Case Studies

Air Enterprises

Ohio-based air-handling solutions provider

Few companies can boast about successfully engineering and manufacturing the same product for 50 years, never mind seeing expansion and growth solely due to that product. However, Air Enterprises is not like most companies.

Air Enterprises designs, engineers and manufactures custom air-handling solutions to meet any system configuration or space requirement. The company has special expertise across many industries, including automotive, health care, industrial, pharmaceutical and educational markets; the team now also tackles mission critical in response to the growth of data centers. The company currently provides air-handling units to Dartmouth University, Honda, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boeing and Pfizer, among other large and notable companies and institutions.

To understand the importance of Air Enterprises’ focus on utilizing aluminum for products, one must first fully grasp the concept of the company’s air-handling units. Essentially, Air Enterprises manufactures units capable of conditioning air to an end-users’ specific demands.

In hospitals, the units are designed to filter out pollutants and recover energy from the exhaust air. Furthermore, for data centers, the units are designed to remove unwanted heat and cool the data center using outside air, essentially free cooling. The environmentally friendly, low-carbon footprint offering is the lowest operating cost technology in the market.

The company’s use of aluminum is significant in that aluminum does not rust, therefore, reducing the need for a facility to replace the unit or worry about deteriorating pollutants and mold from entering the air stream that serves public spaces. Air Enterprises has been performing such work since 1964, and the company is considered to be the authority at using aluminum. Air Enterprises has developed manufacturing efficiencies to price custom air-handling units competitively in the market.

“Aluminum is the green metal,” says Russ Elkins, marketing director for Air Enterprises. “Most air-handling units are made out of galvanized steel, and after five years, they rust; after 15 years, they get holes in them. They end up leaking due to a lack of casing integrity, resulting in a loss of energy efficiency. Our all-aluminum units sustain efficiency and are designed to last the life of the building and is worth the investment.”

In no way is Elkins exaggerating when he says that the company’s aluminum air-handling unit lasts forever. The company currently includes a 40-year warranty with each unit, but Elkins wants to kick it up to 50 years. “The first air-handler we ever made was installed 50 years ago and is still running today,” he says proudly.

Aluminum alone, however, does not make the units capable of lasting for half a century; Elkins contributes much of that fact to the way Air Enterprises manufactures the units. “There are numerous things we do on the engineering and manufacturing side that sets the product apart,” he says. “The bases of our units are continuously welded to withstand water. Very few competitors can say that. Additionally, we never bolt through the base itself, because the bolt becomes a penetration point for water. All componentry is welded in-place resulting in the most robust unit base with zero possibility of leakage.”

According to Elkin, penetration points can lead to devastating effects. For example, if the air-handling unit is installed above a hospital’s operating room, any form of leaking liquid from the unit could pollute the room’s sterility, thus putting the patients at risk.

“Air Enterprises has always been a company that strives for sustainable products,” Elkins says proudly. “Air handling units and energy recovery components that deal with harsh conditions all year, such as high moisture content, harsh temperatures or chemical pollutants, must handle diverse differentials. Most metals can’t do that, except aluminum.”

Award-winning products

In 2013, Air Enterprises won Frost & Sullivan’s North American Data Center Cooling Product Line Strategy Leadership Award. According to Frost & Sullivan, the award recognizes Air Enterprises as an industry leader in cost effectiveness, reliability and sustainability; an environmentally friendly cooling solution for data centers.

Air Enterprises earned the award for KyotoCooling, a patented data center cooling concept available exclusively in North America from Air Enterprises. The system uses the KyotoWheel energy recovery technology to cool data centers. Elkins notes that data centers currently make up 2 percent of all the energy consumption of the entire North American continent, while half of that percentage comes from the cost of cooling the data center alone.

Within the data center industry, experts utilize a standard known as power usage effectiveness (PUE) to measure a data center’s energy consumption. According to Elkins, basically, a PUE is the ratio between total power usage and data center equipment power usage. Anything beyond 1.0 is considered the power needed to cool the data center.

“Most data centers have an average PUE of 2.0, sometimes even higher,” he details. “Meaning the power needed to cool the center can be equivalent to the power needed to run it. It’s very expensive.”

With KyotoCooling, however, Air Enterprises has been known to bring a data center’s PUE down to approximately 1.05. “KyotoCooling, in this example, results in a 95 percent reduction in the cooling systems’ operating costs,” Elkins continues. “We have one center up in Canada that’s at 1.02. That’s a huge reduction in energy consumption for the nation and cost for companies.”

In addition, Air Enterprises won SmartBusiness Magazine’s 2014 Evolution of Manufacturing Award, which goes to a company that responds to demand with practical and low cost logistical solutions. Air Enterprises earned the award specifically for two products: the aforementioned KyotoCooling, as well as Thermodry, energy recovery for industrial laundry.

“Thermodry is an energy recovery system specifically for industrial laundry applications,” Elkins explains. “Clients add Thermodry on a 200- to 1,200-pound commercial laundry unit, Thermodry utilizes the Thermotech Thermowheel technology to capture the heat from exhaust air to reduce the cost to heat up the incoming air in the unit; resulting in significant energy savings.”

Much of the company’s products feature the Thermowheel technology, which supports Air Enterprises’ goal of producing energy-efficient solutions for customers. The Thermowheel is an energy recovery technology that allows air-handling units to recycle the heat or coolness of incoming or outgoing air through the unit, reducing the energy and operating costs for customers.

“Instead of heating air from zero to 80 degrees, air passes through a heated aluminum wheel, so we’re warming the air before actually having to pay to warm or cool the air,” says Elkins. “Therefore, the Thermowheel preconditions the fresh outside air for the cost to run a fractional horsepower electric motor, which rotates the wheel; resulting in nearly free cooling in the summer and free heating in the winter. And because the Thermowheel is built like a tank, it virtually lasts forever.”

Again, Elkins is far from exaggerating: the first Thermowheel, built in ’85, is still running today. “Most wheels only last a few years, but ours keep on going,” says Elkins with a laugh. “This product comes with a 10-year part and labor warranty and a 25-year life expectancy.”

Artistic production

Elkins is proud to note that everyone at Air Enterprises, from the president to the janitor, is a partner. He goes on to explain that the partner mentality increases the shop team’s work, because the individuals building the units have a stake in the company’s financial outcome.

“They were always craftsmen and created high-quality products,” says Elkins. “However, the individuals in the shop now own the unit and it’s their business. They take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, and they don’t refer to the units as numbers; each unit has a name that reflects the end client’s project; some of which include, Cleveland Clinic, Mercedes and Lilly.”

Many of the partners have been with Air Enterprises for at least 20 years. Several have been with the company 30 years or more. Furthermore, with the shop’s team included in the company to such a degree as to make them partners, it’s not hard to see why Air Enterprises has consistently produced award-winning products for huge clients. The company cares about employees, clients, as well as the quality of products coming out of the shop. Elkins even finds the company to be a refreshing change from the normal corporate model.

For more than 50 years, the company has been manufacturing a solid piece of machinery capable of saving money for clients while also empowering the environmental movement; the Air Enterprises team, including the knowledgeable Russ Elkins, is backing that mission.

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