Before Production Heats Up Again... Do You Have a Plan to Cool Down?
From refineries to manufacturing plants to construction sites, work has slowed or stalled across the board over the past three to six months. As the world edges cautiously towards resuming business as usual, many companies are anxious to get back on track to full productivity.
But that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear just yet. Between stormy weather and routine maintenance, new challenges are lurking on the horizon. The last thing you need now is another setback – getting prepared and ahead of the problem is absolutely vital.
To help you plan for all your backup cooling needs, we caught up with Billy Childers, head of Aggreko Cooling Tower Services (ACTS). Here are his top three tips.
1. Start Preparing for Stormy Weather
Atlantic hurricane season began in June – and this year, the storms are happening so frequently that records were broken within days. For businesses based around the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast of the US, this is shaping up to be a summer of extreme weather. That means you need to dust off your old contingency plans and figure out exactly what to do if a severe storm makes landfall near you – including how to handle damage to your cooling towers.
But it’s not just hurricanes that facilities need to worry about. Depending on where you are, you may be affected by tornadoes, thunder and lightning storms, forest fires or floods. There could be late summer heatwaves and droughts. If this year has proved anything, it’s best to err on the side of caution and learn to expect the unexpected.
Bear in mind, too, that for some types of industries that have scaled back production for extended periods, there could be an increased risk of emergencies when you switch your cooling towers back on. As Billy points out, cooling towers aren’t designed to run dry and stay dry for long periods of time. If yours have been redundant for a while, especially if they are older models, starting them up again may carry a risk of sparking and fire. Pay close attention to the danger during restart – and be ready to call in emergency support and temporary replacements if anything goes wrong.
“Whether a fire burns a cooling tower down or a hurricane or tornado causes the tower to be severely damaged or destroyed, we respond on an emergency basis to help these folks recover and get back online,” says Billy. “It may take them six months to rebuild or repair theirs, but we’ll have them back online within a few days”.
2. Plan Ahead for Cooler-Weather Maintenance
Most businesses schedule routine maintenance on their cooling towers to take place during the milder months. While you have this period of relative quiet, it’s a good idea to start figuring out now how you’ll switch over seamlessly to a temporary installation.
Plan things perfectly and you should be able to keep working with zero downtime or reduction to your production levels. The key is to partner with a vendor that has plenty of experience delivering projects of all sizes, and who will tailor a solution to your precise requirements.
“Some of the jobs we do take 50 cooling towers, so you can imagine the size of these projects,” says Billy. “We have a very well-oiled machine. Project managers and logistics teams work with our technicians and electrical engineers to design and execute the projects, deploying and installing these rapidly. These folks have 20-plus years of doing exactly this, so they’re great at solving the customer’s problem, identifying the right solution very fast.”
3. Figure Out Your Capex Budgets
Can you afford to repair or upgrade your cooling towers this year? If your revenues have taken a severe hit over the past few months, you may well be worrying about whether now is the right time to make such a large capital investment. At the same time, doing nothing could end up being a far more expensive disaster. If your cooling tower fails, you’re really in trouble. If it stops working as well as it should, this may cap your productivity.
For this reason, many companies are already considering whether it might make more sense to bring in temporary cooling towers to bridge the gap. Renting cooling equipment cuts the need for capex spending and means you can right-size units and towers perfectly to your needs (and scale capacity up or down as required). Plus, if you encounter any maintenance issues, your rental company should take care of this for you.
Bear in mind, though, that a lot of companies are in the same boat and there may be a surge in demand for temporary cooling over the coming months. “A lot of projects have been delayed. People in serious need of repairs and maintenance have not been able to do so because they've been constrained financially or because they can’t have people physically in the facility due to social distancing policies,” says Billy. “We believe there's going to be a large amount of work happening all at one time when people start returning back.”
To make sure you don’t end up pushing vital repairs even further down the line, it’s well worth reaching out soon to a vendor to discuss your requirements - and to secure priority access to the equipment you need.
Final Thoughts: Making the Most of the Lull
No business welcomes downtime. But right now, while many facilities are closed, many teams are furloughed and many plants are working at reduced capacity, it’s the perfect time to take stock of the situation and do some serious contingency planning for the near future.
Treat this as an opportunity to get ahead of the next big crisis. Consider every type of scheduled or emergency setback to your productivity and how you’ll handle it. That includes what happens if your permanent cooling tower fails or is weather-damaged. What happens if you need to take it offline temporarily. What happens if you need to increase cooling capacity to cope with a surge in demand or an unseasonable spike in temperatures later in the year. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. Working out how to protect yourself now will save you a lot of money, time and hassle while you’re trying to get back on your feet.