Think Plastic to Avoid Throwing Good Money After Bad

RX for Maintenance - Intensive Cooling Towers: Think Plastic to Avoid Throwing Good Money after Bad

Brock Equipment Company puts an end to $10,000/year maintenance costs by replacing a metal-lined tower with an engineered plastic tower.

Metal cooling towers lined with galvanizing or other coatings have been around for along time; in many instances, far too long. Like an aging fighter, decades old metal cooling towers frequently become high-maintenance, while performance drops off sharply. Over time, these towers are increasingly thin-skinned, inefficient, and can cause unscheduled process disruptions. Secondary damage can also be caused by chronic “leakers,” and outdated tower fans and motors often consume more energy than necessary. All of this adds up to a classic “moneypit” for plant maintenance personnel that rely on cooling towers to support key process equipment.

In the past, the prevailing cure for a leaking or corroding cooling tower was simple (although not easy). You either repaired it or replaced it. However, repairs such as reskinning or coating tower linings often take weeks and shut down critical processes if maintenance isn’t already scheduled. Welding patches on galvanized linings might work, but typically not for long.

“We were spending between $5,000 and $10,000 a year on cooling tower repairs which included patching metal and putting in rubber seals and gasketing. In other words, ‘band-aid’ fixes just to keep the tower from leaking,” says Marvin Richer, president of Brock Equipment Company, Crystal Lake, IL, a manufacturer of hydraulic pumps. On the other hand, replacing towers is time-consuming and expensive, as is the installation of additional towers to increase cooling capacity. “Given our choices, we were most likely going to install a new tower similar to the old
one,” Richer says. “But first I wanted to look into a new plastic type of cooling tower that was said to be more reliable and require less maintenance than the old-fashioned metal-lined models.”

What Richer was looking for has become a new prescription for replacing ailing cooling towers or adding capacity: Engineered molded plastic cooling towers. Just as advanced plastics have replaced metal in many high-tech and industrial applications, plastics also offer a remarkably comprehensive solution to the chronic deficiencies of metal-skinned cooling towers.

1950 Tower Installation Gives Way To New Technology

With Brock Equipment, it quickly became clear that they were “throwing good money after bad” by continually spending time and money on their old, deteriorating galvanized metal-lined tower installed 55 years ago. “As the tower got older not only did we have ongoing leak problems, we started to have a structural problem,” Richer explains. “Water is pretty heavy, and the tanks that hold the water on the bottom were getting heavier and heavier as we added more and more materials to fix the leaks. All that weight was beginning to bend the structural members that held the cooling tank together.”

Metal cooling towers like Brock Equipment’s are also subjected to constant changes in pH, requiring chemical treatments that attack the galvanized metal lining, essentially wearing it out in just a year or so. Environmental conditions such as sunlight, pollution, salt air, and harsh process chemicals may also contribute to the early demise of galvanized steel. With this inherent vulnerability, metal-lined cooling towers generally carry only a one-year warranty.

On the other hand, engineered molded plastic cooling towers are one piece, so there are no problems with seams, welds, and patches that wear prematurely. Molded plastic towers are rust and corrosion-proof and generally consist of rotary-cast construction with a single or double-wall, UV-protected, polyethylene shell that is virtually impervious to weather conditions and harsh environmental elements. Most are offered with a
20-year warranty.

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