09 May 2018

Can Your Plant Handle the Heat?

Aggreko Cooling Towers
 

No Heat Stress

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While most of us look forward to the summer months, seasonal changes can be a massive problem for manufacturers.

High ambient temperatures and soaring humidity can interfere with production equipment, contaminate or damage the quality of products as they are being created, cause rapid deterioration like rusting in newly-minted metal parts, and even chip away at productivity on the factory floor, simply because the conditions are too uncomfortable for workers to perform at their best.

The Big Worries

Broadly speaking, concerns over seasonal spikes in temperature and humidity fall into three categories:

  • How to keep equipment or manufacturing areas cool enough to function properly, avoiding slowdowns and shutdowns.
  • How to prevent against dangerous changes to conditions on the factory floor, which can lead to a decrease in worker productivity, or even fines and penalties from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • Whether increased moisture during peaks of high humidity will cause damage to equipment, manufacturing processes, or goods that are in production or storage.

… Let’s take a look at how these issues can play out in a plant.
 
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Where to begin? Excess moisture or high temperatures can affect the whole facility’s processes, from production to packaging to storage.
 
For some products, moisture or other contaminants in the air react with raw materials during the production stage, reducing the quality at best or wrecking the product beyond salvage at worse. For others – especially perishable food and drinks – exposure to heat and humidity during bottling, canning or so on may cause the product to spoil, as may storing them in conditions that aren’t cool or dry enough for purpose.
 
Issues with temperature, humidity and dew points can also interfere with how certain types of machinery function, slowing down the overall production process and leading to backlogs and bottlenecks. And, as we said above, hot, humid factory conditions can really chip away at employee morale and productivity, or at the extreme end, make some people feel too unwell to work at all, exacerbating the problem even more.
 

The Impact

 
If production slows or heat-sensitive goods are damaged at any stage and need to be destroyed, this means missed delivery deadlines, angry customers and mounting costs for replacement materials and extra labour. All in all, it’s a disastrous cocktail of spiralling costs and shrinking profits.
 
Obviously, this is a nightmare for any company. Unhappy customers, cancelled orders and steep fees for expedited delivery are hardly anyone’s idea of good business. But on a personal level, these kinds of problems can be deeply stressful for facility, production and operation managers – or whoever’s role it is to make sure that orders are fulfilled on time.
 
If a manager’s job security, pay or bonus is dependent on them meeting all production targets, for example, any slowdown can have serious consequences. For the wider team, a decline in productivity can lead to layoffs.
 
Clearly, keeping your plant fully functional no matter what the weather throws at you is absolutely crucial. That means having a clear idea of what can go wrong, and a strategy for coping with ventilation, temperature and humidity problems as they arise.
 
Bringing in Backup

Of course, many of these issues can be dealt with by bringing in the right equipment. While this sounds like a quick fix, though, it’s frequently a friction point in itself.

For many companies and plant managers, it seems crazy to have to splash out enormous sums on high-tech equipment that they’ll only use for one month of the year – or, depending on how the weather goes, might never have to use at all.

For those that haven’t budgeted for this kind of hiccup, this level of unexpected capital outlay can represent a crippling hit to profits, and could wind up threatening the whole operation.

To avoid these pitfalls, it’s incredibly important that, firstly, manufacturers seek out reliable partners who can rent them the vital cooling equipment they need, when they need it, at short notice. But just having a good idea of who to call isn’t really enough. For complete peace of mind, it’s best to draw up a plan with this vendor well in advance, so that they’ve figured out exactly how they will deal with the specific issue you’re facing, in your particular facility, and can simply spring into action (with no nasty surprises!) the moment you need them.

That way, if the weather suddenly turns, your own chillers or cooling towers get overloaded by a heat surge, or there’s some kind of technical emergency, plants don’t risk losing days or even weeks of productivity while the problem gets resolved. The very best vendors in the industry should be able to get the facility all set up very swiftly, with barely a glitch in their manufacturing schedule.

Keeping an Eye on Things

Getting you set up is one thing; making sure everything keeps working exactly as it should is quite another. The last thing you want is to bring in equipment to fix your overheating problems, only to be left in the lurch because there’s no one to monitor it or ensure it’s working at its best - or to find that you have to take time away from vital operations to manage the operation.

That’s why we strongly advise that manufacturers look out for vendors that take support, guidance and monitoring very seriously.

No one should be leaving you to fend for yourself with rented equipment. They should be available round-the-clock to help if something goes wrong, preferably with at least one expert onsite, and capable of monitoring all their own kit remotely, so that they can see immediately when something needs tweaking, refueling, etc., and are flagged instantly if temperature or humidity levels begin to stray from the set parameters. Don’t let them make this your problem!

It’s Getting Hot in Here…

Seasonal variations are a pain for any plant, but if you have access to the right combination of cooling, dehumidifying and ventilating solutions, a well-thought-through contingency plan tailored to your facility’s needs, reliable, deep-level expertise and 24/7 support, then there’s really no reason your plant shouldn’t be able to take the heat. 

Just don’t wait until the temperature’s rising to start figuring out how to cool things down!

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