Consolidated Industries forges aerospace and other high-tech products, and last year drew attention when it adopted a new, energy-saving hydraulic power system for its 2,500-ton press.
Less than a year after startup of its first Kadant AES UNiGY system (www.kadantunigy.com), Consolidated retrofitted a second press with the same technology. Colin Dinwoodie of Kaman Industrial Technologies, the integrator responsible for both of installations, offers insights about the projects, the results, and what it may mean for other forging operations.
Q: How did you become aware of UNiGY? What were your initial reactions to the technology?
CD: When Kadant AES explained the product and its benefits to me, my first thought was, "I'm going to get rich selling this!" It struck me as one of the biggest advances in fluid-power technology I'd dealt with in my 25 years in the business. Most of the innovations I've seen in fluid power are incremental, niche improvements. But, UNiGY is redefining the "performance envelope" of hydraulic-power generation.
Q : What impresses you about UNiGY?
CD: Two things: its simplicity and its adaptability. UNiGY doesn't rely on exotic, unproven concepts; the engineers at Kadant AES simply found a better way to control existing pumps and motors to eliminate wasted fluid-power generation. The most common reaction I get from people when I explain the UNiGY concept is, "Why didn't I think of that?" It's a technology people can understand and feel comfortable with.
Adaptability is another remarkable aspect. Almost anyone can benefit from this technology. It can solve a multitude of hydraulic system reliability, process, and efficiency problems — in addition to the energy savings it delivers. Also, UNiGY has the ability to make major improvements in existing systems, bringing the performance up to modern standards — as happened with the two Consolidated installations.
Q: Speaking of Consolidated Industries, will you summarize how they became involved with UNiGY, and how that experience shaped their decision to invest in the technology a second time?
CD: I recommended UNiGY to Consolidated as a replacement for the obsolete, unreliable hydraulic power system on their 2,500-ton press. Although it was a new system, and Kadant AES wasn't well known in the hydraulic field — and totally unknown in the forging market — Consolidated's management grasped UNiGY's potential to save money and improve press performance. Best of all, UNiGY was so energy-efficient that Consolidated qualified for demand-reduction programs offered by Connecticut Light & Power. The grants and loans they awarded covered 80% of the system's acquisition costs, which made the cost easy to accept. And, once the UNiGY system was up and running, it not only reduced energy consumption, it delivered more consistent production, with less maintenance intervention, and less scrap.
Consolidated is a job shop, so it's hard to compare energy savings from month to month, but they're comfortable claiming UNiGY cuts power consumption by 69%. We know the press is using less energy this year than last — even though it's working more hours, and producing more parts. As a result, Consolidated's been able to bid for and get more work, add more employees, and build their business — which is why they asked for a second system.
Q: Describe the second installation.
CD: It involved one of Consolidated's most frequently used presses, a 1,500-ton unit built in the 1950s. To fill some orders, they need to run it for two shifts a day, six days a week. Unfortunately, the press was in need of nearly constant maintenance, with major and dangerous hydraulic-fluid leaks on virtually a daily basis. It was being patched up with every conceivable method to keep it running, but there was still a constant danger of fire. And, if ever there was a production shutdown, it affected more than Consolidated: it also impacted everyone else in the production chain, including the end user.
So this press needed a total hydraulic system rebuild and upgrade, including complete hydraulic system redundancy, so one system could run the press while the other is being serviced. With two linked systems, plumbing had to be far more complex than the old non-redundant system — a necessary evil of running continuously.
Thanks to UNiGY, we were able to keep complexity to a minimum. Without it, we probably would've needed variable-displacement, servo-controlled piston pumps. With it, we could substitute simpler vane pumps. Where the old system required two 150-HP motors, UNiGY's inherent efficiencies meant we could replace them with 60HP motors. So, we reduced the system's nominal HP by 60%, yet under some conditions, we're able to increase pump speed over the old system.
Filtration requirements are another good example. The existing Cuno filtration system had 24 in-line filters, each four feet tall. Changing one filter would take two hours. With the new system, all this was replaced by a single spinon-style canister filter, which can be changed in less than three minutes.
Although reliability was the primary driver for this project, UNiGY also let us go in the direction of providing the added values of process control and energy savings. In addition to simplifying the system design — and minimizing the maintenance inputs required — it met a target of 65% energy reduction, and produced a significant demand reduction. There's a 0.98 power factor now, instead of 0.34 before. Press operations have been improved also, without adding a lot of expensive equipment to the press itself. For instance, retract speed has been doubled. And because UNiGY has so many control options, the same system that operates the press is used for parts ejection, eliminating the separate pump/motor system once needed for that purpose.
Another benefit has been that Consolidated was able to rationalize and standardize operator interfaces on the 1,500-ton press with the controls of 2,500-ton unit rebuilt earlier this year.
Consolidated is very happy with the results obtained versus the original projections. The intent was to eliminate hydraulic system-related process shutdowns. It had been rare for the press to run for more than a day without serious maintenance requirements. Now, except for one shutdown (a fouled valve), there's been no unplanned maintenance.
So, now Consolidates is considering a third UNiGY installation.
Q: Is this example typical of UNiGY applications in the forging sector?
CD: Although the maintenance problems at Consolidated were extreme, maintenance is becoming a thorn in the side for all companies, especially with forging, which is maintenance-intensive by its very nature. This is where UNiGY's reliability and system simplification can be huge factors.
The aging "machinery base" in forging operations, where the technology is three or four generations old, is an issue that must be addressed if the industry is to stay competitive. Modernization cannot be put off forever, but sometimes it takes a lot of convincing to get someone to scrap a still-viable system, and to incur the cost and disruptions of retrofitting new technology. And, the upside with technologies like UNiGY is better-than-new performance for a fraction of the cost of a new system.
Still, it's often difficult to fit these projects into the standard 18-to-24 month payback window, so we have to find creative ways to make that work. At Consolidated, that meant taking advantage of the utility's demand-reduction incentives.
Fortunately for UNiGY, its energysaving capabilities directly address a growing concern. Figuring payback using today's electric rates is hard, because projected costs are too low, and payback too long. When you realize this, UNiGY becomes an even more attractive proposition.
Q: What sort of future do you see for UNiGY in the forging industry?
CD: Once decision makers learn about UNiGY's process improvement and energy savings, it's usually just matter of time before they adapt the technology. So, this is just the beginning. Five years from now, UNiGY and Kadant AES will be well-recognized throughout the manufacturing sector. I think that in the future, forgers will either be using UNiGY technology — or they'll be losing business to someone who does.