Ariel Corp. started in the basement of its founder’s home, James P. Buchwald, in 1966, and it grew slowly over the next couple of decades.
In the 1990s, however, changes in competitors, deregulation of natural gas and new distribution methods saw Ariel become the largest manufacturer of reciprocating natural gas compressors in the world, the company says.
It currently has about 450 employees and has shipped more than 17,000 compressors for service around the world. “With the maturation of our product line, Ariel has become the industry leader,” Karen Buchwald Wright, president and CEO, says of the company’s growth in the last five years.
Wright, whose father founded the company, took over as CEO in recent months. She and her brother, Kurt Buchwald, own Ariel, which has grown along with its product line into the most technologically advanced compressor manufacturer. Ariel says its state-of-the-art manufacturing plant allows the company to dominate the industry in gas gathering, pipeline transmission, gas storage and many other applications for natural gas compressors.
Ariel says it adheres to conservative and exacting standards in developing its products. Compressors are designed to match natural gas fueled engines manufactured by companies such as Caterpillar, Waukesha and Wartsilla; or electric motors manufactured by companies such as GE, Siemens, Toshiba and Reliance.
“Ariel’s conservative approach to design simply means Ariel compressors are designed to perform beyond expected requirements,” Wright says. “Conservative design means using proven design techniques combined with the application of new technology. Ariel has led the development of modern compression technology with air-cooled cylinders, high-speed, driver-rated design, user-friendly maintenance and market-driven innovation. When it comes to compression technology, we are determined to be the industry leader.”
Once built, the final approval to ship an Ariel compressor is granted only after a test run of at least four hours with a special “break-in” oil. After the test run, a master assembler/tester conducts a precise final inspection and, upon approval, attaches his metal nameplate to the unit. Typically, the company ships completed units from assembly at a 99 to 100 percent efficiency rate. “Since each compressor is unique, ordered for a specific application, this is excellent performance,” the company says.
Ariel manufactures more than 17 different frame sizes ranging from 25 to 8,000 horsepower, and more than 500 different compressor cylinders. A demanding quality assurance program throughout the manufacturing facility means maximum efficiency in final assembly, the company says.
Employees are very committed and strive to continuously improve the efficiency and reliability of manufacturing as well as design products, which reduce operation and maintenance expenses in the field, the company says. “In addition to a core value of continuous improvement, every person is valued for the skills they bring to the table and the contribution they make to the company’s success,” Wright remarks.
Ariel says another advantage is its Research and Development Center, built in 1999. The facility is a complete compressor station operating with a closed loop pipeline. “Ariel’s test loop compressor station can be operated with a variety of gases and duplicate field conditions, but in a controlled environment. This gives Ariel the capability to improve the efficiency of its compressors beyond current technology,” the company says.
Another concept, which Ariel says might seem self-evident but has been a considerable advantage, is a design perspective that takes into account maintenance and allows easy access to “wear” parts. “Because compressors are used to move gas, minimizing maintenance is important in that ‘flow is money,’” the company says. “Downtime is costly. Additionally, we believe that it is important that our compressors be serviced with OEM parts. So we have developed the capability to routinely ship 98 percent of all spare parts within 24 hours [often in the same day]. Any unusual, non-stock items are quickly machined in our ‘specialty shop’ and typically are shipped in a matter of two to three days.”
The company says its field service group is unique in that its engineers know how to fix more than the compressor, are well equipped to trouble-shoot engine and other components of a compression package and will get a unit operating again quickly. “Our warranty policy is to always get the unit running first, then resolve the commercial issues,” Wright says. “We do a considerable amount of ‘goodwill’ field service.”
“Field service and tremendous OEM parts support mean Ariel is recognized not only as an excellent manufacturer, but also as a company which supports it’s products for life [20 or more years].”