Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ragan (left) and Sgt. Jesse Williams discuss some of the features of the Nordic Air ECU.
GENEVA, Ohio - Winning a $45 million contract to build portable air conditioning units can be a life-changing experience for most companies - and for those using the equipment.

At least it's true for Ohio-based Nordic Air Inc. and the United States Marine Corps (USMC). The manufacturer of special-purpose industrial HVAC equipment will be making portable air conditioning units for use by the USMC in desert regions of the world, including Iraq.

"This contract is super important to us," said Bill Calhoon, Nordic Air vice president of sales and marketing. "We started the company in 1988, making severe-duty industrial air conditioning equipment - any place where there is a need for equipment to operate in extreme temperatures up to 160ÞF and extremely dirty conditions. "It has been a natural progression to go to the military-type equipment."

Calhoon said his company has built equipment to be used with "rapid deployment" shelters and structures where the military needs to set up and breakdown strategic camps in a hurry. Rather than just being a supplier of equipment to another company, Nordic Air chose to become a sole-source provider of air conditioning equipment for the military.

Calhoon noted that the need for air conditioning is becoming greater because of the "sophisticated equipment the military uses." This equipment includes high-tech radar tracking systems.

"It's not so much for cooling the Marine or the soldier as it is for cooling the equipment," he said.

He added that a lot of the equipment the military has been using wasn't meeting the current needs of the troops and wasn't designed to be "sitting in the middle of Iraq."

A Nordic Air 5-ton ECU is used to cool equipment in the field.

Out With The Old

Calhoon described the four different environmental control units (ECUs) that Nordic Air will be building for the USMC. The units will be used for testing and training in the United States for the first couple of years, before being sent out to the field.

"There are four models with five capacities," he said.

  • 18K Btu - This a "through-the-wall, window-type unit." He said the unit replaces the 9K Btu and 18K Btu systems by "selecting a switch" on the unit, according to Calhoon.

  • 36K Btu Skid Mount

  • 60K Btu Skid Mount

  • 96K Btu Skid Mount - This unit mounts on a trailer with a generator.

    Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ragan, stationed at Quantico Marine Base in Quantico, Va., is a project officer at the Marine Corps Systems Command. He is in charge of all Marine Corps' air conditioning and refrigeration assets. Ragan has seen the Marine's air conditioning equipment slowly age and deteriorate over the years.

    He said, "The air conditioners that the Marines have now are long past their life expectancy, and are dying fast in the desert. The new equipment, with Copeland scroll compressors and Johnson Controls, are better and more sophisticated."

    Ragan said the Marines put together specs of the equipment they wanted, consolidating the number of different units from seven to three, and put bids out to equipment manufacturers.

    The larger (96K) unit was later added to the bids. He said the companies with the products best suited to their needs and with a history of solid performance went to the top of the list. From there, Nordic Air "outshone them all."

    Ragan said, "Cost comes into play, but we also look at what is the best value and the reputation of the company."

    The Marines purchased nine of each of the four models and are running tests at independent testing laboratories. Vibration, noise, and humidity tests are just part of the overall testing program. "There are a lot of tests these units have to pass before you put them out in the field," he said.

    Ragan likes the 96K Btu skid mount unit because it can be pulled on a trailer behind a Humvee, set up with ductwork into a tent and then everyone can "rock-and-roll."

    He sees a big advantage to the Nordic Air ECUs because of parts availability. The older equipment required special-order parts whereas the new units can be supplied from a local store.

    "Before when an air conditioner broke down, it could take three to five months to get a part, even a simple contactor," Ragan said. "Now, the units have worldwide parts support."

    Calhoon added, "The old school of thought for military ECUs was that the government dictated to you how to build it. This made it difficult for people to find parts. The new thinking is that the equipment can use commercially-available components that can be purchased locally."

    All units will carry a five-year warranty and if there is a breakdown anywhere in the world, there will be parts and technical support available.

    Ragan does not hide his enthusiasm for the new ECUs - and Nordic Air. "We are all real excited about our new air conditioners and the Marines here feel that we hit a home run awarding our contract to Nordic Air," he said. "These guys are really down to earth and make a really good product."

    Sidebar: Nordic Air And Marine Mechanics Could Be A Perfect Fit, Too

    It's no secret that the United States Marine Corps (USMC) helps prepare its people for careers beyond military service. In fact, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ragan looks forward to a career in refrigeration and air conditioning. "When I'm home on the weekends, I'll do some service and installation work," he said. "I've kept up on the technology in the civilian world."

    Ragan has been working closely with Nordic Air - one of many manufacturers who seek out former Marines to start a career with them.

    "Nordic Air does intend to solicit Marines into a career in HVAC service when their enlistment is up," Nordic Air president Ron Clutter said. "We see a value in the training the Marines have received from the USMC and look forward to future position opportunities within Nordic Air as we continue to support the USMC in the future."

    Clutter also joked that his company's involvement with the Marines has its "perks." "Please also note that we have first dibs on them," he said.

    - John R. Hall

    Publication date: 05/02/2005