Don’t Buy a New Furnace!
When it comes to purchasing a new furnace, it can both be a daunting and exciting task. It can give facilities the ability to go after business which they can’t pursue with older equipment. If you are looking at the latest furnace merely to increase production, then you should first evaluate whether you can get the required added production from your old furnaces. If you acheive a 10% increase in production from your 10 furnaces by reducing your cycle time with faster pump down, it is equivalent to an extra furnace.
Heat treat facilities across the world are facing challenges because of the electrical burden of each new furnace installed. Some heat treat companies are going to extreme lengths in an effort to keep the lights on. One new strategy is to store electrical power for use in peak demand hours. While such measures may work, they are beyond the domain knowledge of most heat treat facilities and should be taken into consideration only as a last resort.
One alternative solution is to use less power on current furnaces, and a great way to achieve that is to use more power-efficient roughing pumps and diffusion pumps. When not in use, smart roughing and diffusion pumps can be put in a standby mode. During steady state processing, these pumps use 30% to 50% less power. By simply upgrading the vacuum system, you could save as much as 10 KW per furnace. Since a new furnace will use a considerable amount of power, you should carefully consider before adding another one. More production using less power is indeed advantageous.
If you purchase a new furnace, you either have to enlarge your production footprint or remove an old furnace. This is not a concern if there is plenty of extension room. However, if space is limited and more production is required, demolishing that old furnace may upset the top line and bottom line for quite some time. This is one more reason to upgrade the existing furnaces first.
The nitrogen and argon used at the facility are costly. Production of these gases requires a great amount of electrical power. They are expensive now, but over tieme, these gases will become even more expensive as power prices rise. If more furnaces are added, this will not only increase the power requirements but will also increase the inert gas requirements. If more production is extracted from current equipment, the cost of the inert gas can be kept stable and the costs associated with each batch can thus be reduced.
Process vs. General Maintenance
Apparently, most heat treat facilities are shorthanded. Good operations and maintenance workers are harder to find. Maintaining old vacuum systems is time consuming, expensive, and need a certain level of expertise. If those vacuum systems are upgraded, they can eliminate a great deal of the maintenance burden, freeing up workers within the facility to operate and improve the existing equipment. The latest vacuum equipment will drastically reduce the maintenance requirements, make the entire factory relatively cleaner and quieter, and make the best workers more likely to stick around.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Leybold GmbH.
For more information on this source, please visit Leybold GmbH.