Even in the very best of economic times, businesses have to maximize efficiencies and cut waste. This takes on an even greater importance during an economic slowdown. While not often considered paramount to the overall success of a company, it can often be the peripheral areas that allows a business to boost production, and hence grow profits.
Cooling towers may not be the first place companies look to for adding efficiency, but they are a critical component for a number of industries that require process cooling. Therefore, dealing with a cooling tower that hinders production — either in adding downtime or slowing down production runs — is often a ripe area for companies to tackle and see an almost immediate ROI.
Atlantis Plastics Company is a plastic extrusion manufacturer owned by Larry Walters and based in Houston. For years it struggled with a cooling tower that not only caused headaches with repeated maintenance but was also not effectively cooling the water that is critical to their process. This meant that the company could not run at maximum capacity for very long, especially during the hot Texas summers.
“We extrude LDPE [low-density polyethylene] tubing out of the machine and in a matter of about a foot it has to cool enough so that it maintains size and shape,” said Stephan Wagner, operations manager at Atlantis Plastics Company.
To help set the plastic, the extruded tubing travels immediately through a tank of water that cools the low-density polyethylene. The water from the tank then circulates back through the cooling tower in a closed loop.
“If we can’t maintain the right temperature of the water in the tanks, then the tubing will come out the wrong shape, the wrong size or not achieve vacuum in some instances,” continued Wagner. “So, the cooling tower is very important in our production.”
According to Wagner, the product coming out on the extruder is at about 350°F. It has to hit the water and cool to about 85°-90°. Therefore, if water inside the cooling tanks rises too far above those specified temperatures, then they run into problems and are forced to slow things down.
“If we can’t maintain that water temperature in the cooling tank, then we are making less product per hour,” said Wagner. “That is really what I mean by lacking efficiency.”
Wagner and owner Larry Walters knew they would have to make changes or risk squelching more profits.
“We knew we could no longer ignore the little things or we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the bigger areas of the business,” said Wagner. “So, we started looking for ways to make improvements without breaking the bank.”
While there were other options that Wagner and Walters explored, the one that made the most sense from a practical and economic standpoint was to invest in a new cooling tower. However, Wagner was quick to point out that from the beginning he was hoping to avoid metal or stainless-steel units if at all possible.
“Metal and water just don’t mix,” he said. “We had just dealt with all the problems that go into metal towers, and the steel one we had actually came with an optional, special powder coating that was supposed to increase life expectancy.”
With a long history of manufacturing plastics, Wagner says it was an easy decision to see the potential in a cooling tower that was made out of engineered plastic, high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
“I am well aware that HDPE is impervious to corrosion and to the elements, especially here in Houston where our units are outside,” he said. “It does not matter whether it gets rained on. It does not matter if the sun hits it. It does not matter what water treatment additives you use; it is not going to give you any problems.”
The cooling tower that Atlantis Plastics selected was a Paragon tower from Delta Cooling, which has been designing engineered plastic towers for more than 45 years. The towers come with a 20-year warranty which Wagner says is proof enough of its longevity.
“Another negative factor for us with the metal towers was with the corrosion you get impurities and rust in the water,” he said. “Those impurities would go into our pump and start reducing both their service life and efficiency.”
Before the first Delta unit was installed a few years ago, Atlantis Plastics was going through a minimum of two pumps per year. Wagner said the cost for each pump was at least $500.
“With the Delta unit, we have not had this issue whatsoever,” he says. “I have not had to replace a single pump since I bought the first one.”
Wagner now has two HDPE towers at his plant, and while he does not oversee the electrical bills, he knows these towers are helping out with that part of the business as well. In fact, some users are reporting electric power energy savings as high as 40%. These savings can be attributed to the higher efficiency designs along with the VFD (variable-frequency drive) rated motors on the Delta Cooling towers.
“Like any other business, we are always looking for ways that we can improve; whether that be electricity, efficiency, or just about anything else,” said Wagner. “We know we will be more productive with less downtime and will have greater returns sooner… and that just makes good business sense.”