The 1 million-square-foot facility in Michigan was heated by an aging boiler: expensive to maintain, and consuming excessive fuel. Moreover, the work force complained about uncomfortable temperatures on cold days.

ELKTON, Mich. - It’s true that times have been tough at all levels of the automotive market. One supplier, however, is investing in the efficiency of its facility to help it remain profitable, calling on the expertise of Schwank, manufacturer of highly-efficient radiant heaters and custom-designed heating systems for most industrial, patio, and commercial applications.

Tower Automotive designs and manufactures structural components, assemblies, and modules for use in the automotive industry; it operates one of the largest contract stamping facilities in the United States. It is the largest employer in Elkton with nearly 400 employees.

Tower Automotive is a tier-one supplier of structural metal components and assemblies to major automotive manufacturers. The company provides broad technical design, engineering, and program management capabilities for products that cover the entire body structure of a vehicle.

Since its inception in April 1993, when the company was formed to acquire R.J. Tower Corp., Tower Automotive’s revenues have grown rapidly through internal growth and acquisitions. From 1993 to 2005, the company successfully completed 15 acquisitions and established five joint ventures to create the global company today. As a result, company revenues have increased from approximately $86 million in 1993 to $3.3 billion today.

The final player here is contractor Thermo Source, an independent energy cost-reduction company in Sylvan Lake, Mich. The company performs commercial-grade energy audits to identify utility costs, then designs and implements state-of-the-art systems to reduce those costs. Among its solutions are HVACR design and control, motor control, advanced lighting, alternative energy, and high-efficiency luminous heaters. The contractor also can provide extensive energy audits and performance evaluations. And it did so for Tower Automotive.

“Thermo Source guarantees that following a commercial-grade energy audit, we will identify energy cost-saving measures that will result in annual energy cost savings of 15 percent minimum,” said Daryn Bozek, head of operations, Thermo Source LLC. “Depending on the application, savings typically range between 20 and 45 percent.” The contractor has partnered with like-minded companies “that help us meet and exceed these requirements,” said Bozek.

“Utilizing the most advanced and efficient luminous heaters,” he said, “we reduce Btu input by 50 percent and improve comfort for the workforce.”


The 1 million-square-foot Elkton facility Thermo Source walked into was heated by an aging boiler. The system was expensive to maintain, consumed excessive fuel, and the work force complained about uncomfortable temperatures on cold days. Thermo Source was hired to replace the plant’s outdated heating and lighting systems - not only for the sake of energy efficiency and social responsibility, but also for the sake of employee comfort and zone control.

The contractor installed 210 of these luminous (high-intensity) supraSchwank heaters from Schwank in the plant, with low-intensity (tube) heaters installed in the employees’ locker room. Specific working areas within the facility required different comfort temperatures and flexible operating times.

The manufacturer’s TruTemp infrared thermostats, with automatic setback and recovery capability, were used to ensure comfort control in all of the facility’s 28 heating zones.

According to Marc Grandbois, Schwank president, “Tower Automotive managers understand that energy efficiency is not just about saving fuel or being green. Investment in energy conservation is smart business that usually yields a greater return on investment than anticipated.” This, he said, helped Tower Automotive gain a competitive edge at a time when even the survival of the North American automotive industry has been in question.

After the project was completed, the average annual fuel cost was reduced from $233,000 to $82,000. CO2 emissions were reduced from an estimated 2,500 tons/year to 875 tons/year, a 65 percent reduction. The company achieved the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) compliant status in the areas of waste management and CO2 emissions, before it became mandatory this year.

What’s more, the company said it improved comfort and working conditions, which in turn boosted employee performance and morale. Tower Automotive is one of the largest manufacturing facilities in North America to be heated entirely with infrared heaters, according to Grandbois.


Infrared heating can be the most energy-efficient option for industrial space heating and commercial applications, he stated.

“Manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, aircraft hangars, maintenance facilities, automotive shops, and metal working plants have used infrared heat for decades,” Grandbois explained. “Rising energy costs and conservation concerns are mitigated by infrared radiant heating technology.”

Two types of heaters are available: luminous (high-intensity) and tube (low-intensity) heaters. Ceramic tiles in luminous heaters are heated to approximately 1,650°F and emit radiant heat in a manner similar to the sun.

“Luminous heaters are the most energy-efficient solution and provide the most uniform heat distribution,” said Grandbois. “The steel tube in low-intensity heaters is heated and generates lower-intensity heat for areas with lower ceiling heights.”

Infrared energy heats people and objects, not the air. “This is what makes infrared heating so efficient,” said Grandbois: “The warmth is where people need it.” With an air-heating system, he said, warm air rises to the ceiling and more heat is needed to heat people at ground level. “Hotter air at the ceiling level also creates greater heat losses to the outside.”

A properly designed infrared heating solution provides a very uniform heat flux density at floor level, compared to peaks and valleys found with convection-style heating, Grandbois said. “Heating is controlled by specially designed infrared thermostats that consider both air and radiant temperatures to ensure the desired comfort temperature.

“Outside temperature monitoring saves further energy and helps ensure comfort by providing smart adaptive recovery from setback condition. This is particularly effective for zone heating.”

More contractors are considering gas-fired infrared heating for space and spot heating applications ranging from retrofits to design-build projects, Grandbois said. “It offers opportunities for extended profit margins while helping customers reduce costs, save energy, lower their carbon footprint, and conserve natural resources.”

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Publication date:06/28/2010