parties mentioned above. An entire suite of equipment is required to
effectively run a research laboratory, and manufacturers of fittings, valves
and other flow control solutions often become involved early in the process to help planners and researchers understand the options available.
CONCOA, Virginia Beach, Virg., a maker of gas control equipment,
offers a comprehensive program called the Custom Assembly Program.
When a customer contacts CONCOA, an applications engineer uses the
initial discussion to begin preparing a drawing and quotation including
lead time for review and approval. This custom project becomes its own
“part number”, and the customer can order it directly from the company.
Leveraging the company’s catalog selection of regulators, valves, adaptors and meters, the engineer then designs and
produces a fully assembled solution to a given
application. The system is fully tested for leak
integrity and functionality, and the service conforms to an ISO 9001-certified process to ensure
This type of service is helpful, in part, because
the selection of gas supply components is so
diverse. Regulators are one of the most important components of the gas supply infrastructure, and a company such as CONCOA can
supply hundreds of varieties of regulators: single stage, dual stage, brass, aluminum, stainless
steel and more.
Another factor affecting gas supply and control
strategies is the increasing role of automation and
computerized controls. CONCOA launched their
IntelliSwitch technology more than a decade ago
to help gas customers, particularly those using
cryogenic supplies, manage the necessary switch
between two sources of gas. Projects involving
high-pressure gases in cryogenic liquid cylinders, high-pressure cylinder banks, tube trailers,
generators, compressors or bulk gas sources can
benefit from automated control because gas utility
extends far outside normal working hours.
Essentially an electronic control device for the gas regulator, the
IntelliSwitch actuates as inlet pressure falls below a user-defined point
by means of a Web interface or a serial port. At Pittcon 2014, CONCOA
introduced its 544 Series IntelliSwitch IIv, which utilizes new proprietary
economization software that virtually eliminates liquid cylinder vent loss
and substantially reduces residual return. IntelliSwitch has evolved to serve
as a highly reliable switch for demanding applications and environments
that require continuous supply. The system integrates with CONCOA’s gas
alarm systems, and is compatible with all inert non-flammable gases up
to 4,500 psig. According to CONCOA Product Manager Larry Gallagher,
the system can save up to 40% over analog valves for gas supply controlled
with IntelliSwitch II. He says his sales team can help customers gauge this
savings directly based on their installation. This helps justify the cost of
upgrading from traditional valves.
The other advantage of electronic control, and one that is beginning to
impact the vacuum pump industry, is the availability of network control.
A simple smartphone interface can provide rapid status monitoring of
the valve and gas supply, and a laptop can provide minute control. But the
biggest reason that more precise control of gases, particularly inert gases,
Helium is used as a test gas because it’s chemically inert, easy to detect
and has the ability to pass through the smallest leak. It’s popular. But it’s
also in short supply. While enough helium to last 100 years is available at
current usage rates, recent supply shortfalls have caused a minor panic
in the scientific world, where no good alternative for helium has existed
prior to recent efforts to utilize hydrogen as a substitute.
Companies like CONCOA are intensely involved with testing for
helium leaks, and electronic switching control is
a key part of the effort to control the loss, which
can be substantial.
Some vendors have concentrated their efforts
on purity through an extensive redesign of both
the cylinder and valve. Air Products, Dublin,
Ireland, introduced its Built-In Purifier (BIP)
about a decade ago, helping achieve impurity
levels as low as 10 ppb for hydrocarbons and
oxygen, and 20 ppb for moisture. A gas supply
company, Air Products’ BIP saves carrier gas
for chromatography users through the implementation of a specialized valve design. A check
valve protects both the purifier and the cylinder
interior from any gas present at the valve outlet
at a pressure higher than cylinder pressure. This
check valve also functions as a residual pressure
valve and closes when the cylinder pressure
drops to about 50 psig, maintaining a positive
pressure in the cylinder at all times. The result is
a cylinder that can't be completely emptied with
an interior that can’t be accidentally exposed to
atmospheric oxygen or water.
Overhead gets a dose of sophistication
Ceiling-mounted high-efficiency particulate
air (HEPA) filters are a common presence in research laboratories and
cleanrooms. Designed to be capable of high-flow air exchange, they’re
typically hidden away behind ceiling vents and are used to help filter the
incoming air as an extra aid for the HVAC system and a supplement to
air-handling systems present on the laboratory floor. Several large-ca-
pacity HEPA filters may be present in a wet chemistry laboratory where
many fume hoods are in use. Manufactured by a variety of companies,
these filters are often combined with fluorescent lighting to provide a
single plug-in block.
This has been the standard for research laboratories for decades. Now,
two makers of ductless and ductless filtering fume hoods have recently
introduced more advanced solutions for laboratory air handling.
At Pittcon 2014, France-based Erlab, already known for its GreenFumeHood line of ductless fume hoods, introduced Halo, a standalone,
ceiling-mounted air filtration system for the laboratory that permits safe
reduction of air change rates while improving air quality through its use
of carbon filter technology.
Halo gets its name from a ring of glowing light that signifies both its
presence and operational status. Occupying a similar footprint as the
The 544 Series IntelliSwitch IIv gas distribution
and management system from CONCOA automatically switches between high-pressure flow