Don’t Buy a New Furnace!
Buying a new furnace can be exciting and daunting. It can give your facility the capability to go after business you can’t pursue with your older equipment. If you are looking at a new furnace simply because you need more production, you should first consider whether you can get enough added production out of your old furnaces. If you can get a 10% boost in production from your 10 furnaces by shortening your cycle time with faster pump down, you effectively have an extra furnace.
The electrical burden of each new furnace installed is starting to create challenges for heat treat companies all over the world. Strategies like storing electrical power for use in peak demand hours is a new example of the lengths to which some heat treaters are going in order to keep the lights on. Such measures might work, but they are outside the domain knowledge of most heat treat facilities and should be considered only as a last resort.
An alternative solution is to use less power on existing furnaces, and a great way to accomplish that is to use more power efficient diffusion pumps and roughing pumps. Smart diffusion and roughing pumps can be put in standby condition when not in use, they also use 30% to 50% less power during steady state processing. You could save as much as 10KW per furnace just by upgrading your vacuum system. A new furnace will use a great deal more power, so consider carefully before you add another. More production using less power is a win-win.
A new furnace will require that you either remove an old furnace or expand your production footprint. If you have plenty of expansion room, this is not a problem. If you are limited in space and need more production, demolishing that old furnace could hurt your top line and bottom line for quite some time. This is another reason to try to upgrade your current furnaces first.
The argon and nitrogen you use at your facility are expensive. These gases require very high pressure and low temperatures to produce, which means they require great quantities of electrical power. Over time, as power prices rise, these gases will get even more expensive. Adding more furnaces will not only increase your power requirements, it will raise your inert gas requirements as well. Extracting more production from existing equipment means you are able to keep your inert gas cost stable, reducing your costs per batch.
Process vs. General Maintenance
It seems every heat treat facility we visit is shorthanded. Good maintenance and operations workers are harder to find than ever. Old and outdated vacuum equipment is expensive, time consuming and takes a certain level of finesse to maintain. Upgrading those vacuum systems removes a great deal of the maintenance burden, freeing up people within your facility to operate and optimize existing equipment. Modern vacuum equipment will radically reduce your maintenance requirements, make your whole factory much quieter and cleaner, and make your best workers more likely to stick around.