CASE STUDY: EXCO

Exco Furnace Cooling Utility

Background
Founded in 1972, Exco designs and manufactures dies, moulds, equipment, components and assemblies for the die-cast, extrusion and automotive industries. They started out small and have grown greatly since their humble beginnings over 40 years ago. They currently employ over 5,300 people throughout 19 global locations. Exco’s success can be attributed to their clever innovation, quality products, and strategic acquisitions.

After acquiring BE & H Extrusion Dies Inc in Wylie, TX in 2013, Exco moved their Texas location into a new facility in 2015 and were in need of an integrated industrial furnace cooling utility for their vacuum furnaces.

Exco’s prior supplier of these types of systems had come up short on timing and quality on recent projects. Moving in another direction, Exco was looking for more than a supplier – they required a partner who shared their affinity towards innovation, quality and strategy.

Exco contacted Fluid Cooling Systems (FCS), requesting they design and build a custom process cooling system for this new Texas facility.

Requirements

The new facility has a 10-bar Seco/Warwick vacuum furnace with a load of 1,500 lbs of tool steel. This steel needed to be cooled from 2,000F to 1,000F in 20 minutes during the quench cycle.  The vacuum furnace itself required 12.5 tons of cooling throughout the heat treat process.

A second furnace will be added in the near future, so the cooling system needed to be sized to handle current and future heat loads.

Lastly, the system needed to be operational in the case of a power outage. This was critical to protect Exco’s capital equipment investments.

Approach and Execution
After solidifying project requirements, the FCS team created a detailed schedule with milestones to guide the build process. Their first step was to engineer the solution, which included system design, equipment and pipe sizing, and designing the control scheme. As with all projects, FCS set out to design the highest quality, longest lasting, efficient and intelligent solution to fulfill the customer’s needs.

FCS then designed the industrial furnace cooling utility which included both open loop and closed loop arrangements. The open loop consisted of a cooling tower and pump station delivering cold 85F water to the closed loop pump station where heat is transferred through a plate and frame heat exchanger. The closed loop pump station cools 400 GPM through the plate and frame heat exchanger and then delivers the cooled water back to the vacuum furnace to repeat the process. All components are controlled through a NEMA 4 electrical control panel.

To accommodate the potential for power outages, a generator was used to provide back-up power along with a transfer switch dedicated to a steady state pump.  During a power disruption the FCS pump station will continue to provide adequate cooling to the vacuum furnaces, preventing damages resulting from overheating, and providing additional peace of mind.

The closed loop cooling system will remain clean and free of debris, which keeps their industrial vacuum furnace heat transfer surfaces clean, efficient and ensures trouble-free operation.

An inhibited propylene glycol mix was used on the closed loop side to protect against freezing. FCS engineers had to calculate the system’s volume and proper glycol percentage to determine the appropriate amount. They would add this glycol mix to the system as part of their startup service.

On the open loop side, FCS included their Spirex™ Centrifugal Separator to eliminate particulate from the system. This Spirex separator unit is a patent-pending particulate filtering device designed to optimize separation while maximizing system efficiency and cleanliness. As with the closed loop, cleaner heat treat surfaces will allow the cooling equipment to run more efficiently and stay within specifications for longer periods of time between maintenance. This is a full flow filtration system with no moving parts to maintain or replace.

A chemical feed system was integrated to keep scale, algae and biological fouling under control. This is a must with open loop systems because of the increased likelihood of outside elements being introduced. It’s a smart investment up front that will help lengthen the life of the system.

Once the complete solution was engineered, FCS prepared and presented the submittal package to Exco’s stakeholders for review and approval prior to production.

Production went without a hitch. No shortcuts were taken, and the highest-quality components were used.

The system was fully tested prior to shipment to ensure it would operate as specified at start-up and beyond. This testing in a controlled environment saves time and money in the field and is performed prior to shipping all FCS systems.

FCS provided CAD drawings, a process diagram and IOM manual to make sure the customer understands how the system works and how to maintain it. If there is ever a problem, this documentation will help the customer troubleshoot or repair. Of course, they can also contact FCS for support if needed.

Outcome
FCS succeeded in designing a smart, efficient, industrial solution that met Exco’s needs, and stayed within their budget and timeframe. Equipment was sized to handle current and future needs, so the system can scale up to accommodate growth.

Exco’s modus operandi involves innovation, quality and strategy. FCS proved to be masters of these characteristics in their approach and execution of this project. They look forward to continuing their relationship with Exco as they expand into new markets and continue their impressive growth.

Possibly the best part of this project was the Texas-sized smile on everyone’s faces at start-up.