Intelligent process cooling helps SSI Schaefer boost capacity while cutting water and energy use

Closed-loop water and energy savings: Container manufacturer finds process efficiencies in an often-overlooked place.

The good news was that SSI Schaefer, a manufacturer of refuse containers, returnable packaging and storage systems for automated warehousing and distribution centers, was achieving rapid growth.

The bad news? A severe drought and water restrictions were in place in the company’s home city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

The company also was able to monitor and troubleshoot problems via a Web-based network, 24 hours per day, making the system efficient to run.

To expand production, Schaefer needed a way to add 40% more cooling capacity for its processes without increasing water use.

Even without an expansion, the water restrictions were difficult to meet with Schaefer’s process cooling system, a 500-ton cooling tower and 400-ton chiller with evaporative fans that supplied process water for the hydraulics on the company’s machines.

The system used a lot of water, but perhaps even worse than that were the contamination issues: sludge and bacteria taken on by the evaporating water in the open loop. Schaefer had to clean the water with harsh chemicals and then dump it, incurring significant sewer charges that were three times that of their water usage bill.

Discovering a new closed-loop system

Schaefer looked at this challenge as a unique opportunity to increase efficiencies in an area often-overlooked as a target for improvements. It was time for a new approach to process cooling.

Schaefer explored alternatives, and their search led to Ecodry, a closed-loop process cooling system from Frigel North America. The advantages quickly became clear – less water and energy consumption, lower costs and cleaner water.

With the Ecodry, the water returning from a process is pumped through heat exchangers and cooled with ambient air, providing clean water at the right temperature to process machines year round.

Ecodry systems provide customers with substantial water, sewage, and electrical savings due to the patented adiabatic cooling chamber and free cooling capability in some operations.
Ecodry systems provide customers with substantial water, sewage and electrical savings due to the patented adiabatic cooling chamber and free cooling capability in some operations. Source: Frigel North America

The Ecodry maintains water below that setpoint through its patented adiabatic cooling process. Ambient air that’s too warm passes through the adiabatic chamber, where it’s automatically pre-cooled using a small mist of water. Otherwise, the system runs completely dry.

There’s virtually no evaporation in the closed-loop system, so in addition to dramatically reducing water consumption, the technology runs free of the contaminants that often produce scale in traditional cooling systems.

As an additional efficiency benefit, the system also offers free cooling when ambient conditions and setpoint allow the chillers to be shut down. The Ecodry system has been in use around the world for more than a decade and at manufacturers across the U.S. for more than five years.

Achieving lower costs and better quality

Post-installation of the Ecodry, SSI Schaefer achieved 40% increase in cooling capacity while dramatically reducing its water and energy use, cutting maintenance and downtime and, with the continuously clean water circulated to its processes, ensuring that no harmful contaminants reached any products.

The company is realizing 97% water savings, reducing its water and sewer bill by as much as $900 per month. And in addition to overall system energy savings, Schaefer is seeing a 15% reduction in energy costs from free cooling opportunities alone and 10% energy savings, on top of faster cycle times, from use of efficient, press-side Turbogel units over standard temperature control units.

The Ecodry not only played a role in meeting SSI Schaefer’s water conservation challenge, but also its heavy contamination problems including bacterial growth and sludge ino its water. The company also was able to monitor and troubleshoot problems via a Web-based network, 24 hours per day, making the system efficient to run.

“The Ecodry system allowed us to save dramatically on water, as well as circulate clean water continuously to our machinery,” says Morris Marlow, technical manager of SSI Schaefer. “This plays a large role in our commitment to overall efficiency and quality as a business.”

And although the Charlotte water restrictions were lifted this spring, Schaefer continues to benefit from the lower costs and higher efficiency associated with its new system.

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