When the price of natural gas topped $10 per thousand cubic feet, SPS Technologies, manufacturer of engineered fasteners, fastening systems, metal components, and assemblies, realized it had to reduce energy costs at its plant in Cleveland to stay competitive with factories located in warmer climates. With the company's process operations (heat treating) consuming most of the required energy, with little or no possibility for higher efficiencies, energy savings would have to come from other areas.
The building's “energy czar,” project engineer Adam Leiferman, scrutinized the heating, lighting, and air-compressor systems to determine the amount of energy savings that could be rung out of a 50-year-old building with air-infiltration issues. Improving the building's heating was of immediate concern.
Two 14.5 million-Btu 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,” Leiferman said. “Steam had to be pushed over 500 ft to the heaters and then pumped back to the boilers.”
Many of the heaters were in need of repair. Making matters worse, heat stratified to the ceiling, while heat at the floor was uneven. Employee comfort was less than ideal. And the cost of maintaining the boilers was approaching $33,000 a year.
Estimates for restoring the boiler system 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,” Leiferman said.
SPS Technologies “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,” Leiferman said.
Gas-fired infrared heating systems then were investigated.
“A half-dozen infrared companies were sourced,” Leiferman said. “We selected Solaronics after contacting companies using their heaters for their comments. A contributing factor in Solaronics' favor was that they offered the best warranty.”
Scott Campbell of Western Reserve Energy Corp., Solaronics' Ohio representative, analyzed the building's heating requirements to determine heater placement and sizing. Twenty-eight low-intensity tubular heaters were specified for various manufacturing and warehouse areas, while four high-intensity heaters were specified for the loading dock.
The heaters were mounted easily via safety chain high above work areas. The heaters beam infrared energy that is converted to warm, radiant heat as it reaches work surfaces, machinery, tools, concrete floors, and workers below. Heat is retained where it is directed, so workers are comfortable, and equipment and floors are warm to the touch.
Gross Construction Co. installed the system over a six-week period, working around the facility's three shifts without interrupting production.
Following the first full heating season with the Solaronics system, Leiferman reported that energy savings totaled $150,000, while $33,000 was saved by not having to maintain the old boiler system.
Fueled economically with natural gas or propane gas (LP), Solaronics heaters can achieve fuel-cost savings of up to 75 percent when compared with conventional boilers and warm-air unit heaters. Compact, quiet fans are the only moving parts. The heaters utilize a patented reflector design for optimum infrared dispersion and have a reflectional efficiency exceeding 90 percent. Each 10-ft reflector section is constructed of Brite finish aluminum and can be angled to direct heat precisely.
Information and photograph courtesy of Solaronics Inc.