Old man winter is tough on plants. Just ask any producer who batches and/or casts cold-weather concrete. Given these tough economic times, producers may have to rethink how they operate in winter to maintain last year's profit margins. Incremental gains in operational efficiencies will be necessary to counterbalance smaller orders and more demanding customers.
In most markets, producers try to recover the additional heating expenses by charging winter service fees. Even so, most plant managers probably admit that the additional revenue barely covers the real costs, especially when you try to calculate volatile fuel costs.
Fortunately, there are some alternatives to conventional heating approaches that may help mitigate the costs of boilers and steam generation.
For more than 15 years, Ground Heaters Inc., Muskegon, Mich., has been providing hydronic heating equipment to concrete contractors. Their products have been used worldwide to provide supplementary heat to reduce the possibility of freezing fresh concrete before initial strength gain.
Earlier this year, Wacker Neuson Corp. acquired the Ground Heaters' line of temporary climate control equipment. The manufacturer has provided the capital investment to expand the Ground Heaters product line that now includes a broad selection of highly efficient hydronic heaters, indirect fired heaters, heat exchangers, air movers, and dehumidifiers. At the heart of this investment is a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant and customer service center.
Using Wacker Neuson's resources, Ground Heater engineers are embarking on some new applications. One initiative will interest concrete producers.
Heating up the precast market
The manufacturer believes precasters can realize the same advantages using hydronic heating as concrete contractors to control their winter production costs. Indoor and outdoor casting crews can efficiently use hydronic equipment to heat casting beds and work areas. Crews would no longer need to use live steam or torpedo heaters.
The hydronic system is more than a tube and a pump. Units can be equipped with a wide array of accessories, all designed for concrete construction. For precast producers, hydronic tubing can evenly apply heat beneath the form or even provide bottom-up heating in the casting bed.
After workers place the heating tubing on top of the form, they overlay the piping with curing blankets specifically to work with portable hydronic heating systems. The design reflects the hydronic heat downward into the mix. In time, the casting crew can develop a curing wrapping system to equalize curing and speed production.
Another advantage of the equipment is its portability. Many precasters' operations are spread over many acres. Often they use a bed or form area infrequently, making winter mobilization expensive. The trailer-mounted hydronic heating equipment can be easily moved from form to form. The power unit is operated remotely.