Scrolls Find Their Place

April 2, 2007
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Fifth Generation Copeland Scroll - A glimpse inside of the scroll compressor shows the very few moving parts which are a key to its efficiency and reliability.

With all the changes going on in the compressor sector, one technology has been a recurring one - scroll compressors. The methodology has been around for more than 60 years. It became commercially viable in the mid-80s. Today it continues to become more fine-tuned while finding even more applications.

It is probably safe to say that anyone who works in and around the HVACR industry knows what a scroll compressor is. It is now almost a household name. Of course, this wasn’t always the case.

In theory, scroll has existed since the early 20th century. Over time, the promise of scroll compression became more and more apparent to North American manufacturers. However, none were able to develop a manufacturing strategy that would make producing quality scroll products cost effective. It wasn’t until the 1980s that scrolls became a viable compressor option for the Western world.

The industry generally accepts that Copeland Corp., now Emerson Climate Technologies Inc., was the first to mass-produce scroll compressors and effectively take them to market.

“A major hurdle in making it a viable product was achieving a balance between the need for high-volume precision manufacturing, and the ability to consistently achieve scroll’s promise of high performance, low sound, and reliability,” said Ken Monnier, vice president of engineering, Emerson Climate Technologies Air Conditioning Division.

Those scrolls were an early hit with early OEMs and contractors alike. Over the next 20 years, major OEMs would be outfitting their residential cooling units with scrolls

IMPACT OF SCROLL

The impact that scroll technology has had on the HVACR industry can’t be understated, according to advocates of the technology.

They say that one of scroll’s first benefits was energy efficiency. Having entered the North American market in the 1980s, scroll has never existed during a time when energy efficient HVAC solutions were not a prime concern of energy regulators and the public at-large. Since its inception, the ability of scrolls to reach higher levels of SEER efficiency worked to help guide the industry through government-mandated regulations. This inherent element of the technology has also helped contractors grow their businesses by upselling customers on even more-efficient systems.

The small amount of compressor noise was another benefit that drew a lot of attention. The scroll compressor, because of its few moving parts, operates more quietly than other technologies, say those promoting scrolls. This became a key selling point for contractors looking to install scroll compressors in residential cooling units.

When customers invest money into an HVAC system, they expect the equipment to last a certain amount of time. When scroll was initially entering the market, this was a concern for OEMs and contractors alike. They wondered if the new compressor could perform at a high level for 15 or more years.

Carl Huber, vice president of engineering and quality for WaterFurnace, a manufacturer of geothermal heating and cooling units, installed a scroll compressor in his own home’s system 15 years ago. “Fifteen years later, it was still working,” he said. In fact, he and officials at Emerson Climate Technologies recently tested that compressor and found it had actually increased in operating efficiency by between 1 and 2 percent.

“Having the prototype system in my home, reliability was easy to gauge,” Huber said. “In 15 years, the only maintenance needed was a replacement motor and a change of filter, neither of which had anything to do with the compressor.”

EXPANDING APPLICATIONS

With results in the residential cooling market, a next step was taking scroll technology to commercial cooling equipment.

A major development for commercial scroll compressors has been modulation technology. Modulation allows for better temperature matching based on how many people are in a given room. For instance, the technology is able to maintain ideal comfort levels in buildings like churches, where rooms can be empty for hours and then suddenly filled to near capacity.

“Comfort is really the big selling factor,” said Vincent Gillette Jr., president of Gillette Air Conditioning in San Antonio.

“Since we’ve been installing Copeland Scroll Digital compressors, our customers have just been thrilled with the results.”

Electronics are another major factor in the evolution of scroll, both in the commercial and residential markets.

These electronics include compressor diagnostics that protect and prolong the life of the overall HVAC system. Some high-end systems now have communications systems onboard that enable components to talk to each other.

The next application for the technology was refrigeration. The scroll compressor’s compact size attracted manufacturers of various refrigeration systems looking for smaller choices for walk-in coolers, reach-ins and distributed refrigeration systems (where refrigerated items can be found throughout a supermarket or other retail space, as opposed to being confined to specific refrigerated sections of the store). The scroll’s reliability and durability have also proven a good fit for these refrigeration applications.

In addition, scrolls are finding their way beyond coolers and freezers. According to Emerson Climate Technologies, OEMs are interested in the compressor’s versatility, putting it to work in soft-serve ice cream machines, frozen carbonated beverage machines and more. Scrolls are also being utilized in cryogenic equipment, medical equipment like MRI machines and even some dental equipment.

MEETING DEMAND

The growing demand for scrolls over the last 20 years, and its prevalence in so many applications, has created its own mini-industry in aftermarket sales and support. Of course there is the need for eventual compressor replacement and parts service, which is supported through the aftermarket channel to ensure contractors have the supply they need to meet customer needs. Additionally, there is the need for installation and service training.

“We provide roughly 1,600 contractors with scroll service training every year,” said Larry Banas, director of educational services, Emerson Climate Technologies. “The technology is constantly evolving. It’s our job to keep pace with that evolution and make sure contractors have the resources they need to be able to install and service Copeland Scrolls today and into the future.”

Publication date: 04/02/2007

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