The new-equipment investment positions RenewAire (www.renewaire.com) for efficient, state-of-the-art parts fabrication. How so? The automated equipment reduces manufacturing critical-path time, saves space and energy, cuts production lead time by as much as 40 percent depending on the part, trims material waste, and increases product precision/quality assurance for RenewAire’s consulting-engineer, HVAC-contractor and building-owner customer base, according to Forest.
“This ambitious effort of automating our sheet metal fabrication will help us lead the IAQ industry to unprecedented future ERV innovations and product development,” he says.
Previously, lead times on RenewAire’s ERV and dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) sheet metal cabinetry, base infrastructures and component fabrication stretched to two weeks and depended upon the schedules of a variety of local vendors. Acquisition of the Salvagnini equipment, with all three machines tended only by two RenewAire technicians per shift, has delivered component fabrication of most sheet metal parts within only hours. And, the investment has expanded RenewAire’s workforce, according to Forest, with high-skill assembly jobs added to accommodate the increased parts production.
Beyond lead-time reduction, the automation has improved sheet metal bend precision to a ±0.5-deg. tolerance versus the previously acceptable manual-bending tolerances of 3 deg.
Demand, New Home Drive Insourcing of Manufacturing
New HQ Meshes with RenewAire’s Sustainability Mindset
As a sustainability champion, RenewAire LLC strives to provide energy-recovery ventilation systems (ERVs) and other cost-effective and energy-efficient indoor-air-quality (IAQ) equipment. The company’s retrofitted 110,000-sq-ft. headquarters building in Waunakee, WI, fits right into that mindset as one of the nation’s few LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified industrial facilities.
LEED, a building-rating system provided by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), assesses a construction project on a variety of environmental factors, with Gold as the USGBC’s second-highest rating.
Besides a better customer experience, according to Scott Forest, RenewAire president, the retrofit also enhances employee workplace health and safety.
For example, vibration-dampening floor and foundation material for the sheet metal fabrication machinery installed in April 2020 and detailed in the accompanying feature article, along with other sound-attenuating measures, help retain the production area’s quiet 55 to 60-dB sound rating as measured prior to the installation.
And, RenewAire provided its own DN-Series dedicated outdoor air system that introduces five to 10 times more outdoor air than typical industrial spaces, according to Forest. This, he offers, quickly exhausts laser cutting fumes and other industrial-process airborne byproducts while far surpassing the industrial IAQ requirements of the applicable standard.
In addition, the building’s tunable LED lighting and 12 skylights eliminate additional lighting needs near any equipment while reducing employee eye strain.
“This new facility supports our mission of fostering sustainability, helping the planet by reducing energy use and at the same time improving human health and well-being,” says Chuck Gates, RenewAire CEO.
The LEED Gold adds to RenewAire’s three Green Globes certifications from the Green Building Initiative, making the retrofitted headquarters one of only a handful of commercial buildings to achieve dual certification through two independent rating systems. No newcomer to sustainability, RenewAire received two Green Globes and a LEED Silver certification for its former headquarters, a 32,000-sq.-ft. Madison, WI, indoor soccer stadium it retrofitted in 2005.
The new RenewAire facility provided the opportunity to install these machines and realize the lead-time and quality improvements.
“Prior to moving into our new headquarters, we were split into two facilities totaling about 42,000 sq. ft. and located 0.5 miles apart,” Forest recalls. “Focusing on our ability to create ERV systems and components, we did not have the room to vertically integrate and actually manufacture inhouse. We only performed engineering, assembling, testing and shipping, while outsourcing all of the sheet metal fabrication.”
But seeking to bring that work inhouse, RenewAire in 2017 reserved 9000 sq. ft. at the new headquarters for automated fabricating equipment. Taking time to let the dust settle, and then defining the equipment needed and embarking on a supplier search, RenewAire ultimately selected Salvagnini America as the vendor of choice. By April 2020, the machines—installed by Salvagnini technicians with Salvagnini also providing operation, programming and maintenance training—were ready for production. A RenewAire cross-functional team, including manufacturing engineer and overall project leader Elena Foti and fabrication supervisor Zeb Pitney, delivered the area preparation, team hiring and implementation of all of the processes required to support the new fabrication department, such as scheduling, material handling, programming and quality assurance.
“RenewAire’s defined company mission fostered clear communication between our two teams, which resulted in accomplishing the project’s precise and measurable objectives,” offers Giovanni Piccolo, vice president of project management and applications for Salvagnini America.
Automation Reduces Human Handling
Feeding the new equipment: two 20-ft.-tall, 12-shelf towers, each capable of storing three tons of raw sheet, mostly 20-gauge. The towers’ strategic positioning with the fabricating equipment’s sequential configuration provides for a streamlined, time-saving fabrication line. The towers’ sheet metal inventory is conveyed automatically through the pre-programmed laser cutter, conveyance/part-manipulation system and panel-bending equipment—a distance of 120 linear ft.—without human handling. In fact, RenewAire now fabricates about 75 percent of all its parts without human handling—a striking fact when considering that only a year-and-a-half ago, the company fabricated no parts whatsoever.
The remaining 25 percent of parts—those demanding sophisticated techniques on the B3 press brake—require partial human handling. However, even that human intervention is lessened with RenewAire’s investment in a Salvagnini automated tool assistance (ATA) add-on that eliminates labor-intensive, hands-on B3 retooling setups.
Incorporating the high-level automation to deliver these impressive production numbers reflects the mindset of Forest and the RenewAire team that finding skilled personnel is, and will continue to be, challenging.
“We tried to get ahead of that,” Forest says. “We could have chosen two laser-only systems and a group of four or five press brakes to provide the equivalent capability of our automated setup, but doing so would have required 12 to 14 operators. That’s quite a recruiting challenge. The new integrated line only requires two operators, a more manageable recruiting challenge.”
“(Since installing this automated line whereas before we performed no fabrication), we went from 0 to 60 in a Ferrari,” Forest continues. “Some folks thought that we should have started with smaller, less sophisticated equipment. But again, it’s very difficult to find experienced operators, so we opted for the high-level automation. Cross-training our assembly technicians ensures that we can keep that line staffed with two full-time positions per shift.”
After more than a year under its belt with the new integrated line, RenewAire is starting to press the accelerator, transitioning from only producing previously designed parts to designing new parts that take greater advantage of equipment capabilities.
Beyond producing most sheet metal parts inhouse for its one-dozen series of ERV and DOAS products, the potential of RenewAire’s automated fabrication equipment, according to Forest, will help facilitate new designs and functions for innovative IAQ products that RenewAire plans for 2021 and beyond. MF
See also: Salvagnini America, Inc.