion arose at FABTECH 2019. How and if compressed air should be used to help facilitate production in metal fabrication shops is one topic. The method of assist gas supply is another topic, whether it’s supplied with on-site generation, traditional cylinders or liquid gas. The actual assist gas being used is another topic, whether it’s nitrogen, oxygen or a combination of the two. To conclude, FABTECH 2019 allowed users to identify how they should properly use compressed air and nitrogen in their shops.


For more information on FABTECH 2020, taking place in Las Vegas on November 18-20, visit

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