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7/15/2017 Process cooling systems design | Processing Magazine

HEATING AND COOLING

PROCESS COOLING SYSTEMS DESIGN


Centrifugal compressors deliver variable cooling capacity that is precise, reliable and e cient for a plastics
manufacturer

KEN KOEHLER — JULY 14, 2017 SHARE ON:     

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 Centrifugal compressor. All images courtesy of Danfoss Turbocor Compressors Inc.     

Millions of cell phone cases, laundry baskets, plastic totes and storage bins are produced by a process known as
plastic injection molding, which has spawned a lucrative, multibillion-dollar plastics injection molding industry in
the U.S. This domestic industry faces sti competition from overseas producers. However, Intertech Plastics, a
manufacturer based in Denver, Colorado, illustrates the new trend in “reshoring” by re-energizing domestic plastics
manufacturing with the help of innovative, energy-e cient Danfoss Turbocor compressors.

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“In a plastic injection molding machine, it is very important to cool the mold properly [for] maximum productivity,”
said Mike Clavelli, West Coast regional manager for Thermal Care (based in Niles, Illinois), Intertech’s process
cooling system provider. As a manufacturer of process cooling equipment and systems, Thermal Care recently
installed two centrifugal chillers using variable speed compressors.

Clavelli explains, “When Intertech added two new Husky 1,100-ton, high-speed molding presses, we implemented
the chiller installation using an array of variable speed technologies. This solution delivers variable cooling capacity
that is precise, reliable and e cient, which gives Intertech a huge domestic and global competitive advantage.”

Handling the heat


An injection molding machine uses two basic components: A clamp unit to hold the mold and an injection unit in
which the plastic is heated and mixed before injection into the mold. Time, speed, pressure and temperature must
be controlled to ensure proper operation and maximum throughput.

Depending on the resins, mold temperatures reach up to 180ºF. At the beginning of each production cycle, the
clamp unit closes the mold, and a screw in the injection unit pushes forward to shoot molten material into the
mold. Continual pressure is applied to hold the plastic in place until it solidi es. While the material in the mold
cools, the screw rotates and retracts to draw in new material for the next shot. When the part reaches the precise
temperature setpoint, the clamp opens to eject the nished part and start the next cycle. Depending on the part’s
size and the type of plastic, the entire cycle may take from a few seconds to more than a minute.

“Productivity depends on cooling that mold properly,” said Clavelli. “The di erence in throughput can be huge. For
example, with good temperature control you might be able to make 20 parts per hour instead of just three.”

Energy-e cient cooling for injection molding machines


For e cient cooling, a plant-wide, central chiller cooling system was designed and manufactured to handle the
unique requirements of Intertech Plastics’ two injection molding presses. The system has two centrifugal chillers, a
cooling tower, and condenser and evaporator circuits that use pumps operated by variable frequency drives
(VFDs). The piping was designed to scale up so that another chiller can be added if needed. To maximize the
chillers’ e ciency, Clavelli used centrifugal compressors with an oil-free, magnetic-bearing design instead of rotary
screw compressors commonly used in the industry.

“We’ve been successful using these centrifugal compressors in injection molding cooling for nearly a decade,” said
Clavelli. “In this case, a 140-ton chiller employs two compressors, and a 70-ton chiller uses one compressor.”

In this installation, the chillers supply a 1,000- gallon thermal storage tank with chilled water at 50ºF. From there, a
liquid cooler pump control circulates water to the injection process to cool the molds as needed. The tool and
mold sections can range from 150 to 180ºF. Depending on the temperature requirements for the part, a mold
temperature control unit may be used to mix warmer water with the 50ºF supply water to provide the exact degree
of cooling required. The temperature of the water that returns from the process is approximately 60ºF.

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Because the amount of supplied chilled water varies, this application proved ideal for the new compressor’s
variable speed capability.

“A rotary screw compressor may use stepless speed control or slide valve control to vary capacity, but those will be
ine cient in certain conditions,” said Clavelli. “The new centrifugal compressors simply vary their speed to deliver
the needed cooling capacity.”

When full cooling capacity is not needed, which is about 95 percent of the time, the compressor reduces its rpm to
produce just the right amount of compressed refrigerant gas needed to match the cooling load. In a centrifugal
compressor, electrical consumption is directly proportional to motor shaft speed. This slowing of the shaft speed
when cooling requirements are reduced minimizes the amount of electricity consumed linearly: Running at 50
percent speed reduces the compressor’s electricity consumption by about 50 percent. At the same time, the
coe cient of performance (COP) – a measure of energy e ciency calculated by dividing the amount of cooling by
the amount of power supplied to the compressor – is much better because the cooling load is reduced. For
example, at 40 percent capacity the COP of the compressor chosen is more than double that of a rotary screw
compressor.

Centrifugal compressor for process cooling systems

A cutaway of the compressor

Easily integrates with a free-cooling con guration


Clavelli appreciates the inherent energy e ciency of the centrifugal compressor, but he also said he values its
ability to use colder cooling tower water.

“Denver is the Mile-High City, so outdoor ambient temperatures let Intertech use cooling tower water to drop the
condenser water temperature,” said Clavelli. “Whenever you can do that, it means less work for the compressor.”

However, conventional centrifugal chillers cannot always operate with cooling tower water below a 65ºF
temperature limit. This is because temperatures below 65ºF do not allow oil in the refrigerant to circulate properly
to ensure compressor lubrication.

“We don’t have oil circulation or oil management issues with these centrifugal compressors,” Clavelli said. “That is
because the design uses magnetic bearings that do not need oil. The impeller shaft spins in a friction-free magnetic
eld. Because there is no oil to clog the system, a condenser water reset option can be used to enhance chiller
e ciency to reduce energy consumption.

“That makes it is easy to use a free-cool circuit with VFD pumps for both the cooling tower and chilled water loops.
This con guration lets us take full advantage of o -design outdoor temperatures to avoid mechanical compression
as much as possible, while variable speed capacity control lets us scale cooling capacity up and down as needed.”

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The result: compared to the chillers it replaced at Intertech’s facility, the Thermal Care system with centrifugal
compressors has decreased energy costs dramatically. Instead of paying $38 per hour for cooling, costs are now
down to $3.40 per hour – a remarkable order of magnitude in energy savings.

Size, silence, reliability & controllability


Clavelli also notes that the new chillers have a 50 percent smaller footprint than the chillers they replaced,
maximizing available space in the mechanical area. The magnetic bearing design eliminates the bearing race
support structures and oil system, reducing the actual operating weight to 265 pounds per compressor, while a
conventional screw compressor can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

Plus, with a peak acoustic level of 71 A-weighted decibels, the new chillers are much quieter than a typical screw
compressor. “Low sound was critical to this project, and it is nice to be able to stand beside the chiller while the
compressors are running and hold a conversation without ear protection,” Clavelli said.

Another critical bene t is controllability and reliability. “We implemented an on-board programmable logic
controller to provide a user interface. With inherent digital operation, each compressor provides nearly 80 points
of diagnostic information: temperatures, pressures, volts, amp draws, log and save data, adjust set points or
control parameters, alarm history, faults, and demand pro le, including kilowatt usage,” he said. “Access to that
level of information assures us and the customer that things are running right, and we can take prompt corrective
action if needed, with the option to access that information remotely over the internet.”

By cutting cooling costs from $38 to $3.40 per hour, the new chillers will save about $42,000 in annual energy
costs at the current process load when compared to rotary screw chillers.

Total cost of chiller ownership makes company more competitive


“We’ve been using these compressors for years,” said Clavelli. “Having a reliable, oil-free centrifugal compressor
design that runs e ciently at part load and that integrates smoothly with a free-cooling con guration is a big plus.”

By cutting cooling costs from $38 to $3.40 per hour, the new chillers will save about $42,000 in annual energy costs
at the current process load when compared to rotary screw chillers. Just as important, the new cooling system has
improved the manufacturing operation by optimizing cycle time e ciency by 5 percent, increasing plant yield by 9
percent and reducing scrap by $194,000. Finally, the installation quali ed for a sizeable ve- gure rebate from the
local utility.

On an energy-e ciency side note, the customer recently commented to Clavelli, “I stopped by the chiller system
this morning. The total compressor demand was at 3 percent, which means we’re taking advantage of 97 percent
free cooling plant-wide. Those power reductions, plus our operating e ciency gains, are a constant source of
conversation here at the plant. Everyone remembers how the old chiller ran full out, all of the time.”

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Clavelli added that the oil-free compressors lower maintenance costs. “The compressor’s magnetic-bearing design
dramatically cuts Intertech’s total cost of ownership,” he said, “and by enabling a chiller solution that enhances
manufacturing operation, we are giving Intertech a signi cant competitive advantage. In fact, it attracted a large
customer to reshore 70 percent of its business, which added 25 percent more jobs. When you can use innovative
technology to save energy and reshore American jobs, it’s something to be proud of.”

Ken Koehler serves as a key account manager for Danfoss Turbocor Compressors Inc., a manufacturer of high-
e ciency, oil-free centrifugal compressors. He has 30 years of experience in global HVAC and aerospace/defense,
including sales, project management, quality control, and sustainable engineering. He may be reached at
ken.koehler@danfoss.com or 850-504-4821.

Danfoss Turbocor Compressors Inc.

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