Upgrading Pumps and Helping The Environment*


Located just a few blocks from Michigan Avenue and Chicago’s famous Millennium Park, the Palmer House is a part of Chicago’s history and one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America. To say the property is iconic would be an understatement, but it would be accurate to say that the hotel strives to offer its best to every one of its guests. Sure, part of offering the best possible guest experience comes in the way of stunning accommodations, dedicated staff, luxury bed linens, and elegant details that start in the lobby and extend into every room, but what happens behind the scenes is just as important.

These behind-the-scenes operations can cover everything from the electrical systems and technology connectivity to things we often take for granted, such as heat, hot water, and energy/resource-saving initiatives. By ensuring that everything is running well behind the scenes, the Palmer House can remain focused on its guests to ensure that everyone who sets foot in the lobby experiences the very best. As part of the hotel’s continued effort to achieve this goal, the decision was made to replace the aging vacuum condensate pump system, which is part of the system the building uses to generate steam for building heat and as a utility to generate hot water.

Randy Byerley, Project Manager at AMS Mechanical, recalled having done some work at the Palmer House on a previous occasion. “We actually did a de-aerator replacement for the Palmer House probably about four to five years ago,” he says. “It was a tough installation. It was not easy getting the new de-aerator system down into the basement area. We had worked closely with Grummun/Butkus — they were the engineers during the project — and once we had done that, we had gotten asked to come back and bid more work there.”

When Byerley went back to investigate the pump system situation at the Palmer House, he was shocked at the probable cost of their initial proposal. He circled back with the personnel at the Palmer House to ask if they would be open to other options for their vacuum pump system. They were. “We had contacted Metropolitan Industries and asked them if they would be interested in designing a system for them. So they actually put together a vacuum pump system that was, more or less, kind of state of the art, and the price was a lot [more reasonable].”

The folks at Metropolitan, who also know a thing or two about pump systems and iconic properties, were happy to help Palmer House update its operation. The job was far from off-the-shelf, but they never shy away from a challenge.

Out With the Old

The old pump system had served the hotel well for the last 30-40 years thanks to regular maintenance, but it finally reached end of life. This allowed Palmer House the opportunity to install a new system with improved functionality, energy efficiency and chemical/water reuse. In addition to ensuring the supplying of steam for heat and hot water, the hotel wanted to reduce its water usage to help improve the property’s environmental impact.

This building was designed to use a central steam boiler system, and the condensate system was designed with and incorporated a “vacuum return system.” In these situations, the vacuum pump is designed to remove the trapped air in the return piping, forming a vacuum that helps the condensate drain back to the mechanical room. The condensate is then transferred back to the boiler feed system to be reused for the generation of steam.

“They had an old vacuum pump system that was actually obsolete,” Byerley says. “They could not get any type of parts or pieces for it. It was a very inefficient system.”

The previous vacuum pump system used a “liquid ring” style pump, but the water was not reused. This meant that, afterward, the water was dumped down the drain, leading to tens of thousands of gallons of wasted water each year. In addition to creating a large expense for the property, this process was not environmentally friendly. The goal was to design, build, and install a new system that would drastically reduce — or eliminate — water waste while also creating overall system improvements.

In With the New

From the technical, pump-speak standpoint, Metropolitan built and installed a custom-designed duplex vacuum condensate pump system with two 25 HP liquid ring vacuum pumps. Due to the age of the building, the pipes are difficult to access without risking unnecessary damage to the historic property, so it was necessary to stick with a vacuum pump system. The entire system had to be custom designed.

First, the new system had to be sized appropriately to handle the age of the building. Second, it had to fit in a specific, small footprint, which was especially challenging because Metropolitan was looking to not only replace the system, but to also improve it by incorporating a 300-gallon custom stainless steel seal water tank, two ½ HP cooling water pumps, and a plate and frame heat exchanger in addition to the new vacuum pumps. This addition means the new vacuum pumps’ water is stored in the tank and, as it absorbs warmth, is pumped through a heat exchanger and cooled to prevent the wasteful dumping of water. To ensure the operational safety of the system, the tank is designed to drain if it exceeds capacity, but this drainage would be far from the loss seen in the previous system.

Installation presented its own challenges, according to Byerley. “The original system that they were specifying, we were told that would actually fit down into the elevator, and we could actually get the pieces in there,” he says. “Then, after I had pulled off the cut sheets for that specific vacuum system that they had specified, it would not work.” That left them the option of either taking it in on the street level via a sidewalk access through which it would be dropped down three stories to the basement, or finding an entirely new way to do it.

Metropolitan’s expertise came to the rescue in this case, Byerley says. “When they went down there and measured everything, and we told them what we had to work with, they actually broke the skid down to a point where we could actually get it on the elevator, and then get it down to the basement, and reassemble that skid. That made it so much easier to work with.”

Then, of course, there was the challenge of doing all of this while allowing the Palmer House to maintain its operations. “We had to go in at nighttime, do some shutdown tie-ins, some crossovers, and then we were able to get the system set up where we could actually take the old system off while we were doing the new system,” Byerley explains. “[We had to] still keep the old system kind of running, but then switch over to the new system. Of course we had a few bugs along the way, with the system, in the beginning, but of course, they were minor and they worked them out.”

Today, in addition to providing luxury accommodations in one of the greatest cities in the country, Palmer House can rest easy knowing that its supply of steam for both hot water and heating will remain reliable for decades to come. In addition to that overall peace of mind, the property will also benefit from greatly reduced water costs and a much smaller environmental impact. Some people might refer to this scenario as killing two birds with one stone. Metropolitan Industries and AMS Mechanical just see it as doing their jobs and offering the best possible solution to every customer they serve.

Please contact Project Manager Mike Temes at (815) 886-9200 or [email protected]

Short-Circuiting the High Cost of Transformer Upgrades

When it comes to the material used in the windings of a well manufactured retrofit, copper is a superior conductor to aluminum because copper offers less resistance, hence less heat.

Ameren’s Rush Island generating station use of retrofitted transformers offers insights for any plant that seeks to increase capacity on a budget.

Increase capacity! When the call comes from upper management to produce more energy a plant manager faces the challenge of upgrading the infrastructure, and upgraded power transformers often represent the biggest ticket item.

Adding to the expense is the fact that such change-outs usually require completely reworking the connections to and from the transformer. When spatial constraints that require rebuilding a new enclosure or pad mount are factored in, the prospect of increasing capacity can explode into a budget-busting endeavor.

In response, many plant managers are discovering the advantages of new retrofit transformers. These fully customized power transformers provide the benefits of increased power capacity while duplicating the form and fit of the originals. The option of a perfectly matched, plug-and-play transformer holds the potential for capacity upgrades that meet regulations, timelines and budgets.

The experience of one major power utility shows that plant managers can successfully balance demand for upgrades against cost constraints set by the controller by retrofitting.

Saving Money in the “Show Me” State

Since “first fire” over 40 years ago, management at Ameren Missouri’s Rush Island Energy Center in Festus, Mo., has run a tight ship. The plant’s two, coal-fired generating units have often scored one and two in the nation for the lowest NOx produced by units without selective catalytic reduction, while producing 1,242 megawatts of electricity.

Retrofit transformers represent a large cost savings for plant managers seeking to reduce capital expenses primarily because of the plug-and-play advantage of a perfect fit.

Here, the upgrade impetus stemmed from a larger project that required more power for added in-house load.

“We were upgrading our bottom ash system, changing from a wet sluicing system with bottom-ash clinker grinders to a submerged flight conveyor, and the existing auxiliary boiler stood in the way of the conveyor,” explained Herb Fischer, Consulting Engineer, Rush Island Technical Support. “So, we demolished the old aux’ boiler and put in a new one.”

A 5-Year Checkup of Chicago’s Calder Flamingo

By Warren Brand | Chicago Corrosion Group

Flamingo was dedicated in 1974, shortly before the death of its maker, Alexander Calder, at the age of 78. Calder was an innovative American sculptor most noted for making large kinetic mobiles. As his craft developed over the years, he shifted toward fixed sculptures—which grew larger and larger—yet he strove to maintain the fluidity and “lightness” of his original mobiles.

When most people first glimpse the towering, 53-foot-tall Calder Flamingo in downtown Chicago, their emotions vary. Awe is probably the most common. From a distance, it looks like a gangly spider-like thing, but you really can’t grasp the size until you get closer. Walking under and around the sculpture, is, by all accounts, inspiring. The graceful arms and breadth of the artwork are secured to the base at only five small points, giving it the appearance of floating.

When I first saw Flamingo, on the other hand, chills ran up my spine — and not in a good way. At the time, I was on a mission to provide inspection services for the complete removal and recoating of the entire exhibit slated for the summer of 2012.

It was a beautiful Chicago spring morning. The dull, deep red of the sculpture was in dark contrast to the vivid blue sky and the steel and glass of the surrounding buildings. I had the 100-plus-page specification in my hand, a camera in my bag and hesitation in my heart. As I walked around the stabile, I was lost in thought and so focused that I could not appreciate the quality of the art, but was focusing instead on its geometric complexity and the challenges associated with repainting.

Sculptural Challenges

Flamingo was dedicated in 1974, shortly before the death of its maker, Alexander Calder, at the age of 78. Calder was an innovative American sculptor most noted for making large kinetic mobiles. As his craft developed over the years, he shifted toward fixed sculptures — which grew larger and larger — yet he strove to maintain the fluidity and “lightness” of his original mobiles.

Even though the piece was welded, there were hundreds—perhaps thousands—of
bolts roughly the size of a walnut.

While I appreciated the aesthetics, I was humbled by the challenge. The geometries of the sculpture might be artistic, but they were nightmarish from a painting perspective. The bulk of the structure was made up of ¾-inch-thick steel beams. Yet, brilliantly, where the massively thick beams connected, Calder had cut the thickness of the steel down by half so the beams would blend beautifully together in a flush, rather than lapped, joint. Although elegant from a distance, it left open linear voids upwards of a ¼-inch wide or more, which would lead to challenges when blasting and painting.

Then there were the bolts. Even though the piece was welded, there were hundreds — perhaps thousands — of bolts roughly the size of a walnut. Each and every bolt, including the threads protruding from the nut, would require complete blasting to remove every speck of paint, which meant the blaster would have to position the nozzle behind every single bolt and we would have to use a mirror to peek behind each one to inspect it.

The same was true for every coat of paint. The applicator would have to lean over, paint or spray behind every bolt, and we would have to inspect it. The numbers of challenges began to add up.

I quickly calculated that each individual bolt would have to be “touched” in some manner at least seven times. The crew would have to: