CHARLOTTE, NC — William H. Flaherty Jr., P.E., of FEA in Farmington, CT, was among the more than 300 commercial building owners, facility managers, consulting engineers, and mechanical contractors who flew into here to see, hear all about, and tour Carrier’s new multimillion-dollar rotary chiller plant April 7.

Before boarding the shuttle bus back to the airport, Flaherty was in the same state of mind as everyone present: amazed.

“Oh, it’s amazing,” said Flaherty, after walking through the plant and getting the lowdown from more-than-happy and -willing company officials, who made sure to point out all the major pluses and developments along the walking tour. “They certainly have an advantage now.”

Such comments were not uncommon, which explained the forever-grins on the faces of John Malloy, Dave Roth, and other corporate officials. This was Carrier’s day of celebration, and it turned out to equal the wealth of sun and near-80°F weather that was present outside the huge ceremonial tent planted alongside the new plant.

This was the company’s day to show off its first new chiller plant in North America in more than 30 years. The plant was constructed from the ground up to build chillers ranging in capacity from 150 to 1,500 tons.

“It’s one thing to redesign an existing factory to keep up with technology and market demands,” said Malloy, president, Commercial Systems and Services, “but it’s quite another to design a new factory focused to meet the exacting needs of today’s commercial customer, and to see it come to life.”

While political dignitaries were in abundance at the grand opening of the cutting-edge, 310,000-sq-ft facility, so were the encouraging words from invited guests representing most of the United States, including Hawaii. Flaherty was impressed that Carrier invested $30 million in its rotary chiller business two years ago to make market-driven advances in the production of rotary (centrifugal and screw) chillers. The location of the new plant — a former retail warehouse on Old Statesville Rd. — was announced in September 1998.

“I think this,” said Flaherty, pointing to the plant, “puts them [Carrier] ahead of the game.” Naturally, Malloy agrees. With a large concentration of customers on the East Coast and a major supplier base for chiller components in the area, North Carolina’s road and port systems allow the manufacturer access to domestic and export customers, as well as those suppliers, he said.

“Carrier’s new Charlotte plant is part of a progression by Carrier and United Technologies to make a $70 million investment beginning in 1992 to improve quality, cost, efficiency, and performance in our rotary chiller product offering,” said Malloy. “The Charlotte plant allows us to reduce lead times and greatly increase the flexibility of our manufacturing operations to better serve our customers.”

Contractors can smile, too

Commercial contractors and engineers can order the chiller their commercial customers want — any size, shape, and tonnage — and get it darn fast, the company claims.

“And at a competitive price,” added Roth, general manager, Heavy Applied Products. “Our facility and workflow process design team recognized that to create a customer-focused culture with a high productive workforce meant designing with employees in mind. In the end, they’re the people that make all the difference to our customers.”

The factory’s open design allows plant manager Jim Ferguson and his 190 plant technicians to employ methods of “lean manufacturing.” They have the capability to manufacture any of the company’s rotary chiller products in the 150- to 1,500-ton range on a single assembly line.

The process is aided by air-lift technology, which allows factory technicians to maneuver up to 56,000 lb of heat exchangers and compressors from station-to-station.

“I didn’t realize that this was the first new chiller plant built in this industry for 30 years,” said Flaherty. “You hear about changes at other plants, but this [new plant] is quite an accomplishment.”

The plant delivers a product that not only passes 89 quality checkpoints, but also must meet ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) inspection. Plant manager Ferguson will be the first to tell you that the chillers not only meet the exacting standards of ASME Section VIII, but exceed it.

Another advantage of the new plant is the implementation of “point-of-use” storage, which means some suppliers make daily deliveries of raw materials to the plant, freeing up more floor space for manufacturing activities.

“The flexibility point-of-use storage creates is a key element in our manufacturing strategy because it allows us to ensure high quality standards, improve cost competitiveness, and deliver the product faster,” said Roth.

High efficiency plus flexibility

Carrier would also like to think that the chillers assembled in its new facility and five of its other manufacturing sites offer a solid answer for contractors, engineers, and customers — plus the environment.

For instance, Malloy is quick to point out that its Evergreen™ centrifugal chillers, models 19XR and 19 XRT, are the industry’s first built from the ground up to use non-ozone-depleting, chlorine-free refrigerant. Measured against ARI 550-92 conditions for full-load use, the chiller’s operating efficiencies approach 0.50 kW/ton, according to Carrier, which would make it among the best cost-performance value among such chillers.

When analyzed in a multiple (two or more) chiller system — the majority of chiller applications — company officials boasted that the Evergreen is “the industry’s highest-efficiency chiller.”

“A better solution to evaluating chiller operation is a multiple-chiller systems approach,” said Malloy. “By evaluating chillers from a systems standpoint rather than standalone, we can provide a much more accurate assessment of the customer’s energy usage, and ultimately provide the customer with the best system to meet their needs.”

From the viewpoint of a contractor or engineer, it’s nice to know that this company can produce more than 375 different compressor-heat exchanger combinations, designed to optimize performance for specific applications. As a result, chillers can be customized to specific capacities and efficiencies.

According to the manufacturer, three additional advances increase the efficiency of this chiller line:

1. A patented turbine technology is designed to enhance operating efficiency by recovering energy that would otherwise be lost in the expansion portion of the vapor-compression cycle. The turbine receives positive-pressure HFC-134a from the condenser and uses energy from the refrigerant to supplement energy furnished by the chiller’s motor.

2. Heat exchangers are designed for very close approach temperatures, designed to improve system efficiency independent of the turbine.

3. Heat exchangers and interconnected piping work in conjunction with the new turbine, said company officials, and are designed for low-pressure losses to optimize the energy recovery cycle.

The chillers’ bolted assembly can also reduce installation costs — more good news for contractors. The cooler, condenser, and compressor can be separated, enabling the unit to fit through standard doorways.

Company officials said that maintenance and service costs can be minimized by the chillers’ accessible components. Optional refrigerant isolation valves allow refrigerant to be stored in one of the heat exchangers, providing a built-in containment system so the unit can be serviced without removing the refrigerant charge.

“With our grand opening today, we are at full production,” stated Malloy.