High-velocity/low-speed fans turned out to be an ideal solution at the Valeo manufacturing plant in Greensburg, IN. A cost savings report indicated that in addition to making the plant more comfortable for employees, the fans are saving the plant 30% in energy costs.
Maybe it was employee complaints about the heat. Maybe it was whirring of 300 high-velocity fans pinned to equipment and I-beams throughout the plant. Maybe it was the fact that Valeo had to dedicate one full-time employee to cleaning those fans every day of the year. Ken McDonald acknowledges that all-of-the-above that had him searching for a better way to cool the Greensburg, IN plant where he works.

McDonald is facilities and maintenance manager for the plant, one of 139 Valeo facilities spread out over 25 countries. Ranked among the world's top automotive suppliers, Valeo designs, produces, and sells millions of parts every year. McDonald had grappled with the problem of keeping employees cool for a long time. It wasn't until he picked up a trade show brochure that he realized there was a simple solution. The brochure advertised Big Ass Fans out of Lexington, KY. The big fans, from 6 ft to 24 ft in diameter, move large volumes of air at slower speeds than high-velocity fans.

Hot As An Oven In There ...

The fans have been a real boon in production where seven 300 ft-long radiator-brazing ovens crank out heat day in and day out. "The ovens are never turned off, so it gets pretty hot in that area" said McDonald. "When I saw the specs and the airflow data, I thought, ‘Wow, these fans are good.' The physics just made sense to me." McDonald said that the plant runs its other three fans the traditional way. The fan located over the brazing oven is run in reverse mode, so it sucks heat off the floor. "What a huge difference it has made," said McDonald.

He added that the fans work well in the extreme negative pressure of the facility. "It's hard to use air handlers with negative pressure. The high-velocity fans we were using created huge problems. The dust from industrial processes made them really dirty. We had a full-time person taking apart and cleaning the smaller fans. The leading edge of Big Ass Fan is much easier to clean our smaller fans."

The other 20-ft fans are located in the distribution and warehouse building. That building is 400,000 sq ft with 24-ft-high ceilings. The fans have served to cool employees in the aftermarket section, the service warehouse, and the dock where packaging is done.

Getting Employee Buy-In

For Valeo, it matters that employees like the fans. The company is committed to getting every employee's input on every decision that is made. "When a new idea comes along, either the employee has to prove it won't work or I have to prove to them that it will. If I can't get every single person behind it, it's a dead issue," said McDonald.

That wasn't a problem when it came to the Big Ass Fans. "The employees heard about the fans, and they were the ones who pushed for them," said McDonald. "They saw the inherent logic in the technology."

Not only are employees happy with the fans, said McDonald, but also those concerned with the bottom line. In a cost savings report, the company found that Big Ass Fans were saving the plant 30% of their energy costs over the high-velocity mounted fans. With a 1-hp motor, the Big Ass Fans offered the plant a relatively inexpensive and efficient way to cool its employees.

Based on typical power rates, the fans use just five cents worth of electricity per hour. McDonald said his European Valeo counterparts are interested in the fans because of the cost of power on that continent is much higher than here - $.014 to$.024/kWh - compared to typical energy costs in the United States of $.03.5/kWh.

Thanks to new technology, Big Ass Fans have become even more efficient. Taking its cue from motor sports technology, the company added a wickerbill to the trailing edge of the fan blades. It creates 50% more air movement off the fan blade, allowing the fans to operate at lower speeds while still generating a large volume of air.

"We'll be adding fifteen to sixteen more Big Ass Fans to the facility once we've completed the plant re-layout. Anytime we build anything new, the fans are going in. They've worked that well for us," McDonald added. ES