Alfa Laval: Industry of genius
Text: Pia Petersson | Photos © Alfa Laval
Few companies hold such a special position in Swedish industrial history as Alfa Laval. Along with a few other fellow giants, the company has come to symbolise the Swedish engineering tradition from the 19th century onwards. A master of reinvention, Alfa Laval continues to provide ingenious solutions to a wide range of industries across the world to this day.
After having invented the world’s first continuous centrifugal separator to separate milk from cream, Gustaf de Laval founded the company, then known as AB Separator, in 1883. Quickly, the company developed and enhanced the technique to, among other things, also clean up oil in the engine room of ships. “Today, the same technology is used to clean the oil mist from the exhaust gases from trucks – which is helping China to clean up its air,” begins Sameer Kalra, president of the marine division at Alfa Laval.
Three key technologies
The core of the company’s activities these days can be divided into three technologies: heat transfer, separation and fluid handling. These processes are clearly vital for plenty of industries worldwide. Indeed, Alfa Laval’s products are sold in roughly 100 countries across the globe and are used in the manufacturing of such diverse commodities as food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, starch, sugar and ethanol.
Furthermore, Alfa Laval products can be found onboard vessels, in the mining industry and refinery sector, as well as treating wastewater and creating a comfortable indoor climate. These days, sustainability is high up on the agenda. “Our products and solutions play an important role in the processes of cleaning or reusing water, increasing energy efficiency or ensuring that we minimise the use of natural resources in industrial processes. Working with sustainability also makes an impact on the customers’ bottom line in terms of, among other things, reduced energy costs, less water and chemical consumption, and less waste or even reuse of waste product,” Kalra explains.
The marine industry is one of Alfa Laval’s key markets. In fact, three out of four ocean-going vessels have Alfa Laval equipment on board. The unique ballast water treatment is one of 17 product groups that Alfa Laval offers its marine customers. All ships sailing the oceans of the world are equipped with ballast water tanks, whose function it is to stabilise the ship. The ballast water is often taken in at one part of the world and discharged in another.
“This water is a potential threat as it contains marine microorganisms that are spread by the ballast water of the ship into new foreign environments, where the microorganisms might not have natural enemies. And so, they become invasive species and can actually destroy the local marine eco system – with devastating consequences for the economy and infrastructure,” Kalra explains. In order to prevent this from happening, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set regulations for all vessels to have ballast water treatment systems installed. Since 2006, Alfa Laval has provided an ingenious UV-based solution for the treatment of ballast water, which eliminates the risk of spreading microorganisms. The chemical-free solution was developed together with Wallenius Water and has received approval from both IMO and US Coast Guard.
Other important marine environmental areas are energy efficiency and emission control. “At our Test and Training centre in Aalborg, we develop and test new products and optimise them for safety and reliability. In addition, we evaluate different fuel solutions for our product portfolio, ranging from gas to bio-fuels, to improve our sustainability footprint,” Kalra says. The sustainability aspect is key in this context. “Crucially, the solutions must also be economically viable for our customers, as sustainability is also a business opportunity for them. It is a win-win, as efficient and sustainable processes will make a big difference on their bottom line,” says Kalra.
A lasting innovation spirit
Being one of the companies that comprised the so-called industry of genius (other companies included ASEA and LM Ericsson) in Sweden during the latter half of the 19th century, Alfa Laval retains its special place in the country’s industrial industry. With a view to the future, Alfa Laval is clearly proud of its history. “The glue connecting our history with our future is the innovation spirit. It has been at the heart of Alfa Laval for more than a century – from Gustaf de Laval’s original separator to the advanced maritime connectivity systems, heat transfer and fluid handling technologies of today,” Kalra concludes.
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