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Process cooling in a time of uncertainty

With low oil prices cracking the whip on almost every industry, including the process cooling sector, experts share their views on strategies adopted to stay afloat. Rajiv Pillai assesses the health of the process cooling industry in the current market scenario, given its importance across the board.

| | Mar 17, 2016 | 2:03 pm
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Sukumar Perumal, Senior Sales Manager at Dolphin Radiators and Cooling Systems

Sukumar Perumal, Senior Sales Manager at Dolphin Radiators and Cooling Systems

I don’t think that there will be much expansion in the process cooling industry this year, considering the current oil prices,” declares Sukumar Perumal bluntly, summing up the ground reality. Perumal, who is the Senior Sales Manager at Dolphin Radiators and Cooling Systems, elaborates:  “Even in the oil and gas sector, a lot of heat exchangers are used, and people are not going for expansion, since the oil prices are down, and they, too, are only looking at refurbishment.”

Charles A Russell, Sales Manager at Tower Tech Middle East

Charles A Russell, Sales Manager at Tower Tech Middle East

Charles A Russell, Sales Manager at Tower Tech Middle East, too, is of the opinion that the process cooling industry is being impacted very strongly in the GCC region by the oil price. “This is because the economy is so dependent on the oil income,” says Russell, and cites an example: “You have a [cooling] tower that performs at a 100%, and it’s doing the job. And then across the years, it deteriorates to performing at 95%, then 90%, then 85%. In the full-blown operation, you are hurting, because you are not gaining complete performance from this tower. Now, the economy pulls back, and your production drops to only 75%, and now, the 85% tower handles the needs of the 75% production without a problem. So that means that the overhaul or augmentation that you were going to need is not necessary.”

Pointing to the more pressing compulsions the sector faces, when even refurbishment becomes a luxury, and the resultant fallout, Russel adds: “When companies are just struggling to survive, they worry about how to make payroll. They are not going to spend money on these other things. They are going through all these kinds of decisions in trying to conserve their funding. So the first thing  is that the new  ventures and stuff are slowed down and put off, and the second thing is that people tend to delay [even] their refurbishment projects. And what that does is that it leaves them very vulnerable to any kind of catastrophic failure.”

Performance designed parameters capabilities would be compromised in a process plant, which will struggle to meet its optimum

Another expert, Imran Ali, Managing Director at HVAC and Power Solutions, points to another danger of subsisting on bare minimum maintenance standards, when he says that maintaining a required temperature within a certain   process industry is a vital element to achieve the quality of end-products. “Every industry has its own parameters to qualify for the standards set out by the industry regulators and local authorities,” he says, and warns, “Any breach to these codes will not only result in hefty penalties but also harm our environment and lives either directly or indirectly.” He adds that end-users often misunderstand the cooling concept of a conventional chiller and a process chiller. “[Installing a conventional chiller] could result in production losses,” says Ali. “Performance capabilities would be compromised in a process plant, which will struggle to meet its optimum designed parameters.”


Dr Moayyed Al-Qurtas

Dr Moayyed Al-Qurtas

Given the importance of process cooling, any failure in such systems is unimaginable. As Dr Moayyed Al-Qurtas, Chairman of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association’s (GPCA) Research & Innovation Committee and Advisor to the Board at Tasnee, puts it: “Manufacturers have to build [process cooling systems] around that [system failure]. It is part and parcel of every process. Every process has to be designed for every eventuality, including the failure of process cooling systems.”

Perumal, offering a different perspective, stresses that process cooling systems cannot fail. He explains: “Process cooling is very important, and it cannot function without heat exchangers. Failure will not happen at all because it is a stand-alone equipment. There is no motor or pump in a heat exchanger. So the chance of failure is hardly two to three per cent. Every year, heat exchangers are well serviced, and their lifespan is between 10 and 15  years.”

A wide spectrum of applications

Ali reminds us that we are able to have quality products in every segment of our daily lives, thanks to process cooling systems. He slots process cooling into three major segments and elucidates their scope:

  1. Light industrial applications
  2. Heavy industrial applications
  3. Commercial and institutional applications

Light industrial applications:

  • Bakeries – cooling during dough mixing
  • Dry cleaning – cooling of dry cleaning machines
  • Printing – cooling of heated printing rollers due to friction
  • Potable and drinking water cooling
  • Machine/oil cooling in small-scale industries

Heavy industrial applications:

  • Emergency safety showers and eyewash facilities
  • Concrete batching plants
  • Plastic industries and extrusion plants
  • Die-casting plants
  • Food and beverage industry
  • Sewage water treatment plants
  • Reverse osmosis plants
  • Machine/oil cooling (multitude of applications)
  • Quenching applications

Commercial and institutional applications:

  • Medical applications (X-ray, MRI, CT Scan, etc.)
  • Laboratories
  • Drinking water systems
  • Swimming pools
  • Cold plunge pools

Ali adds that cooling processes vary for HVAC applications. “The significant fact is that operational efficiency and production profits are directly tied to process cooling (equipment) performance and reliability, and therefore, there are basic design differences between a conventional system and a process cooling system,” he says. “Traditional HVAC chillers are not designed for rigorous process applications. A short period loss of production is usually much higher than the equipment cost difference.”

Innovating to stay afloat

Adiabatic cooling is seen in the last two years, as this can improve the performance of struggling chiller plants during the summer season in the Middle East

Imran Ali, Managing Director at HVAC and Power Solutions

Imran Ali, Managing Director at HVAC and Power Solutions

Ali believes that to wade through the rough waters, one has to innovate. “There are always new products showcased in this part of the world, as the Middle East always welcomes them wholeheartedly,” he says, and adds that the region has witnessed the PFRP (Pultruded Fiberglass Reinforced Polyester) cooling towers, as against the conventional ones. “Such towers can improve the quality of water for process chiller plants and provide more flexibility, i.e., reduced downtime due to maintenance, delivery and installation, options for water source, improved performance under high ambient conditions and ease of expansion when the demand load increases,” he highlights. The other innovations, he says, are adiabatic cooling (retrofits). “Adiabatic cooling,” he stresses, “is also very much seen in the last two years, as this can improve the performance of struggling chiller plants during the summer season in the Middle East, when temperatures soar greater than 46 degrees C; it allows air-cooled process chiller plants to run without facing a de-rated capacity that can result in underperforming and overloaded process cooling plant.”

Speaking of the options available, Ali says: “OEMs are now offering a wider range (-80 degrees C to +50 degrees C) of chilled water supply, with increased percentage of glycol composition with environment-friendly refrigerants (R134a, R32). Another product for the process [cooling] industry is magnetic bearing chillers. They offer zero maintenance, reliability and low noise, and are almost one-fourth in size compared to similar capacity chillers. Thermal storage tanks are also playing an effective role in the process [cooling] industry, because storing and  reusing produced chilled water can not only reduce energy consumption but also increase the integrity of the plant. The other innovations are EC (electronically commutated) fans and dynamic heat exchangers, which are also getting a strong foothold in this region.”

With such innovations and strategies, and focus towards refurbishment, the process cooling industry appears to be positioning itself to survive the ebbing oil prices and the turbulent global economy.

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