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Bringing simple but ground-breaking concepts together

07 November 2016

When the founder and CEO of Lontra, Steve Lindsey, came up with the concept for the Blade Compressor in 2008, it was something that nobody had seen before.

A close up of Lontra's revolutionary blade compressor
A close up of Lontra's revolutionary blade compressor

It was an innovation that provided a step-change for the compressor industry and the first advancement in the market for almost a century. 

Many would believe that such an invention would take years of prototyping and endeavour to perfect. But in fact, thanks to some ground-breaking design technology and a team of engineers, the Blade Compressor was perfected in just one attempt.

A brief history of compressors

Air compressors are used for a wide variety of applications from powering air tools in factories, to blowing granules and powders around cement and food processing plants, to aeration and other functions in water and wastewater treatment facilities. 

Yet there hasn’t been a widely applicable compressor innovation for almost a century, a time in which we have witnessed the commercialisation of air travel, the birth of the smartphone, the first ever space walk and the creation of a new digital currency.

Surely there must be a design that’s a more appropriate fit for modern industry? Enter the clean-sheet Lontra Blade Compressor technology.  

How the Blade Compressor works

The Blade Compressor is much like traditional compressor designs, best imagined as a piston and cylinder, but with the cylinder wrapped around. With a traditional piston and cylinder machine, as the piston drops down in the cylinder, it draws in air above it and, as it goes up again, it compresses air in front of it.

In the Blade Compressor there is a constantly open intake port, without valves, and as the piston, or blade, rotates it draws in a volume of air behind it in the same way as the piston drops down in the cylinder.

As it gets back to the starting point, the blade has drawn in a complete volume of air behind it. But unlike the traditional piston and cylinder that has to stop and change direction, the blade passes through a disc and the volume of air that was trapped behind the blade is now compressed in front.

Founder of Lontra, Steve Lindsey at the company's new Technology Centre
Founder of Lontra, Steve Lindsey at the company's new Technology Centre

This creates a continuous cycle of drawing in air behind and compressing air in front, a new geometry that is quieter, smoother and more efficient.

Designing the product of the future

As a design-led company, with drive for challenging the industry to think differently about accepted compressor technology, Lontra had to find the right design partner. The first step was to find appropriate software to create the blueprints for the invention, which Lontra found through Concurrent Engineering, a company that supplied the crucial 3D test system technology.

Looking back in time, James Dyson’s bag-less vacuum was a product of 5,127 attempts. Since then, design technology has come on leaps and bounds to the point that Lontra was able to build its Blade Compressor in just one attempt.

Concurrent Engineering had its part to play in this success by ensuring that Lontra got the most out of the software investment and introducing them to new technology. Deploying PTC’s Creo Behavioural Modelling Extension and CAD system technology, the team of designers at Lontra were able to comprehensively test its product without needing to produce numerous prototypes, saving time and money and bringing the product to market much quicker. The simple design is easier to manufacture than current compressors, meaning that production quality can be higher without adding additional cost, leading to a more reliable operation and longer operational life.

Putting design engineering into practice

Having saved thousands of hours and pounds in resource, Lontra’s Blade Compressor was taken to production stage almost immediately, meaning that it was soon ready for commercial use. Severn Trent Water became the first to commercially trial the Blade Compressor at its Worcester wastewater treatment works. 

After seven months on the site, the Blade Compressor was demonstrated to be 21 percent more efficient than older compressors previously used, with a potential 3 percent reduction in annual energy costs for the entire business. Extending the trial demonstrated an improvement in reliability, as well as a reduction in the need for maintenance. Lontra soon licensed the Blade Compressor technology to global manufacturer, Sulzer, whose reach extends both across the European and US markets.

Manufacture of machines incorporating the Blade Compressor technology has begun, with compressors shipping to Severn Trent Water and its equivalents across Europe. The potential saving in electricity costs for Severn Trent Water is around $2.4m, with a substantial reduction in carbon emissions a further benefit. This powerful combination of energy efficiency and reliability from a modern design of compressor could be a huge benefit for businesses as savings become more important than ever before.

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