A new energy in appliance manufacturing

13 SEER provides springboard for revamped manufacturing strategies

The FABRICATOR February 2006
February 7, 2006
By: Stephanie Vaughan

In January 2006, a new 13 SEER mandate for appliancemakers takes effect. Although it isn't the only thing driving change in manufacturers' product designs, it is providing a springboard for manufacturers to make changes in their products that will help meet increasing customer demands.

Flex Bed Panel Forming Die and Press

New body styles, colors, and options are a must in the automotive industry. The same goes for household appliances, as colors and shapes — as well as internal gadgetry — continue to evolve.

Although consumer demands are partially driving the changes in appliances on the market today, energy efficiency standards also play an important role in how manufacturers are designing their products.

Appliancemakers have been gearing up for mandated changes in energy efficiency that take effect later this month — namely, 13 SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating), and because that means changes in the internal components on which efficiency hinges, adjustments in how those parts are manufactured also are critical.

Bigger May Be Better

South Bend, Ind.-based Capitol Technologies Inc. knows all about what it's taking for appliancemakers to comply with 13 SEER. This machine builder and equipmentmaker has almost $38 million worth of business tied up in helping manufacturers update their equipment.

Once a tool and die company, today Capitol Technologies manufactures flat metal dies and die components for any metal fabrication operation. Seventy-five percent of its business comes from the appliance and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) industries, while the remainder is mostly automotive. The company also builds hydraulic presses with 10- to 800-ton capacities for its customers.

While other industries, particularly electronics, pride themselves on making smaller and smaller parts and products, energy efficiency mandates aren't necessarily helping the appliance industry move in the same direction, said Sean Mosser, vice president of business development at Capitol.

Two-axis, Servo-positioned Pierce/Notch Presses

"From a standpoint of technology inside that industry, you're looking at different sizes, bigger units," Mosser explained.

One reason for this is because, in some cases, larger compressor coils are required to meet 13 SEER standards.

Larger compressor coils are one way to reach an approved efficiency level, said Bill Topper, senior vice president of operations for Goodman Manufact-uring Co., Houston, one of Capitol Technologies' customers.

Topper said appliancemakers like Goodman analyze different design practices to figure out the best way to make products that will meet efficiency standards.

"We look at larger coils, more energy-efficient fan motors, even different size tubing," Topper said regarding the options appliancemakers and HVAC manufacturers look at when redesigning their products.

Goodman selected Capitol Technologies as its contractor because its integrated die processes would enhance Goodman's products and apply well to the company's intended product design. For the last year the two companies have worked together specifically on Goodman's air-conditioner manufacturing.

"[Capitol Technologies is] providing us with a turnkey manufacturing process to produce the outside shell of the air conditioner," Topper said. "In doing so, they're providing us with a productivity improvement and at the same time are improving our products styling."

Two-column, Servo-positioned Flanging Presses

Consumers Also Drive Appliance Design

While the deadline to comply with new energy efficiency standards officially takes effect this month, it's not the only reason appliancemakers are revamping their manufacturing operations.

In addition to government mandates, these manufacturers have customers to satisfy — customers who are more interested than ever before in the cosmetics of their home appliances.

Topper sees demands on the appliance and HVAC markets evolving in tandem with the automotive industry.

"Because automobiles are such a large part of American society, the other products we purchase as consumers become measured in a similar way," Topper said. "We expect a lot of value for our money."

One example of this is the design of washing machines and dryers, Mosser said. He observed that customers are becoming more interested in showing off both their appliances' capabilities and appearance.

"The laundry room is becoming a show room," Mosser said.

The same evolution is taking place with HVAC products, according to Topper.

"It's something that you look at and view as an asset to your property," he said.

And as always, the population is growing. This triggers an increase in housing starts and the products that bring functionality to today's living quarters.

Variable-width Gantry Panel Transfer at a Panel Rotate Station

To appeal to a broader — and bigger — housing market, appliancemakers are redesigning their products with new brand identities to give consumers more options. To do this, it's critical to reinvent the wheel where manufacturing is concerned.

"Having the presses move around the products is what's going on," Mosser said. This is different from past appliance manufacturing setups in which one machine was used to stamp out many of the same parts. Today manufacturing needs to be more flexible.

In this larger manufacturing shift, appliancemakers are moving from using a dedicated manufacturing line to presses that can produce any given form with the right equipment and electronics that allow the manufacturer to program various parts into the machine.

Although 13 SEER may be the most recent impetus for HVAC and appliance manufacturers to update their operations, companies like Goodman say that it's an opportunity to do more than just meet a new energy efficiency standard.

"When we buy equipment, we want to make more parts, more different parts, more cost-effectively. That means less material, less time, less labor, less waste," Topper said. "It's a capital expenditure that you don't always do, but because you're doing it, you want to maximize every opportunity you have. We're maximizing internal manufacturing processes as we create new interactions with this equipment."

13 SEER Facts
13 SEER air conditioners have been manufactured for several years.
A 13 SEER unit is 8 percent more efficient than a 12 SEER unit and 30 percent more efficient than a 10 SEER unit, the current minimum since 1992.
Studies show that raising the standard to 13 SEER translates to a 30 percent savings over present standards on consumers' air-conditioning bills and would prevent the need to build up to 138 (300-megawatt size) power plants by the year 2020. Moving to 13 SEER is said to be a cost-effective way to reduce emissions, keep electric bills more affordable, and reduce the need for new generating plants.
A SEER rating of 6 (a common rating for older units produced before 1990, when energy was relatively inexpensive) produces about 6 British thermal units (BTUs) per hour of cooling, per watt of electricity.
13 SEER units are more expensive to produce than equivalent 10 SEER units because to achieve a higher efficiency level, the condensing coil housed within the unit is larger than that used in a 10 SEER unit, as is the cabinet needed to protect the larger coil. In addition, the compressor required to achieve a 13 SEER level of efficiency requires a more advanced compressor.
Sources: Althoff Industries, Goodman Manufacturing, Southface Energy Institute

Capitol Technologies Inc., Metalforming Automation Systems, 3615 W. Voorde Drive, South Bend, IN 46628, 574-232-3311, www.capitoltech.com

Goodman Manufacturing Co. L.P., 2550 N. Loop W., Suite 400, Houston, TX 77092, 713-861-2500, www.goodmanmfg.com

Stephanie Vaughan

Contributing Writer

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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