Infrared heating saved this aerospace manufacturing plant $183,000 in combined energy and maintenance costs.


Saving energy and improving comfort for over 100 employees topped the list of priorities for Adam Leiferman, project engineer for the Cleveland building of SPS Technologies. This automotive and aerospace certified manufacturer produces high strength fasteners and precision components for commercial and military applications, jet engines, automobiles, and power generation industries.

Leiferman maintains that while employee comfort is paramount in any workplace, it is especially important in a manufacturing environment because it correlates directly to on the job safety, productivity and finished goods quality.

And energy efficiency is particularly significant here because the company’s operations are heavily dependent on natural gas.

CONTAINING ENERGY COSTS

“When the price of natural gas increased to over $10/mcf, SPS Technologies realized it had to reduce its energy costs and stay competitive with factories based in warmer climates,” says Leiferman. “But the company’s process operations (heat treating) consume most of the required energy, with little or no possibility for higher efficiencies.”

Energy savings would have to come from other areas.

As the building’s self-proclaimed “Energy Czar,” Leiferman scrutinized the heating, lighting, and air compressor systems to determine what improvements were needed, and the amount of energy savings that could be rung out of a 50-year-old building with air infiltration issues.

Fixing the building’s heating problem was of immediate concern, however. “They told me to fix the boiler system,” he states.

Two 14.5 million Btuh boilers from the early 1990s supplied steam to forced air unit heaters located on the ceiling. A third boiler was fired up on especially cold days. “The system was very inefficient - steam had to be pushed over 500 ft to the heaters and then pumped back to the boilers,” says Leiferman. Many of the heaters were in need of repair. To make matters worse, heat stratified to the ceiling; heat at the floor was uneven. Employee comfort was less than ideal. And the cost to maintain the boilers was approaching $33,000 a year.

Estimates received for restoring the boiler system to good working order exceeded $500,000. “Considering the system’s age and problems, eliminating the inefficient boilers would be the first step in reducing the heating bill and improving employee comfort levels, he adds.”

REPLACEMENT SYSTEM CHOICES

“We looked at in-house remedies, such as heat recovery from the process furnaces and compressors, as well as forced air heating, but dismissed those ideas,” says Leiferman. Because of the known energy-efficiencies and the way they direct heat to work areas, gas-fired infrared heating systems were investigated. He continues, “A half-dozen infrared companies were sourced. We selected Solaronics after contacting companies using their heaters for their comments.”

Scott Campbell of Western Reserve Energy Corp., the Ohio representative for Solaronics, Inc., analyzed the building’s heating requirements to determine heater placement and sizings appropriate for the various manufacturing and warehouse areas. Twenty-eight low intensity tubular heaters were specified along with four high intensity heaters to warm the loading dock employees.

According to Campbell, Solaronics heaters are easily mounted via safety chain high above and out of the way of work areas (which in this particular application involved an overhead crane). Without moving air, the heaters beam infrared energy that is converted into warm, radiant heat as it reaches work surfaces, machinery, tools, concrete floors, and people below. Similar to how we are warmed by the sun, the heat is retained where it’s directed, so people are comfortable and equipment and floors are warm to the touch.

SAVINGS REALIZED

Tom Gross, Terry Falb, and two additional employees of Gross Construction Company, licensed for heating, plumbing, and electrical work, installed the Solaronics system over a six-week period, working around the employees’ three shifts without interrupting their production. “In the end, the employees get a better heating system, says Gross.”

Following the first full heating season with the Solaronics system, Leiferman reports that energy savings totaled $150,000, plus $33,000 saved from not having to maintain the old boiler system. ES