Issue 03 2011

Heating up

“We have 150 employees and our products are used in over 50 countries, in fact 90 per cent of our sales are exports outside of Finland with half of that in Europe and the same amount going to companies in Asia, Africa and North America,” explains Mauri Kontu, managing director of Vahterus.

This is a huge achievement for a company that began operations in 1990 with just three employees. Sharing the name of the village in Kalanti, Finland where it is based, its production facility now covers more than 8000 square metres following an expansion in December 2008. This was needed to cater to the growing demand for its plate and shell heat exchangers (PSHE) and plate and ring heat exchangers (PRHE).

As the demand for high-pressure heat exchangers continues to grow, so has Vahterus’ work within the oil and gas sectors. Utilising a fully welded plate pack within a strong shell construction its PSHE are the most compact, thermally efficient and cost effective heat transfer solutions available in many applications. Combining all the major benefits of traditional heat exchangers the PSHE can be used in upstream processes like oil and gas production, as well as downstream processes such as refineries and petrochemical plants. A highly integrated heat exchanger with no gaskets, PSHE can act as an alternative to shell and tube exchangers providing both space and weight benefits as well as producing only 25 per cent of the carbon emissions. In February 2009 the decision was made to increase the pressure capabilities of PSHE to further extend its uses: “We are developing higher pressure applications, providing a very new type of technology for the oil and gas industry. We are definitely seeing a high demand for t is type of product as more and more companies are looking for better efficiency,” Mauri highlights.

Research and development, such as the work carried out on pressure capabilities is an ongoing activity of Vahterus with its in-house product development unit dedicated to creating new, value adding options. This work is carried out through a series of laboratory tests that also utilise practical experience and Vahterus’ extensive knowledge of heat transfer theories. Co-operating with universities, research institutes and other companies its work has been rewarded with a host of awards and global patents recognising its products innovativedesigns and its focus on environmental concerns. The most recent award given for Vahterus’ research work was the 2010 Annual Entrepreneur Prize, presented in October at the Federation of Finnish Entrepreneur’s Event and voted for by more than 110,000 members of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises.

Just as important as in-house development is the work that is carried out in close contact with customers: “Face to face development with our customers, especially oil and gas customers, is very important. For example, we have developed products in partnership with Sasol for its operations in South Africa for more than ten years,” Mauri adds: “The way we build relationships with our customers is one of the key strengths of our business. We work as close as possible with them to solve their problems and deal with their required specifications. We are also very flexible, which means we can offer shorter delivery times and that is another of the reasons businesses work with us. Our products are distributed worldwide and we believe we can fulfil our customers’ requirements wherever they are in the world.”

This customer orientated business model that Mauri refers to was founded on the back of the concepts of customer satisfaction, profitability and strong know-how, with the goal being to provide faultless products and services that fulfil customer requirements, state laws and individual contracts. Everyone who works for Vahterus holds a deep, personal commitment to quality and all projects undertaken have their progress monitored throughout development to insure high quality results every time.

Paying attention to the impact its business has on the environment has long been a feature of Vahterus’ activities. In 2005 it was awarded an Environmental Award for this work and developments in the field of reducing its footprint have continued in the years since. Motivated by the desire to deliver optimal results in sustainable development, training schemes are used to reinforce employee knowledge of problem areas and this is then transferred to the design of new products. By designing and manufacturing small sized plate heat exchangers it reduces the use of environmentally hazardous substances and by using environmentally friendly refrigeration agents, such as carbon dioxide and ammonia, it greatly reduces the use of glycol and Freon.

Going forward the major task that Vahterus faces in the current market is convincing potential new customers of the benefits of its applications. As Mauri describes: “In the oil and gas sector right now, more than 80 per cent of the heat exchangers in use are shell and tube exchangers which are much bigger in size and heavier. We are looking at these statistics and it is our job to try and convince these potential customers that it would be better for them to move away from this old fashioned, traditional technology and to upgrade to the modern style of heat exchangers that we offer. We believe there is big potential for this new type of heat exchanger to grow in popularity. In the meantime we will be looking to increase the efficiency of our whole production process as I can definitely see a big growth in our particular industry.”

This growth is obviously more than just perceived, as the building of a new factory in Finland is currently underway to increase its production levels and deal with higher levels of demand. Vahterus will be present this year at the annual Gastech conference, exhibiting its range of services and applications as well as a collection of new, as yet undisclosed, products that are due to be launched later this year.

Products: Welded plate heat exchanges