By Dave Palmer, general manager for the UK and Ireland at ICS Cool Energy.
While the UK wasn’t really renowned for heatwaves, nearly every year a number of days see spikes in temperature upwards of 30°C, putting additional strain on the temperature control equipment at manufacturing sites across. With these temperatures often exceeding the nominal specification for a plant’s temperature control equipment like process chillers, cold storage and air-conditioning or HVAC units, those sites without a contingency plan are subject to extensive equipment failure and production downtime equivalent to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Here we profile some of the main culprits to production downtime, and how manufacturers can future-proof their temperature control equipment – and their productivity – against the effects of unplanned summer downtime.
Overloading and under-specification
One of the chief causes of temperature control system failure is overloading of mechanical elements – particularly the compressor – to the point at which they can no longer deliver the level of cooling demanded. This often occurs because the nominal specification for the process cooling system’s maximum working temperature was too low.
While a chiller has an anticipated working life of between eight to ten years, it may drop to six or seven years if mechanical process cooling is required around the clock. Like any piece of plant, a chiller will deteriorate over time and while it may be able to handle temperatures at the higher end of the nominal specification during its intended working life, it may not be the case once these years have passed.
Overlooking water management
Poor cooling fluid quality is a major factor in system downtime that often goes under the radar. While mechanical failings that occur in extreme temperatures will become immediately obvious, if the process cooling fluid becomes contaminated or strays too far either way on the pH scale then it will quickly start to degrade the system’s internal workings. Overlooking regular testing will see a deterioration in a system’s heat transfer properties which will only worsen in periods of intense loading.
While a workman is only as good as his tools, if the temperature control equipment is struggling to cope with the effects of a heatwave, it’s highly likely that the people are too. Failing to invest in appropriate ambient air cooling for the wider working environment is a sure-fire way to see productivity dip when the temperature rises. Just as your body is unlikely to stand up to the same physical demands as it could 15 years ago, the same goes for a chiller. Ultimately temperature control equipment is designed to operate effectively for a set amount of time, and continuing to put it under great strain once that time has elapsed is likely to result in costly downtime. Specifying to a maximum working temperature that is attainable for 360 days a year may seem like a viable way of keeping costs down, but it is the potential downtime caused by five days of temperature spikes that is likely to add enormous cost to manufacturers, both in terms of remedial work and production loss.
Short and long-term solutions for effective temperature control
Given the heightened risk of production downtime posed by seasonal temperature spikes, manufacturers need to be aware of both the short and long-term options available, which will see them – and their plant – through these tough times unscathed and on track with production.
Tactical and preventive measures
Any number of small issues or flaws go unnoticed during periods of small-to-medium loading; yet, more often than not come to light under the strain of overloading, and ultimately result in breakdowns. Conducting a thorough service in advance of temperature spikes can ensure any potential red flags are identified and the necessary remedial work undertaken.
Also, be prepared. Understanding where the risks lie makes it much easier to find a Plan B. Conduct a site and operations audit to and make sure all the information is recorded, alongside any power or utility requirements, and that the information is made available to all those who require it. Should a crisis occur, information at your fingertips is key to ensuring downtime is kept to a minimum and business recovery possible, therefore keep hard copies of the plan throughout the building.
With a site assessment complete and all details recorded, it is then possible to agree on what contingency equipment is required with your back-up equipment supplier, as well as an activation plan. Remember to check whether your supplier can activate your plan 24/7 – there’s no point having a contingency plan in place if they can only be contacted Monday to Friday between 9am and 5:30pm.
Back-up equipment and short-term contingency hire.
For those manufacturers whose process cooling systems were specified to temperatures below those likely to occur in a heat wave, a short-term hire contract can deliver the process cooling boost needed to survive the summer unscathed. Even in non-manufacturing but critical applications such as server rooms or even the banking industry, failure isn’t an option and therefore installing a back-up chiller system, during summer months or expectedly busy periods, could be an ideal way to mitigate against any potential risk.
While the extra capacity may ultimately not be needed, having the contingency equipment on-site and ready to go will ensure that production can continue as planned in the face of a sudden heatwave. If significant faults are likely to occur, a temporary hire solution can be arranged to guarantee production continuity while the original plant can be taken out of the firing line and be fully repaired.
Specify for the unexpected
When looking to commission a new process cooling system, the big factor to consider is balancing the overall cost of the plant vs the potential impact of downtime. Given the link between conservative or under-specification and summer downtime, manufacturers should come to expect the unexpected. In fact, it may be more cost-effective long term to opt for a system with a larger capacity that is guaranteed to operate effectively during seasonal temperature spikes.
And if you prefer to not invest the capital into fixed assets, long-term hire and it’s more flexible offerings are the right choice.
Flexible and easy upgrade to more efficient technologies
With a long-term hire agreement, manufacturers can alter their mechanical cooling needs to suit the season. A cooling system with a higher power output can be ordered for the summer months, while that equipment can then be replaced with a more appropriate system, or even a rental boiler, during the colder times of the year.
Yet, there are also even more flexible options in the rental schemes. A membership or subscription type of a long-term rental agreement offers access to the latest process temperature control technology, maintenance, and equipment upgrades – all with the flexibility of an operating expense.
This type of a complete packaged solution includes new equipment vs. existing rental stock units, preventive and 24/7 emergency maintenance, replacements, and upgrades. The elements of the all-inclusive, monthly rate contract are tailored to the process’ needs and based on a detailed assessment by the service provider’s engineers. Manufacturers receive the right temperature control solutions for their process needs with the flexibility to adapt their capacity according to changing seasonal and operational requirements.
Additionally, unlike in the case of a traditional long-term hire, they benefit from the flexibility to exchange and upgrade the equipment as their requirements change or technology improves. All this with the peace of mind of complete maintenance and contingency plans.
There is a fine line between accurate and under-specification, and these small margins are magnified when extreme temperatures hit. While UK manufacturers are challenged with keeping costs down, placing too much of a focus on this can leave them exposed to the devastating impact of mechanical downtime.
Thankfully, many of the issues can be negated with foresight and proper planning. With the market offering short and long-term solutions to suit all budgets, manufacturers, regardless of size or market, can keep their plant working efficiently and effectively when seasonal temperature spikes occur.
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