Carlton Football Club’s new state-of-the-art altitude facility

Champion Compressors collaborates with air technology leaders to provide Carlton Football Club with Australia’s largest state-of-the-art altitude training facility, writes Mark Ferguson.

Gaining a slight advantage over an opponent on the Australian Rules football field can be the difference between premiership glory and bitter defeat. An explosive turn of speed, an extraordinary leap, or a crushing physical clash when the game is in the balance, can be the catalyst for victory.

The modern version of the game features players equipped with a formidable combination of skill, physical strength and athletic endurance. It is these attributes – and the physical exploits they permit – that have crowds flooding through the gates and glued to their television screens across the nation. Such high levels of physical and physiological performance are achieved, in part, thanks to improved dietary programs, optimised training regimes and advances in training methods and technologies.

One of these is the ‘altitude training simulator’. Kinetic Performance Technology (KPT) is a pioneer of altitude training technology. With installations across the world, including the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), KPT has assisted in the sporting success of a range of local and international teams.

It was no surprise, then, that when Australian Football League (AFL) heavyweight, Carlton Football Club (CFC), began upgrading its Visy Park headquarters in Melbourne’s inner north, it incorporated a state-of-the-art altitude training facility, founded on technology from KPT. A key element of the CFC’s KPT altitude training system is a compressed-air system from Champion Compressors.

Reducing the O2

Charged with the task of developing an elite training and administration centre, project directors, Stratcorp Consulting (one of Australia’s leading leisure and sports consultancy firms), enlisted the expertise of KPT to provide CFC with the biggest altitude training room in Australia. Designed to accommodate 12 athletes, the 36-square metre altitude training facility provides CFC with a safe and easy-to-use, state-of-the-art altitude training environment.

At altitude (anything above sea level), there is less oxygen in a given amount of air when compared with ambient air, which is made up of approximately 21 per cent oxygen and 79 per cent nitrogen. With exposure to natural altitude, the body makes various adaptations to cope more efficiently with the reduced oxygen availability.

These physiological adaptations can increase capacity for exercise at altitude and increases performance at sea level. Altitude simulation reduces the oxygen content in the training environment to approximately 14 to 17 per cent.

The KPT altitude simulation system developed for CFC replicates altitudes up to 3,300 metres above sea level and comprises three main process packages – a compressed-air system, a ‘pressure-swing adsorption’ (PSA)-based air separation/nitrogen generation package, and a control system.

The Kinetic edge

Essentially a ‘flow-through’ process, the KPT altitude simulation system involves the continuous delivery of nitrogen-rich air into the training room to establish and maintain an oxygen-depleted environment, while at the same time, removing ‘stale’ carbon dioxide-rich air. At the heart of this process, is a Champion Compressors compressed-air system.

A single Champion 37kW CSE37 air compressor in conjunction with pre-filters, a desiccant dryer and an oil/vapour separator, delivers medical-grade compressed air to the nitrogen generation package. Here, the air is subjected to a PSA process where oxygen is removed using a pressurised carbon-based molecular sieve adsorbent, delivering nitrogen at 97 per cent purity. This nitrogen is stored in a nitrogen header vessel.

The nitrogen is mixed with ambient air, diluting the oxygen content, and then distributed to the training room via process pipework and a network of ducting. Motor-driven blowers continuously circulate ‘fresh’ nitrogen-rich air through the training room to ensure the required oxygen level is maintained and carbon dioxide removed.

Australian-made for Australian Rules

In a collaborative effort, KPT worked with Champion Compressors to select a compressed-air system coupled with a Parker domnick hunter PSA-based air separation/nitrogen generation package.

“All components in our altitude training systems have to meet the highest performance standards,” says KPT co-director, Evan Lawton.

“We were impressed with Champion’s compressed air expertise and its ability to engineer a complete turnkey package. The fact that Champion’s compressors are Australian-made, made the choice <[lb]>all the more easy.”

According to Lawton, the KPT process relies on the consistent flow of compressed air.

“The compressed air is the feedstock for the nitrogen generation system, so we can’t afford to have compressor breakdowns. If the compressor goes offline, so does our operation, which means training can’t go ahead,” he says. “Reliability is paramount. Champion really came through with a dependable solution to keep the facility online.”

Champion Compressors was also responsible for the mechanical installation and commissioning of the compressed air system and associated pipe-work, while Parker domnick hunter commissioned the air separation/nitrogen generation package. “We ensured that the packages were modular and easily to install, so the altitude training facility could be brought online on time,” says Champion Compressors industrial and engineered projects specialist, Quentin St Baker. “It will also allow for the straightforward relocation of the system if required in the future.”

Training safe

All key components of the CFC’s KPT altitude system are linked to a central controller via Modbus communications protocol network. This central controller can be accessed using the touch-screen control panel, or via a web connection established through the local area network (LAN).

“The status and performance of the altitude training facility can be controlled and monitored locally, or off-site,” says Lawton.

“This allows the Carlton training staff to schedule altitude training sessions on site, and also provides us with the ability to monitor the system off-site and ensure it is operating at an optimal level.”

Champion was able to tailor the compressed-air system to KPT’s requirements, fitting it with an on-board controller, complete with Modbus communications interface.

“It was crucial that the compressed-air and nitrogen-generation systems could be easily integrated with KPT’s control system,” says St Baker. “We were able to provide KPT with a unit customised to KPT’s specifications.”

Like all KPT altitude simulation systems, the CFC installation features a redundant fail-safe design to ensure the well-being of the athletes. Two paramagnetic oxygen sensors and a carbon dioxide sensor located in the training room, ensure the oxygen/nitrogen mix and carbon dioxide levels are maintained at the required level.

“The sensors are hard-wired to safety relay contacts that will open and shut-down the nitrogen supply if oxygen levels go below a certain level, or the carbon dioxide rises above a certain level,” says Lawton.

“Similarly, temperatures, pressures, power supplies and process equipment are monitored. If a blower falls below its minimum required speed, or a drive goes offline, the nitrogen system will be shut-down and alarms sounded on- and off-site.”

Blue skies ahead

With CFC’s new altitude facility up and running, things are looking good for the long-term future of a club.

“Carlton now has the biggest altitude training facility in Australia, equipping the team with a powerful training tool,” says Lawton.

“Historically, altitude training has the capacity to deliver one to five per cent improvement in athletic performance. A real advantage in close matches.”

With a long-term service and support contract in place with CFC, KPT will be on-hand to monitor and maintain the club’s new altitude training facility.

“With web-connectivity to the CFC altitude training system, we can interrogate and troubleshoot any system component from our headquarters,” says Lawton. “It’s comforting to know we’ll be backed-up here by Champion Compressors. The reliability of the compressed-air system and Champion’s ongoing engineering support makes our job easier.”

[Mark Ferguson is Champion Compressors executive manager – sales, service and marketing.]