Service center uses big fans to combat rust
June 2012 - Optimal air flow is critical for maintaining steel coils. Coilplus Inc.’s Springfield, Ohio-based steel service center understands the unique challenges associated with storing and processing steel, including rust, a natural reaction caused when iron and water meet. Coilplus, Rosemont, Ill., has years of experience processing high quality, critical application flat-rolled steel products. To keep air moving and help control humidity, the company’s Springfield service center relies on fans.
The first electric fan was invented in 1882. A few years later, Philip Diehl attached a fan blade to a sewing-machine motor and created the first ceiling fan. Although the simple devices have become more advanced since the turn of the century, Coilplus found conventional fans unable to move large volumes of air efficiently through its 130,000-square-foot facility.
Coilplus orders steel coils from the mill based on customers’ specifications for parts. Each coil can weigh up to 50,000 pounds and come in widths up to 60 inches. The service center can provide slit coil in thicknesses ranging from 0.014 inch to 0.135 inch. “We base our material orders off customers’ forecasts,” says Toby Schofield, department supervisor for the Coilplus Springfield location.
“Customers typically cycle through their coils every two to three months. With long-term customers, we get to know their steel usage almost better than they do because we’re continually monitoring their production patterns and ordering the material.”
Sometimes, customer usage drops off and the service center is required to hold the coils longer than projected. “Rust is always a risk,” Schofield says. “With humidity and fluctuating temperatures, especially during seasonal transitions, you really have to watch the material.” The facility employs an open floor plan that accommodates two bays: one for storage and one for production. Fifty-foot ceilings require fans to push air back toward the floor for ventilation and cooling. “The pedestal fans tended to be noisy and somewhat ineffective,” says Schofield. “Our ceiling fans at the time, about the size you’d find in a residence, weren’t much better at creating the type of air movement we needed for the material.” Schofield says discussion during a monthly plant operations meeting about ways to make air flow more efficient led the service center to Big Ass Fans Co., Lexington, Ky., and its patented fan technology. The manufacturer designs, engineers, builds and tests its fans to move large volumes of air using the most efficient, cost-effective methods. Its research and development team continues to look for new ways to increase air movement, enhance efficiency and deliver a longer life cycle for its products.
“The company came in and assessed our building,” Schofield says. “By calculating the width of the building along with some other parameters, they were able to pinpoint how many fans should be installed as well as how far apart they needed to be to give us complete coverage.” Five 24-foot-diameter Powerfoil X fans were installed down the center of the ceiling at Coilplus in July 2010. “It looks like someone took the blades off a helicopter, flipped them upside down and attached them to the ceiling,” says Schofield. “Like the name says, they are some really big fans.” Combining a large diameter with low volume, the Powerfoil X fans generate massive amounts of air flow with 10 patented hollow-core airfoils equipped with winglets. The fans also are programmable. Coilplus runs two shifts from 6 a.m. to midnight five days a week but the fans run around the clock. “We’re able to change fan speeds to accommodate the climate,’ says Schofield. “The fans run at high speeds during the summer, but when the season begins to transition into fall and winter, we adjust the speed to slow the blades down.”
According to Schofield, the new fan system has eliminated the facility’s rust issues by providing an efficient, constant flow of air through the facility. The service center has discovered other benefits, as well. Schofield says the fans’ ability to push air through the open layout of the service center has created a cooling effect for employees during the warmer months. The fans also have proved to be a deterrent for birds. “In the spring we used to get a lot of birds in the building,” he says. “We tried all kinds of devices – from using bird-eye balloons to putting up special stuff on the doors. But since we put the fans in the problem isn’t quite as bad anymore.”
According to Schofield, the fans have attracted the attention of surrounding businesses. “We actually had a company across the street come over, look at our fans and have them installed in their own plant,” he says.
For Coilplus, the ability to eliminate rust and maintain its steel coils in peak condition allows the company to do what it does best for customers – add value. “When a customer gets a production job that specifies a certain part size, they may need us to slit or cut a 40-inch-wide coil down to 5 inches,” says Schofield. “We’re able to make the specified cut, recoil the steel, pull it off the line and ship it to the customer. In addition to keeping the steel in the best condition possible until we ship it, our customers need us to deliver a very tight tolerance with the widths we cut. And that’s what we’re able to give them.” MM