Most of us mindlessly use terrycloth towels. In the bathroom, kitchen or garage, we use towels every day in homes, hospitality and healthcare. But most of us don’t work at 1888 Mills where towels are the livelihood. Eight million pounds every year to be precise.
After getting its start manufacturing cost-effective products to the healthcare industry, 40 years later, 1888 Mills has become the fourth largest towel manufacturer in the world, and the largest towel manufacturer in the U.S. With facilities in the United States, Pakistan and Bangladesh, 1888 Mills’ towels are used in almost every corner of the world. 1888 Mills is recognized as a leader in innovation in the textile industry and produces 176,000 pounds of towels per week.
To offer some perspective, 176,000 pounds of towels is equivalent to the weight of about 54 compact cars. That is a lot of towels and consistently producing that volume of towels requires the optimal performance of air-jet looms. An air-jet loom is a shuttleless loom that uses air to shoot a projectile that forces the yarn through the weft. This repeated process weaves products like sheets, clothing items and towels. An air compressor powers the air-jet loom with enough pressure to move the yarn. In its North America facility in Griffin, Georgia, the 1888 Mills weave shop is equipped with 31 air-jet looms that weave processed yarn into towels.
COMPRESSED AIR SYSTEM A TOP PRIORITY
“Our top priority is to meet production needs, and we can’t run effectively without functioning air compressors,” said Brian Bailey, Facilities Engineer for 1888 Mills.
Over the last two years, 1888 Mills has had increasing demand. At the same time, production downtime came from compressed air inefficiencies. Bailey needed a bold approach with enduring value. That led to a compressed air system upgrade that allowed 1888 to save more than $80,000 per year in energy costs. The company also no longer needed to invest approximately $60,000 to maintain and service the older units. The reduction in maintenance-related costs and new service plans, combined with energy savings, resulted in a total project savings of $140,000.
1888 Mills’ air compressor room equipped with two Ingersoll Rand C700 Series 600-horsepower Centac centrifugal air compressors.
It’s commonly known that clean, efficient air compression is essential in manufacturing. Once 1888 Mills’ 25-year old air compressor equipment began to fail, they tried several repairs to maintain production. After three years and more than $52,000 in annual maintenance costs, their production still suffered.
ALWAYS HAVE A CONTINGENCY PLAN
Bailey phoned vendors to get the shop back to peak production. One, Ingersoll Rand®, pitched a contingency plan idea. An air compressor contingency plan is a plan for the deployment of temporary rental equipment in the event of an air compressor shutdown. Because 1888 Mills was still weighing its air compressor options, a contingency plan provided the flexibility it needed to take its time making a decision. While 1888 Mills didn’t experience downtime that required an air compressor rental during the purchase evaluation process, the contingency plan provided the security of having a plan in place that ensured operations could continue in the event of downtime.
That prefacing step of developing the contingency plan, coupled with an existing working relationship, ultimately led Bailey to the decision to partner with Ingersoll Rand to replace their compressed air equipment.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
With the contingency plan in place, Bailey explored a long-term solution. The team assessed a number of air scenario studies to help him make the decision.
The studies looked at the life expectancy of the existing equipment’s airend, which is where the actual compression takes place and reviewed critical factors such as system demand and pressure.
Test data and analysis recommended 1888 Mills replace five antiquated rotary screw air compressors with two Ingersoll Rand C700 Series 600-horsepower (hp) Centac® air compressors and one 100 hp oil-free air compressor. 1888 Mills also installed an NVP 7200 refrigerated air dryer because their previous heatless desiccant dryers required a certain amount of dry air, necessitating them to purge 10 to 20 percent of the capacity. The new refrigerated air dryer eliminated wasted air, ultimately saving energy.
With its old air compressors, 1888 Mills needed 597 kilowatts (kW) to achieve the pressure required to power its compressed air equipment. This is equivalent to $28.16 per hour. The new air compressor systems use 404 kW, which is equivalent to $19.16 per hour.
Previous air compressors were set at 125 psi to account for the pressure loss that is typical with outdated equipment. The new air compressors are set lower at 115 psi because they distribute pressure evenly across the entire facility. This pressure level keeps the looms operating at the required rate to meet 1888 Mills’ production goals.
SERVICE FOR THE LONG HAUL
Bailey was immediately pleased with the evaluation, contingency plan and long-term solution for the plant. Yet he knew the equipment would require periodic maintenance to keep it running at peak performance. That’s when 1888 Mills decided to protect the new equipment with service plans. The comprehensive plans, named PlannedCARE™ and PackageCARE™, provide scheduled maintenance and tools to help prevent unexpected interruptions.
“We weren’t just looking to buy expensive equipment for the short term. We needed a long-term service plan with service techs we could trust to keep our plant running 24/7,” said Bailey.
It was essential to take a system approach. Along with air compressors and a service plan, Ingersoll Rand also proposed the installation of aluminum piping to increase efficiency and distribute air evenly throughout the facility. The surface of the piping directly impacts how much energy an air compressor system uses. Black iron piping, for example, has rough surfaces, which causes a slowdown in airflow rate, requiring more air pressure and energy to mitigate the pressure drop.
In contrast, aluminum piping has a smooth surface, so there is low restriction and pressure drop providing better energy efficiency. The aluminum piping addition helped the air-jet looms run efficiently enough to maintain the necessary pressure to produce the required volume of towels.
An aluminum manifold provides even air distribution throughout the 1888 Mills facility.
With the new equipment and maintenance services, 1888 Mills received an unexpected rebate from Georgia Power because of the energy savings and achieved a cost reduction of $7,000 per month, which equates to a savings of more than $80,000 when compared year-over-year as depicted in the chart below.
As shown above, 1888 Mills uses 13,040,090 kWh of power plant-wide per year. Peak demand varies between 2,210 and 2,462 kWh per month. The company’s annual electric cost is now estimated at $585,747.70 versus $665,450 before the air compressor system upgrade.
1888 Mills was originally looking for a solution to maximize uptime yet ended up with so much more. Saving time, energy and cost along with peace of mind was priceless to Bailey and the 1888 Mills team. After all, keeping customers comfortable with terrycloth towels is their livelihood.