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Case Study

Alcon

Company: Alcon

Eyeing a New Instantaneous Hot Water System

An eye care products manufacturer was looking to get into hot water.

Alcon manufactures eye care products such as surgical equipment and devices, pharmaceutical products, contact lenses and lens care products. The company employs approximately 12,000 associates globally.

Alcon’s global headquarters is in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. More than 15 buildings make up the company’s campus facility. Alcon’s café is one of those buildings. Operating a café requires making many different elements converge. While one café may differ from another in terms of cuisine and decor, the one thing every café cannot operate without is hot water.

Out with the Old…

The café operates five days a week to serve the personnel that work at the Alcon campus. Although the system that provided the café’s general use hot water, which was installed in 1977, was state-of-the- art at the time, it had exceeded its life cycle - replacing it was past due. The old unit was a large storage tank with a steam tube bundle to heat the water. Heating time was slow, the system was inefficient, it used a lot of energy and it took up a lot of space in the café building’s mechanical room. “It was time,” said Bill Crossan, plumbing supervisor at Alcon. “It was the end of life for the old unit.”

Alcon’s business relationship with Spirax Sarco began nearly 20 years ago. Over the years, Spirax Sarco has supplied numerous instantaneous heat exchange packages (EasiHeat skids) and more than 2,000 steam traps to the Fort Worth campus. So it was no surprise when Crossan turned to Robert Crone, Spirax Sarco’s account executive for his advice on replacing the old hot water system. It was also no surprise that Crone recommended Spirax Sarco’s EasiHeat instantaneous hot water heater.

In with the New…

Crone didn’t need to convince Crossan. For steam control products, “we have not used another supplier in more than 15 years,” Crossan said. “Spirax Sarco has put in several of these skids for us all over campus.”

Replacing the old tank hot water system with the EasiHeat is not just a matter of swapping out the units. Details such as unit sizing, placement, and installation had to be determined. The old system was designed to heat a large volume of water in a storage tank and keep it at a specific temperature. However, changing to a continuous water heating system requires a different design approach.

Determining the actual hot water usage for the building was the place to start. “Flowmeters were installed temporarily on the hot water system in the cafe building,” said Crone. “A data logger kept track of the actual usage for a week. We analyzed the data and came up with the maximum gal/min (GPM) usage of the building. We focused on peak usage because the water heating system has to work for the maximum conditions. We increased the maximum usage number just enough to ensure the unit had sufficient heat transfer capacity, and sized the EasiHeat for that amount.”

Crone and the Spirax Sarco team determined that the maximum hot water usage for the café is 30 GPM. “We designed the EasiHeat skid to be capable of heating 60°F water coming into the system to 120°F,” Crone said. “This is a worst-case scenario, which could occur on a high-usage day. Although, most of the time the water will be somewhere between 100°F and 120°F.” The hot water for the café is in a closed circuit - a recirculating loop. “Hot water continuously flows through a pipe that’s routed throughout the building,” said Crone. “If someone uses hot water, the incoming city water replaces that amount. The hot water system has some heat loss, and the incoming makeup water, which is typically 60°F, mixes with the recirculating hot water and drops the temperature.”

The EasiHeat heat exchanger system is very effective because of the way Spirax Sarco sizes it to match the specific requirements of each application. Sizing the unit for maximum usage is a design best practice. And 60°F to 120°F is quite a temperature differential. To provide instantaneous heat, a heat exchanger must have plenty of contact surface area for heat transfer, which is one of the primary features of the EasiHeat. It uses a plate-and-frame type heat exchanger, which has a very large heat transfer surface area. The result is very rapid heating with very low pressure drop - less than 1 psi - through the heat exchanger.

EasiHeat heat exchanger

With design parameters in place, Spirax Sarco provided an EasiHeat skid. “We designed it for them, made all of the connections, and sold them the complete skid,” said Crone. “Providing the skid made it very easy for them to install because the piping was already done. When the skid came in, all of the connections were in the right places. All of the piping was done. They just slid it in and made the connections.”

Putting it All Together

Providing an EasiHeat skid - not just the individual components - facilitated the quick installation, which was necessary because the café’s five-day operation required the new system to be installed in only two days: over a weekend. Alcon had a mechanical contractor install the EasiHeat skid. It took one day to remove the old unit, slip in the skid, and make all the connections. Commissioning and startup was done on a Sunday, and the total project was completed - within the allotted time.

Spirax Sarco was there to support Alcon during every step of the process. “Although we were there to supervise, we had multiple discussions with Alcon and the mechanical contractor on-site,” Crone said. “After the EasiHeat skid arrived, we were again onsite to ensure that everybody knew exactly how the system should go together because we had only two days to get it done. The willingness to partner with Alcon and the mechanical contractor to make this a successful project is something that everyone at Spirax Sarco takes part in - we’re here to help all the way through.”

“We do business with Spirax Sarco all the time, and we will continue to do so in the future because of Spirax Sarco’s reliable service and technical support and quality of products.”
Alcon

No Complaints

When the cafe opened on Monday morning, the new hot water system was ready for service. “The EasiHeat skid operates perfectly - everyone is happy,” said Crossan. “We have no complaints, and we always have a constant supply of hot water.”

Whereas the old unit malfunctioned periodically, the café’s EasiHeat has not failed since it was installed in December 2012. In addition to its reliability, the new unit is more efficient so Alcon saves money on energy costs. The old system’s large tank, control valve, and steam trap consumed a lot of floor space. The EasiHeat skid has a much smaller footprint, which means the mechanical room in the café building now has more available floor space. An added bonus is the EasiHeat’s touchscreen system, which allows easy temperature adjustment, provides a convenient hot water temperature indication, and should something go wrong, error codes can help identify system issues. “Everyone says the touchscreen looks nice,” said Crone. “But it’s also a useful troubleshooting tool.”

“We do business with Spirax Sarco all the time,” Crossan said. “And we will continue to do so in the future because of Spirax Sarco’s reliable service and technical support and quality of products.”

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