With Alfa Laval Inc. things come in threes. Its three core technologies include heat transfer, separation and fluid handling. It enhances its value in these areas with customer service, environmental concern and product optimization. With these winning trifectas, the Toronto-based company has established a major presence in Canada, reports Dan Harvey.
Similar to how rock and roll embraces three power chords, Alfa Laval Canada, a Toronto-based enterprise, attaches itself to three muscular core technologies: heat transfer, separation and fluid handling.
This is a rocking company that puts its customers on a roll.
With its expertise and experience, Alfa Laval impacts numerous companies in many industries, establishing itself as a recognized expert. A customer/process/industry focused enterprise, Alfa Laval’s offerings help customers optimize their processes and, in turn, their bottom line. This company helps customers focus on what’s most important. “We help them better understand what can make them most efficient,” says Jamie Hodd, general manager of Alfa Laval’s process technology division (which involves the enterprise’s heavy industry side). “Further, we make them more resourceful when it comes to natural resources and environmental protection.”
Alfa Laval Canada dates back to 1899. Today, the enterprise operates as an integral subsidiary of a robust, global parent company – the Sweden-based Alfa Laval AB – whose own roots date back to 1883.
The history, services and offerings that the Canadian operation and the Swedish parent demonstrate are heart-beat close. You can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. Indeed, similar to the overall organization, Alfa Laval Inc. (as it’s known to its Canadian customers) provides specialized products and engineered solutions – boasting equipment, systems and services that heats, cools, separates and transports products in a broad range of industries.
Hodd offers a unique perspective: “Maybe it’s more revealing to discuss who we don’t serve rather than who we do.”
It sounds like a tongue-in-cheek statement, but Hodd makes a strong point: Alfa Laval serves so many industries – and so successfully – that the mystery is why anyone would forgo its talents. Consider the industries, customers and applications served: biotechnology, pharmaceutical, chemicals, engine and transport, fluid power, food and beverage, industrial fermentation, HVAC, refrigeration, meat and fish processing, marine (shipbuilding), machinery, latex, mining, metal working, minerals, oil and gas, refinery, semiconductor systems, power generation, pulp and paper, and wastewater treatment.
That covers a lot of bases and a lot of industrial territory. So, as Hodd suggests, the question is not why customers attach themselves to Alfa Lava: The more important question is why anyone would not.
In the meantime, Alfa Laval is as highly focused as it is diverse. Take, for example, its heat transfer. The company understands that heating and cooling are essential parts of industrial processes. Heat exchangers transfer heating or cooling from, for example, one fluid to another and are of vital importance for efficiency in the entire manufacturing process.
The parent organization has been a technology pioneer and leader since its inception. It all began with pasteurizing equipment for the dairy industry.
SEPARATOR: CENTRAL TO DEVELOPMENT
The current product range is based on high-speed separators, decanters and membrane filters for separating or removing solid particles from liquids. The guiding genius behind the creation and development of Alfa Laval was Gustaf de Laval, a man whose inventions include the centrifugal separator and the first functional steam turbine. During his life, he garnered 92 patents and was closely associated with the creation of 37 companies.
But it was his separator that gave rise to this global organization that ultimately had enormous impact in Canada. “The centrifugal technology, which was first used to separate cream from milk, provided the basis of our beginning, just as it provided the basis of the overall company,” informs Hodd.
Indeed, separation has been central to operations. The technology is now used to separate liquids from other liquids, solid particles from liquids, and particles from gases. Today, separation is crucial to a wide range of industrial processes (e.g., processing of liquids in food, pharmaceutical, chemical and petro- chemical processes; extraction and treatment of crude oil; treatment of fuel and lubricating oils in vessels and electric power plants; treatment of industrial fluids; dewatering of sludge in wastewater treatment plants, and cleaning of crankcase gases from truck and ship diesel engines).
In 1887, de Laval began developing the centrifugal separator. In 1883, he partnered with Oscar Lamm Jr. to establish AB Separator, Alfa Laval’s predecessor. A year later the company sold its firsts pumps, which were used to pump skimmed milk from the centrifugal separator. In 1890, the company intro- duced the world’s first continuous separator using the alpha disc stack technology developed by German inventor Clemens von Bechtolsheim.
In 1916, three years after de Laval passed away, AB Separator sold the first separator for oil purification. “The next milestone came in the 1920s, with the development of the plate and frame heat exchanger,” relates Hodd. “It started as a model for the dairy industry, and a significant advantage was that it could be easily taken apart, as everything had to be cleaned on a daily basis. Through the years, as the technology evolved, it found application in a variety of other industries.”
Subsequently, the company began establishing subsidiaries throughout the world. Another milestone came in 1951, when it began selling self-cleaning centrifugal separators and decanter centrifuges. “The decanter centrifuge is used more for compacting solids for dewatering and classifications,” describes Hodd. “So that centrifuge is used in oil sands operations, for drilling fluids treatment, waste sludge dewatering, fish and meat processing, and in the chemical industry.”
In 1963, the company changed its name from AB Separator to Alfa Laval AB (the name deriving from the alpha discs and the company founder’s surname). Development of company and technology remained ongoing. In 2003, Alfa Laval launched AlfaNova, a major breakthrough in heat transfer technology. This completely new type of plate heat exchanger was based on Alfa Laval’s patented method of brazing the plates (AlfaFusion). AlfaNova’s extraordinary strengths in regard to temperatures, pressures and fatigue resistance opened new and interesting possibilities in existing and future applications, according to the company.
Today, the company’s global operations are based on three key technologies: heat transfer, separation and fluid handling. It offers numerous energy-saving solutions for heating, cooling, heat recovery, evaporation, condensation, ventilation and refrigeration. Technology includes plate heat exchangers, air heat exchangers, spiral heat exchangers, shell-and-tube heat exchangers, and scraped-surface heat exchangers.
COMPREHENSIVE CANADIAN COMPANY
Alfa Laval Canada (or Alfa Laval Inc., the name it assumed i focuses on three business areas: service presence, customer process knowledge and product optimization. “Optimization means that we can take a centrifuge or a heat exchanger and optimize it for usage in a specific industry,” says Hodd.
Equipment is tweaked to provide optimal value. “One of the benefits of working with us is that we bring to the market substantial expertise. We know how a customer’s plant operates, we know what is important to that customer, and we can help them save money,” Hodd points out. “For instance, we thoroughly understand how a pulp and paper mill works and how oil production is accomplished. We take that knowledge to optimize the products and solutions that we sell. A wastewater centrifuge will work best in waste water treatment. But you can’t take that same centrifuge and apply it to drilling. It just wouldn’t work. We offer equipment that has common parts, but we do a lot of fine tuning for specific applications. Many competitors will simply say, ‘Here’s our centrifuge. Use it.” We’re not in the business to have our equipment be a ‘jack of all trades.’”
He adds that the company backed this up by establishing a Canadian coast-to-coast presence. Besides its headquarters and a sales office in Toronto, Alfa Laval Inc. also has offices in Quebec, Alberta, Vancouver and British Columbia. “Our commitment is further enhanced by untouchable service across all industries,” says Hodd. “Equipment is only as good as it is maintained, and in that respect we are untouched in our field in Canada.”
The company is also strongly focused on the environment. Many of its customers’ factories are ISO 14000 (a family of ISO certifications that addresses environmental management). “We’ve made inroads into many industries, and many of these industries are very much environmentally driven,” informs Hodd. “This can involve carbon capture and storage, biofuel production and power generation. For instance, in wastewater treatment, the current generation of equipment consumes 30 percent less power than the predecessor. This offers reduction in both operating costs and carbon footprint.”
Alfa Laval Inc., which has doubled its growth since 2003, is very much aligned with its customers’ environmental concerns. “With our equipment, we’re helping them address the changes they feel they need to make,” says Hodd. “That’s going to be a major focus as we move forward. This will not only involve environmentally driven companies but also newer and cleaner technologies such as solar and wind power. Already, we are a pioneer in tailings pond treatment, which involves the oil sand industry but is now expanding into other mining industries.”
The other largest area of customer demand involves customer service. “That’s something that we’ve rapidly responded to, and one of the ways that we have done that is by doubling our customer service in Western Canada,” says Hodd.
Alfa Laval Inc. wants to be viewed as an entity easy to do business with, and with its three core technologies – coupled with its three strong business focuses (environment, service and product optimization) – it has become a leader.