Spring and fall bring great weather, but they also bring a problem all too familiar to industrial facility managers. Warm, humid days and cool nights are a recipe for condensation.
It’s more than an annoyance. Condensation can damage or destroy inventory and equipment by causing rust, mold and mildew. Moisture also pools on concrete floors, creating slip-and-fall hazards that can carry heavy human and financial costs.
Compensation and medical costs associated with employee slip and fall accidents cost approximately $70 billion yearly, according to the National Floor Safety Institute, which also reports slips and falls are the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims. Additionally, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers reports that $17.6 billion worth of metal product is lost to corrosion in the production and manufacturing sectors each year.
Facility managers have long relied on high volume, low speed fans to combat condensation in unconditioned spaces, but one fan manufacturer is taking guesswork out of the equation. Big Ass Fans, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, has developed an automated controller that incorporates overhead fans, heaters and ventilation systems to prevent condensation before it occurs.
“Trying to control condensation manually is difficult, because temperature and humidity are so unpredictable. You never know when a condensation event might occur,” said Mark Toy, product engineer at Big Ass Fans. “Even TV meteorologists are wrong half the time.”
With its Dewtect Condensation Control system, Big Ass Fans combined an array of temperature and humidity sensors that use proprietary algorithms to form an entirely automated condensation abatement system, using equipment most facilities already own.
“Rather than using fans to dry condensation, which the industry has done for years, Dewtect can prevent it from happening in the first place,” Toy said.
“ We get containers from China, and the furniture was packaged in high humidity. So it changes temperature multiple times on its journey, and temperature changes creates condensation. In six months of running the Big Ass Fans, we have had no condensation issues at all.
Condensation forms because cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture as warm air. When warm, humid air contacts a cold surface and gets colder, it reaches a point of saturation – the dew point. When the air temperature falls below the dew point, the air loses its ability to store moisture, depositing it on the colder surface.
In spring and fall, it’s common for the surface temperature of floors, products and equipment to drop below the dew point at night. When warmer, wetter air moves in during the day, a slick layer of condensation can form over cooler objects.
In fall and winter, it’s also common for condensation to form on product that has been moved from a cold truck into a heated warehouse. In spring, condensation is especially problematic for industrial facilities because large, dense objects are slow to react to temperature changes. A roll of sheet metal might hold a cool temperature for days or weeks after the weather warms up. It could take a month or more of warm weather for the core temperature of a concrete slab to rise above the dew point.
Classically, controlling condensation has been done one of two ways. The first is to reduce the dew point using an HVAC or dehumidification system. These systems can be expensive and energy-intensive, and usually require costly insulation and sealing upgrades to be completely effective.
The other option is to quickly increase the surface temperature of the object above the dew point, or dry any moisture that forms, with air movement. Many industrial facilities have used this method for years.
For example, Battleford Furniture constantly battled condensation in its Saskatchewan, Canada, warehouses. Shipments from a cold truck would sweat when moved into the heated warehouse, which bred mold and mildew. The business countered the problem by constantly unpackaging and rotating its stock, exposing product to blasts of air from small, portable fans.
After installing three ShopFans by Big Ass Fans and achieving facility-wide airflow, Battleford no longer had to rotate stock, saving dozens of man-hours per week.
While Battleford and other facilities use fans to dry condensation, Big Ass Fans seeks to prevent it altogether with its Dewtect control system. Adjusting temperature as humidity changes is key, but because weather patterns are unpredictable, and condensation events often occur outside of work hours, having employees on hand at all times to monitor the weather and adjust the fans isn’t feasible.
Big Ass Fans’ system uses indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity sensors, and a surface temperature sensor, to predict the dew point and prevent condensation from forming. It does so by automatically engaging fans, vents and heaters to hold the surface temperature to within 5°F of the air temperature.
Preventing condensation means less lost product, fewer shutdowns and safer employees. During its testing period, Dewtect reduced the number of condensation events affecting steel products by approximately 75 percent. Still, dramatic spikes in humidity can cause condensation to form in unconditioned spaces. When that happens, the system turns fans to full speed to quickly dry the moisture.
“The future of business is building automation, and more and more managers are striving to create smarter facilities,” Toy said. “With Dewtect, we’ve created an automated, easy-to-use solution to a problem that has plagued industrial facilities for decades.”