Every successful project starts with a framework. A vision statement. A blueprint. The editors of Engineered Systems are proud to present The Blueprint — a monthly Q&A interview with HVACR engineering’s leading voices. These one-on-one discussions will examine the trade’s history, current industry trends, the factors shaping the sector’s future, and more.

From dampers and louvers, to air measuring systems and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs), Ruskin® is recognized for consistent innovation, engineering excellence, and precision manufacturing. Ruskin’s dedicated rep network adds value by listening to customer’s needs and providing expert advice and nimble service. The company boasts a storied history of innovation in the air control industry, maintaining long-term, successful relationships and boldly helping partners and customers find the freedom to succeed.

Charlie Black, executive director of sales and marketing, Ruskin, discusses modern-day ventilation, the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the industry, what the company has cooking in research and development, and much more in the latest installment of the Blueprint.

Engineered Systems: Charlie, thank you for your time today. Can you start out by introducing yourself to our audience?

Black: I’m Charlie Black, executive director of sales and marketing for Ruskin. I’ve been at Ruskin since 2014 in various roles — I started on the product application team. I have an MBA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Kansas. At Ruskin, I lead a team of eight.

Engineered Systems: You were recently elected to the Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA) International board of directors. Please share what this honor means to you, how you first got involved with AMCA, and define AMCA’s role in the industry. 

Black: I’m incredibly proud to be part of AMCA’s board of directors. I’ve been involved with AMCA since my earliest days at Ruskin, and I’m a big believer in AMCA’s mission to advance the knowledge of air systems and uphold industry integrity.

My work with AMCA has focused on setting test standards for dampers, louvers, and airflow measurement stations. I’m also on the Air Control Code Action and Review Committee and the North American Regional Steering Committee.

Engineered Systems: Catch us up with the latest breaking news at Ruskin. Anything the company’s excited about that you care to mention?

Black: There are a lot of exciting things happening at Ruskin. We’ve been a leading manufacturer in the damper and louver markets since 1958, and we do that with high-quality, high-performance products that are delivered fast and on time while being supported by a great team of sales reps. Everything we do focuses on bringing the best to our customers through innovative design, so we’re regularly launching new products and new tools that make their jobs easier.

Some of the latest and most significant releases include:

  • Data center dampers – Last year, we released three dampers — the CD50DC, CD60DC, and TED50DC — for use in data centers. They’re designed to maintain the environmental conditions needed for these technology centers and are absolutely vital for data center operations.
  • Life safety dampers — We have an extensive line of UL-rated dampers that protect people’s lives and property during life safety events. This product line is critical to help designers and architects address strict requirements by the International Fire Code (IFC) and the International Building Code (IBC).
  • ADC105 — The ADC105 represents a notable evolution of testing and maintenance in addressable damper controllers. It works with the fire alarm panel to continually monitor and test the system, helping reduce maintenance and testing costs long-term.
  • HZ700MD — We just released this new, extreme performance louver for applications needing a horizontal blade aesthetic with a vertical-blade level of performance that meets Miami-Dade requirements.
  • AIRFLOW-IQ — An electronic air-measuring station, the AIRFLOW-IQ uses temperature and airflow sensors to coordinate its control damper and BACnet actuator to meet minimum outside air requirements required by ASHRAE, California, International Mechanical Code (IMC), and International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Like I said, there’s a lot of new, exciting work going on with Ruskin. When you’re keeping pace with the construction industry, you always keep moving and innovating, and that’s just what we do.

Engineered Systems: The coronavirus has impacted all aspects of life. How has COVID-19 impacted Ruskin’s operations? 

Black: Ruskin takes safety very seriously, so we’ve had similar challenges as the rest of the world adjusting to virtual meetings and CDC guidelines. We see these challenges as opportunities, and we are well-positioned to address the indoor air quality (IAQ) needs of our customers.

We recently developed two white papers discussing how healthy ventilation rates can combat COVID-19 and the use of louvers to combat infectious aerosol transmission, which can provide some helpful insight on the capabilities of HVAC systems to combat a virus like COVID-19.

Engineered Systems: Ruskin manufactures a wide variety of equipment, including dampers, diffusers, economizers, and more. How can engineers best utilize Ruskin’s innovations to help mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2?

Black: We’ve seen a shift toward higher ventilation rates and increased outside air, and Ruskin’s air control products fit in nearly any application to help that exchange while also reducing the spread of airborne contagions. The white papers I mentioned above speak to this as does AIRFLOW-IQ, our airflow measuring station, which is factory calibrated to provide set point airflow control from 0-5,000 FPM.  

Engineered Systems: Louvers have really evolved in a very short amount of time. Per Ruskin’s website, the company offers 14 different styles, ranging from blast-resistant units to extreme performance units to sand removal units. Talk about the evolution of louvers and how they’re best utilized today in commercial buildings.

Black: The biggest evolution happened back in the early 1990s, when Ruskin realized the AMCA 500-L still air test, which is conducted indoors, didn’t effectively demonstrate significant rain events. Realizing the standard didn’t serve the A/E community and, respectively, the public, we developed our first wind-driven rain louver — the EME6625. The initial testing was performed in Ruskin’s lab with a special water penetration test we created specifically for the EME6625.

We worked with AMCA and the association membership to create a test method similar to the HEVAC test at BSRIA, which was implemented in 1995 and is part of the current AMCA 500-L test standard. The EME6625 became a part of the AMCA test rig, and a sample resides on the back wall of the water collection chamber. After the initial testing, Ruskin became the first manufacturer to mass produce a wind-driven rain louver, educate engineers about its applications and benefits, and make it widely available through our sales representative network. These new products led to many specification changes to design for wind-driven rain louvers and re-think the old design rules of thumb. Today, you can get outstanding performance at relatively high velocities — many times over 2,100 fpm free area velocity.

As hurricane requirements have grown to include the Eastern Seaboard from Mexico to Maine, and the introduction of AMCA 540 impact and AMCA 550 hurricane water performance, the offering and need for hurricane louvers continues to grow. The concept of louvers continues to evolve as well. Louver designs and capabilities have adapted to serve the complex buildings we see today.

For example, after the Oklahoma City bombing, a louver that was designed to control an in-house blast became an anti-terrorist design to protect occupants and airflow in case of an explosion on the building from the outside. This design brought on our “blast louver.”

Protecting air openings in the event of a tornado is also a relativity new product design, starting with a steel product that weighed 40 pounds per square foot, and now an aluminum product weighing 14 pounds per square foot. The introduction of code for schools and safe room applications is driving this product. The recent introduction of Ruskin’s XP500WD wind-driven rain FEMA louver eliminated the need to install a wind-driven rain louver and a FEMA louver to control water penetration in an area of refuge.

We currently have more than 100 models of louvers that are marketed to different industries and serve specific purposes. I am proud to say that much of what is currently being sold in the market originated at Ruskin, and we hold several U.S. patents in this product line. We also continue to stay involved in the development of state and city building codes to ensure buildings are designed with the most effective products.

Engineered Systems: What trends will further advance louvers in the next five to 10 years that aren’t being utilized today?

Black: The ever-increasing connectivity of building systems is reaching everywhere, and Ruskin is embracing that with integrated controls on our products, that — for example — open and close louver blades according to occupant demand or when sensors alert to outside weather conditions. These concepts of integration and automation are going to be very big.

Communication is key in the development of the right product which serves a need. Our meetings with our rep council and feedback from the A/E community has led us in the development of specific louvers, such as the hybrid louver with horizontal aesthetic blades in the front and a vertical louver in the back, which is architecturally appealing and has excellent wind-driven rain performance.

Paint and finishes on our products are also evolving. People consider the finish as a mostly cosmetic choice, but it will also be protective in a way that significantly extends the life of the product.  Finishes can also have significant environmental implications, which is why Ruskin uses chrome-free paint processes and acid etch anodizing. We’re one of the only louver manufacturers with in-house anodizing, and our finish warranties are the best in the industry.

Then, there is the manufacturing technology, which is getting more and more precise while also allowing production to increase in speed. It’s really exciting to see these changes coming.

We’re also helping building owners prepare their structures for extreme weather by creating louvers that provide protection from these storms. The most significant issue here is the expansion of geographic regions that need to boost building resiliency from hurricanes and tornadoes. For areas threatened by this weather, protections from wind-driven rain and impact resistance are critical. These cities need to revise their standards to protect people and property as severe weather events continue to impact areas beyond the traditional “hot spots,” such as coastal regions and Tornado Alley (Midwest/Great Plains). In the future, we will also see more louvers that address snow capture and removal issues and vastly improved free areas on vertical louvers.

Also, we’re expecting growth from updates in neighborhood codes, which more and more are requiring vision barriers and acoustical designs to reduce sound transmission.

Ruskin recognized these trends years ago and expanded our research and development lab in Missouri to help our customers meet these challenges.

Engineered Systems: Ruskin recently introduced the CBS8BL Blast Suppression Damper, applicable from 1.6 to 44.0 PSI reflective pressure. What makes this unit unique?

Black: The CBS8BL product line includes Ruskin’s light and heavy-duty models of blast dampers. These dampers can dramatically reduce a blast impulse up to 44 PSI, which protects downstream equipment and components. These dampers prevent the failure of ducts and internal portions of a building, which include suspended ceilings, lighting, hung equipment, utilities, wall partitions, and ducts. This makes the CBS8BL a valuable addition to a structure in a tornado-prone area as well.

Engineered Systems: What major goals or announcements does Ruskin have in the works for 2022 and beyond? 

Black: One thing I’m excited about is our work on new selection software for the A/E community. We were the first in our industry to launch a louver selection tool — our LEADS portal — about 15 years ago. This interactive site allows users to see louver options after inputting a few specifications, and we’re working on further enhancements. Software selection tools are very helpful to a designer who is researching our product lines and their capabilities.

Also, we’re excited to return to trade shows and in-person trainings. There’s nothing like seeing our customers in person and helping them achieve their goals of improved efficiency, storm protection, and IAQ.

I would also acknowledge that, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time for many, the building industry has responded admirably, and Ruskin is no different. The pandemic hasn’t changed our drive, so 2022 and beyond means we will continue our focus on satisfying our customers, pushing innovation, accelerating our production and delivery speed and enhancing ease-of-doing-business tools for our customers.

Engineered Systems: Personally and professionally, what are you most looking forward to over the next five years?

Black: Personally, it’s all about my family. I have three young boys, so it will be exciting to watch them grow and explore the world. My wife and I couldn’t be more thrilled to help them find their paths.

Professionally, I’m excited to see how our industry evolves. Like I said, the pandemic has really pushed our industry to innovate and adapt. While the sustainability and energy efficiency of buildings will continue to be a major trend, the pandemic has brought more focus on keeping buildings healthy and safe. It’s more and more obvious that Ruskin products can help!

Engineered Systems: As we wrap this up – one final question here. If you could leave those who are reading this with one lasting piece of advice, what would it be?

Black: The key to life is serving others. Taking care of other people isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the most rewarding. Make the most of every day and try to strike a balance between competing priorities.

Engineered Systems: Charlie, thank you so much for your time. If our audience is interested in connecting with you or Ruskin, where should they turn?

Black: Reach out any time. I can be reached at cblack@ruskin.com and 816-965-4338 is my direct line. You can contact Ruskin’s headquarters at 816-761-7476 or ruskin@ruskin.com. We have a large staff of sales application engineers standing by to support our customers, and our network of local representatives are second to none.

I’d also suggest signing up for our quarterly e-Specifier newsletter, and check out our website, www.ruskin.com. For those interested in hands-on-learning, we love to host customers in our customer training center and state-of-the-art R&D lab at our worldwide headquarters in Grandview, Missouri, or we can work with our local representatives to provide local training opportunities.

Thanks for your time and interest in Ruskin!