Just southwest of the junction of Beltway 8 and Interstate 69, the global business network Atlas Copco produces specialized air compressors that are pivotal to the success of industries across North America and beyond.
When oil and gas giants and the new players in alternative fuels need specialized compressor systems for operarating in challenging environments, very often those systems come from the company’s plant in East Aldine.
Operations Manager Ramsaran Palaniappan said he was a customer of the company before he joined in 2011. In 2012, Atlas Copco Product Company Houston consolidated several acquisitions of other companies into a building on Lee Road. Another company that manufactured low-pressure blowers was later acquired and moved to the location.
Atlas Copco, which started in Sweden, has facilities around the world and across the United States. It is one of the largest non-retail employers in East Aldine Management District, with about 300 workers there in manufacturing and customer service, according to a Data Axle 2022 report.
The Houston operation builds engineered, oil-free air compressors.
“These are basically larger industrial air compressors for mostly oil and gas companies, pharmaceutical, food and beverage industry — you name it and our compressors are there,” Palaniappan said.
The compressors are not the off-the-shelf kind you can buy at a big box hardware store.
“Each one of our compressors is customized for the oil and gas industry. It can be as simple as just a paint job — the customer will want a different color on the compressor — to a completely customized unit, like changing all the instruments (to be explosion-proof) and changing the motors, changing the canopy, changing the enclosures, the control panels, everything” the operations manage explained.
Several large compressor units were being assembled lately for an order going to Mexican oil production companies. Some being prepared for onshore or offshore use are customized with extra-thick aluminum housing (NEMA 7) for control panels and all stainless-steel canopy and hood.
The drying units remove excess moisture from compressed air. The low-pressure blowers produce slightly pressurized but high-volume air flow, mainly used in municipal water treatment plants, for aeration.
The facility also has bays with sensors where compressors can be tested for output flow rate, pressure, humidity, and temperature, all monitored remotely. Rooftop exhaust pipes and silencers let the high-pressure air to be safely vented off.
Users can monitor all the measurements from an adjacent control room or remotely, including through a live video feed. Those features helped maintain production when travel was limited by the pandemic.
While proximity to the oil and gas industry is the biggest draw for locating the facility in Houston, the Aldine area has the added benefit of being close to Bush Intercontinental Airport so customers from around the country and beyond have easy access. Nearby freeways make shipping convenient, and Port Houston is nearby as well.
Palaniappan said the Houston plant primarily serves the United States, Mexico, Canada and Peru. But it also recently shipped a project to Indonesia where the customer specified the equipment needed to be made in the United States. Other customers are in the Middle East.
While a lot of projects got put on hold during the pandemic, Palaniappan said, a backlog of orders meant the company’s engineering and production staff saw little reduction in orders to work on. And it has gotten busier as projects got restarted. The oil and gas industry is booming and he expects the Houston plant to set a record for production this year.
Atlas Copco is facing a challenge adding staff, Palaniappan said, with job openings in engineering and production. Compared to the oil and gas industry, he said, the company is less subject to boom-and-bust cycles and offers a family-oriented, stable work environment.
Human Resources Manager Sabrina Sierra said the company is working to increase community engagement to help increase its visibility to potential workers. She started with the company during the pandemic after previous engagement efforts had been put on hold.
The company has participated in job fairs and hired interns from area universities, including University of Houston and Lamar University.
“We’re trying to prepare ourselves for what’s to come,” Sierra said.
“We’re promoting diversity and inclusion. Bring in more women — more women in the factory,” she added. “We’ve increased our female population, both blue- and white-collar.”
She has created a woman’s network within the company to provide support, in addition to working with local organizations to find individuals who would want to be a part of a company that values their employees, opinions, and career paths. The company’s mottos are, “We hire to retire” and “A company culture that is caring and supportive.”
Sierra worked in an industrial co-op program when she was in high school and has drawn on that experience in her own efforts to reach into local schools.
Atlas Copco recently celebrated its 150th year anniversary.
To learn more about the company and its job listings, go to https://www.atlascopco.com/en-us/compressors/contact-number/air-compressor-service-houston-texas.
— By Mark Fleming