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Nitrogen benefits dealers and customers: Inflation service increases profits and extends tire life, the experts say

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Nitrogen benefits dealers and customers: Inflation service increases profits and extends tire life, the experts say

Part two of two

While not a miracle gas, nitrogen "is beneficial in helping to maintain the correct inflation pressure in a tire," says Dan Cleary, director of customer support for Vehicle Inspection Systems Inc. (VIS).

Because nitrogen molecules are larger than oxygen molecules, nitrogen leaks out of tires slower than oxygen, so inflation is maintained longer. The result is increased fuel efficiency, tread life and tire safety. A properly inflated tire also runs cooler compared to an under-inflated tire.

Being a dry, inert gas, it helps prevent rust and tire oxidation.

According to Bill Gibson, ARI-HETRA/Automotive Resources Inc.'s marketing manager, "Less tire air pressure loss equals lower rolling resistance equals more fuel savings.

"Nitrogen is especially good for trailer tires, which often are not cared for by truck drivers. Nitrogen offers improved fuel economy and safety; it reduces corrosion and ultimately leads to better retreads, too."

Robin Pearl, N2Revolution president, says that in order to get the full benefit of nitrogen tire inflation, a minimum purity of 95% nitrogen is needed within a tire. He references research done by Ford Motor Co. to back up his assertion.

"Not all nitrogen generators are created equal," he says. "Purity is most important, and dealers need to charge for the proper benefit."

Nitrogen inflation systems range from $3,000 to more than $14,000. Generally, the higher the purity it provides, the more expensive the unit.

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Pearl says this service has been around long enough that dealers are seeing real evidence of benefits from their happy customers. "Tire pressure is being maintained longer, and customers are calling it the best thing they've ever done for their cars."

Here is a list of topics you should address when looking for a nitrogen generator for your shop, courtesy of VIS.

1. Unit capacity. Unit capacity is the amount of nitrogen the unit can produce or have available in a receiver tank to meet your needs when you are inflating tires. Capacity is usually specified in standard cubic feet per minute (scfm).

2. Receiver tank capacity. "A receiver tank downstream of the nitrogen generator stores previously produced nitrogen for peak demand periods," the company notes. "The higher the capacity, the more tires it can fill in an hour. Nitrogen generator receiver tanks range from zero to 120 gallons. The larger the receiver tank, the greater the nitrogen supply available."

3. Efficiency of the unit. How much compressed air is required to produce the nitrogen? (This will have a direct impact on your utility bills.)

4. Nitrogen purity. The purity of a nitrogen generator is measured in percent nitrogen. Generators are offered that produce from 95% purity to higher than 99% purity.

Purity is the issue in nitrogen tire inflation, according to Greg Osborn of Total Air Solutions LLC. “The remaining oxygen conent with 95% purity in the tire is 5% oxygen. If the purity is only 90% there is 10% oxygen left in the system.”

"All nitrogen generators should come with a nitrogen purity meter to measure the purity of the nitrogen being produced, stores and provided to the customer," VIS says. Purging the tire of air also will affect the purity.

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5. Controls and automatic features. Are the inflation controllers, flow meters and pressure gauges easily accessible? Are there automatic features to save time?

Another thing to consider is the technology that separates the nitrogen from the compressed air. Most generators have membranes; another company offers PSA (Pressure Swing Absorption) technology. You'll need to do some research to decide what will work best for you. Last month we showcased products from Kreska Technologies Inc., Champion Pneumatic, Branick Industries Inc. and Parker Hannifin Corp. Here are more:

Air Products and Chemicals Inc., (800) 752-1597, www.airproducts.com

Ashok Mathur, business development manager for Air Products and Chemicals, sees an increasing number of locations across the U.S. -- including tire dealerships, car dealerships, truck service outlets and others -- providing nitrogen tire fill service.

This long-time nitrogen supplier has been involved in the consumer nitrogen segment for more than 10 years, at first teaming up with Shell Oil to offer nitrogen tire filling at quick lube locations. "That was the wrong channel at the time," says Mathur.

His company is now enjoying the increased attention on nitrogen tire filling.

"We decided we must produce a product of extremely high purity." The company's UltraFill 99+ High-Purity Nitrogen Tire Inflation System attains 99.5% nitrogen. The higher the purity level, the less time is involved in filling the tires to a beneficial nitrogen level, and thus dealers costs are reduced, says Mathur.

His company also "found an innovative way to have a nitrogen storage tank of the equivalent of more than 120 gallons in a small space." Its compact unit with "dynamic surge capacity" is only 20 inches wide by 26 inches deep and 54 inches high, which saves valuable bay space. It also is on casters so it is portable.

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ARI-HETRA/Automotive Resources Inc., (800) 562-3250, www.ari-hetra.com

ARI-HETRA's N2 Complete Filling Station has a generator and a 200-gallon nitrogen storage tank, all mounted on a platform easily moved with a forklift, the company says.

The units have a regulator, liquid-filled pressure gauge, steel base and plumbing from the air inlet of the system to the nitrogen exit.

The system features automatic shut-off, a dual condensation removal system, an active carbon filter, a visible filter-wear indicator, air and nitrogen gauges and a rugged steel enclosure.

The generator can fill a passenger or light truck tire, size P265/70R16 as an example, to 35 psi in 17 seconds. A heavy-duty tire, size 11R22.5, can be filled to 105 psi in three minutes. An OTR tire, size 20.5R25, can be filled to 73 psi in 11 minutes.

Other features sold separately include a Speed Booster to reduce tire-filling times, and additional nitrogen modules to increase tire volume per hour.

The units are built to accommodate larger-volume commercial shops and can be customized depending on the needs of the customer.

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Atlas Copco, (877) COPCO-N2, www.atlascopco.us

Atlas Copco has a range of dual output compressors that produce compressed air and nitrogen simultaneously. These units save tire dealers valuable installation space, notes Bart Woodmansee, the company's product manager/AutoAir program manager.

The units are designed to offer stable and predictable nitrogen purity and flow levels. The alignment of compressor and membranes eliminates excessive fluctuation of both inlet temperature and inlet pressure to the membranes, resulting in optimum performance.

The compressor platform consists of a screw compressor, an integrated refrigerated dryer and a dual pre-filter combination at the inlet of the membranes. The units also include an integrated heater package.

The dual output compressors also offer dry compressed air for air-operated tools.

Donaldson AirCel, (865) 681-7066, www.n2cel.com

Donaldson AirCel manufactures a range of N2Cel nitrogen generating systems with nitrogen purity at 95% with up to 99.9% purity available upon request.

Models range from N2G-250-S with a 30-gallon nitrogen receiver up to N2G-2500-S with a 120-gallon receiver.

The generators come with a cabinet, receiver, automatic electronic purge saver and nitrogen filtration.

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Each unit also comes with consumer brochures to help you sell the product as well as green valve stems, door stickers, wall posters, counter mats and a green air hose.

A Donaldson AirCel VF-50 refrigerated air dryer with pre-filter is an available option.

Hybrid Nitrogen Systems LLC, (877) 492-7331, www.hybridn2.com

The Hybrid Nitrogen Machine from Hybrid Nitrogen Systems was built to perform reliably among the hazards of automotive service shops, the company says. It runs on nitrogen cylinders with 99.9% nitrogen delivered to your location when you need it.

Because Hybrid Nitrogen Machine uses cylinders with 99.9% pure nitrogen, only two purges are necessary to reach the beneficial threshold of 95% pure nitrogen in customers' tires, the company notes.

The machine also has a computer control system that enables the technicians to set it up for any vehicle in seconds and then perform other services while the machine simultaneously fills four tires with nitrogen in seven to 15 minutes. A typical cylinder contains sufficient nitrogen to fill 60 tires without any recuperation time in between.

The machine has a valve that automatically opens and closes during the purge and inflation process and a sturdy stand with wheels.

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Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd., (800) 376-TOOL, www.irtools.com

Ingersoll-Rand's Nitrogen Tire Filling System is highly configurable and easily upgradeable to grow with the dealership, says the company. It utilizes membrane technology to deliver high-quality nitrogen.

"A smaller service shop owner in an area where nitrogen is a relatively new offering won't need to produce as much nitrogen as a truck/fleet operation. The service shop will probably need to purchase a one membrane system, while the larger fleet operation may need to purchase a four membrane system," says Ryan Lang, solutions manager. "However, as that service shop's business grows, and more people learn about nitrogen, the service shop that purchased a one-membrane system now has the ability to upgrade to a two-, three- or four-membrane system by purchasing additional membranes for the system they currently own."

The system has no moving parts, is very quiet and requires simple annual maintenance, the company notes. It can be connected easily to the existing compressed air supply and can be ready to generate nitrogen in minutes.

There is no air consumption when the unit is not in operation; thus, nitrogen is created on demand to provide energy savings.

An onboard nitrogen analyzer provides easy testing, and the compact design saves bay space, the company says.

Four generator models are available, from N20406-PG with a 60-gallon receiving tank capacity to N21612-PG with a 120-gallon capacity. Each of the models generates 95% nitrogen purity.

N2Revolution Inc., (954) 741-4278, www.purigen98.com

N2Revolution's name for its tire inflation gas is PurigeN98 -- indicating a nitrogen purity level of a minimum of 98%.

The company's nitrogen generator, the Nitroflator, is fully automatic and plugs into the compressed air supply to produce PurigeN98 on demand. Its capacity is upgradeable and the generator has a cylindrical design with easy access to controls.

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The company's Puriflator unit automatically deflates and fills four tires at a time and is programmable for up to five cycles. It has digital accuracy and also is fully automatic.

PurigeN98 is dubbed the "blue" gas, because of the color of the equipment and the blue valve caps and valve sleeves the company provides to differentiate it from the other nitrogen providers that have tended to go with green color schemes.

N2Revolution also offers on-site training and support and point-of-sale materials.

On Site Gas Systems Inc., (860) 667-8888, www.onsitegas.com

Bob Wolff, director of special programs for On Site Gas Systems Inc., reports the one big difference between his company's nitrogen generators and others is his company's use of PSA (Pressure Swing Absorption) technology instead of membranes to filter the nitrogen.

Compressed air enters one end of two absorber tubes filled with a carbon molecular sieve (CMS). While the smaller oxygen molecules are adsorbed by the CMS, the larger nitrogen molecules pass through and are stored. Upon saturation, the first absorber releases the oxygen, while the second absorber starts the process over again for a consistent flow of gas.

The PSA is not susceptible to oil contamination so it lasts longer than membranes, Wolff says. Also, air requirements are lower, which translates into lower utility costs.

The company says the repair cost on a PSA nitrogen separator is less than other filtering systems, and that PSA generators maintain the same purity level of nitrogen year after year.

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"Nitrogen systems are all we do," says Wolff. "We waited and tested both systems to find what works best. We found PSA is the only way to go."

Quincy Compressor/Enpro Industries Inc., (217) 222-7700, www.quincycompressor.com

Quincy Compressor's Nitrogen Defender Generator features manual flow and purity control and inlet and discharge pressure gauges.

The unit has no air consumption without demand to save on utility costs. The Defender has an 80-gallon vertical tank and check valve.

A built-in N2 analyzer lets you check on the nitrogen purity level. The unit also has a triple filtration system and offers quiet operation.

RTI Technologies, (800) 468-2321, www.rtitech.com

RTI Technologies' NitroPro nitrogen tire filling system is offered in portable models NTF-15 and NTF-15 Plus, each with on-board 15-gallon nitrogen storage tanks, and NTF-60 and NTF-60 Plus with 60-gallon storage tanks.

Using tire size 225/60R15 as an example, model NTF-15 can fill 32 tires an hour, NTF-15 Plus can fill 77 tires, model NTF-60 can fill 36 tires per hour and NTF-60 Plus can fill 87 tires.

RTI's NitroPro membrane offers optimal purity (from 95% to 98%) and long life, the company says, and the membrane performs consistently over a wide temperature range. The NitroPro polymer membranes also maintain a high purity level through many years of service, the company notes. They are made with a large bore, which means "the fiber is less susceptible to contamination damage than that of other membranes," the company says.

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The company's tire deflation system quickly and simultaneously deflates four tires to atmospheric pressure, and the vacuum system efficiently removes residual air and moisture.

The systems come with the RTI NitroPro N2 Purity Tester, a hand-held device that quickly and accurately tests nitrogen tank and tire purity that "provides your customers with a professional display, validating your service," the company says.

Each purchase comes with point-of-sale displays and banners and lifetime technical support.

Tire Service Equipment Manufacturing Co. Inc., (800) 223-4540, www.tsissg.com

Tire Service Equipment Manufacturing Co. Inc. has available nitrogen generators in six, 12 and 18 cfm, and all come with 60-gallon tanks. Optional larger units are available upon request, says Randy Kindel, sales. Each unit comes with the highest quality membranes and units are available for any size and type of shop, he says. The company also performs the equipment set-up and offers training on all its units.

"There is a lot of interest in nitrogen. However, people are hesitant, they're waiting, not sure of what to do, not sure whether to charge for the service or not charge. There's a lot up in the air right now."

Vehicle Inspection Systems Inc. (VIS), (800) 219-6256, www.visnitro.com

VIS-Nitro systems have high performance nitrogen generators, 120-gallon receiver tanks, automated inflation controllers, handheld nitrogen purity gauges, and high efficiency filtration systems.

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Model VIS-Nitro has a peak nitrogen output of 12 scfm, while model VIS-Nitro Plus outputs 18 scfm.

Nitrogen purity is adjustable from 95% to 99%. The free-standing units are shipped fully plumbed and have six-stage pre-filtration systems.

An air inflation controller automates the inflation of multiple tires all at once and improves inflation accuracy by eliminating handheld pressure gauges, the company says.

The units also have nitrogen outlet flow meters, air economizer pneumatic circuits and large inlet and outlet pressure gauges.

For nitrogen purity assurance, the units have start-up purity assurance circuits, handheld nitrogen purity gauges and two nitrogen purity sampling ports.

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