A Cool Breath of Fresh Air

Aug. 1, 2009
DecoPac uses industrial fans to improve air circulation and increase worker productivity.

With more than 90 years of experience in the cake decorating business, DecoPac Inc. understands no party is complete without the perfect cake. Supplying bakeries around the country with everything from birthday cake accessories to wedding cake ornaments is the easy part; keeping its own employees comfortable in this fast-paced environment has been a bit more challenging. As with many warehouses, the layout of the DecoPac facility made sense from a production standpoint, but it had some shortcomings when it came to employee comfort.

Work environments need to promote productivity, an important element to consider when contemplating facility design or redesign. Successful facility design means more than building architecture and racking layout. A company must also consider areas where employees spend most of their time. For new facilities as well as established sites, the simple addition of air movement can help improve the environment, leading to a more productive atmosphere. What worked for DecoPac was the installation of large, versatile, high-volume, low-speed ceiling fans.

Kim Roy, vice president of operations for DecoPac, was concerned with the intense heat in several areas of the company's 330,000-square foot manufacturing and warehousing facility in Anoka, Minn. Most notably was the lack of air movement at the mezzanine level of the two-tiered order-pick line and in production areas. To Roy's dismay, employees preferred to work on the floor level. Discomfort on the mezzanine seriously affected employee morale.

“There were pedestal fans littered about the order-pick line area that were ineffective, noisy and in the way,” she says. “I look at them as though they were a band-aid,” hardly masking the problem.

In need of a quiet, effective air-movement system that worked around numerous facility obstructions, DecoPac installed six 6-foot-diameter fans from the Big Ass Fan Co. along the mezzanine level of the 250-foot order-pick line and one 24-foot-diameter fan in the production packaging area. The 24-foot fan offered a cooling effect in the open areas of the plant, while the 6-foot fans' compact design allowed for directional airflow at the mezzanine level.

“Eliminating the noise from all those [pedestal] fans and creating a safer workplace so they weren't tripping over everything has been key,” says Roy. “After we put the fans in, everyone wanted to work upstairs.”

Many manufacturing facilities are designed like DecoPac's in the sense that numerous activities are contained under one roof. That makes it difficult to achieve proper circulation, especially when ceilings are 24 feet high. For DecoPac, the order-pick line in question stands about 15 feet high, making typical ceiling fan installation a problem.

DecoPac was able to install three compact directional fans along each side of the order-pick line, ensuring no employee was left without air circulation. In terms of energy efficiency, the fans are engineered to circulate air in tandem with existing air-delivery systems or on their own. DecoPac uses a large exhaust system that removes hot air while allowing fresh air to enter. The slow-moving, large-diameter fans work with DecoPac's exhaust system to provide necessary air movement for the incoming fresh air.

“We do have a huge exhaust system, so we are able to suck out all the hot air in the morning when it's cooler in the summer,” Roy notes. “We open the doors and bring in the air and release the hot stuff. But that really doesn't help with air movement. The two together — releasing the hot air that gathers towards the ceiling in the summertime and keeping the air moving with the fans — have been a real plus.”

The fans move massive volumes of air slowly, using small 1- to 2-horsepower motors, providing quiet, energy-efficient, non-disruptive air movement year round in warehouses of any size or configuration. The result is a low-cost cooling solution during summer months and the ability to help reduce a building's carbon footprint in winter months.

For the DecoPack employees in the unventilated product packaging area, the addition of gentle air circulation was a welcome surprise. Previous attempts at air movement were always too powerful, leaving the printing material vulnerable to movement and fouling the whole process. “Too much air would damage the printing, which left these employees continually hot and uncomfortable,” says Roy. “The slow-moving fan was a good solution for us.”

With printing, packing and shipping taking place simultaneously under one roof, installing the fans has allowed DecoPac to maintain the integrity of its facility design while increasing employee morale. “Right away, the employees loved it. The minute we turned the fans on, they just stood there and said, ‘Oh, this is wonderful,’” says Roy. “We're used to winters here, but in the summertime when it's hot, it gets tough on the employees. This keeps them cool and productive.”

Nina Wolgelenter is a copywriter at Big Ass Fans Co. in Lexington, Ky.

Latest from Facilities Management