Moving a manufacturing operation to a new physical plant can be a challenging endeavor. When those operations require running multiple furnaces at temperatures exceeding 1300 degrees Celsius in a Class 10000 clean room environment, the challenges reach a whole new level. When ENrG Incorporated in Buffalo was facing such a situation, company officials turned to the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) for help.

SATOP provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through the expertise of the program’s Alliance Partners, 50 aerospace companies and universities involved in the U.S. Space Program. SATOP’s New York center is located in Syracuse.

ENrG specializes in the development and manufacture of ceramic membrane and coating technologies for energy applications such as solid oxide fuel cells and gas separation. The company was preparing to lease a space that would need to be retrofitted to accommodate the needs of the furnace/clean room.

“The issue would be the ambient temperature in the clean room during the summer, when the temperature can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Bill Sunderlin, ENrG operations manager. “This would have created a very uncomfortable working environment and affect personnel productivity.”

As Sunderlin looked for economical solutions to bring the furnace room into a more reasonable temperature range, he was referred to SATOP by InSyte Consulting, a not-for-profit economic development organization also located in Buffalo.
Sunderlin submitted a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA) to SATOP and was matched with Harland Hyde, P.E., vice president for industrial projects at AJT & Associates. AJT, a Platinum level SATOP Alliance Partner, is located in Cape Canaveral, FL.

“Harland is a tremendous resource for this type of RTA,” said AJ Lucas, SATOP New York program engineer. “With 38 years experience designing and maintaining clean and sterile rooms in the pharmaceutical, medical device and aerospace industries, he was the ideal person to advise ENrG on how to effectively cool the room while maintaining clean room standards.”

Hyde provided ENrG with a four-pronged solution that included:
• Moving the ovens against the wall of the processing room.
• Introducing highly filtered ventilation air at the side of the room away from the ovens so that the filtered air would sweep the room with a cross-flow pattern.
• Purchasing portable spot coolers to blow cool air on the operators loading the ovens.
• Locating the exhaust air grilles above and behind the ovens to remove the hot air from the ovens without allowing it to circulate back into the room. In the winter, the exhaust could be reduced or even added into the incoming air to warm the room.

In the end, ENrG moved to a different facility that was more easily configured to its requirements and therefore needed to implement only portions of Hyde’s recommendations: arranging the ovens along the wall of the room; and using air stratification so that the ventilation will pull the hottest air out if the clean room.

“This new facility doesn’t pose the same challenges that we were facing when we first approached SATOP, yet we still used two of Harland’s recommendations and will keep the others on file for future reference,” Sunderlin said. “I really appreciated that SATOP and Harland understood that we needed solutions that were economically feasible for a young company like ENrG.”

Hyde said that he enjoyed sharing his expertise with ENrG. “While this was a significant challenge for a small company, I was able to draw from years of experience in keeping hard working operators comfortable in hot clean rooms. I knew it would work because I had done it before,” he said. “That's what SATOP does best – match small businesses that have technical challenges with people who have the right experience to provide a workable solution.”