Plant Practices: Ricoh USA Keeps Employees Comfortable In Summer And Winter With Fans

This article originally appeared in the October print issue of IMPO Magazine. To view the digital version, click here

For most industrial facilities, the arrival of winter heralds two problems: cold employees and high natural gas bills. A solution to those problems can be found in large, overhead fans already in use in many facilities. Not only do fans cool employees when it’s hot, they also keep them warm in winter, drastically lowering heating costs in the process.

Copier and printer manufacturer Ricoh USA is the perfect example of how fans destratify the air — that is, eliminate temperature variances from floor to ceiling. With summertime temperatures reaching 100 degrees F, and winter averages in the 20s and 30s, the company’s 200,000-sq-ft warehouse in Nashville, TN, was prone to uncomfortable conditions in both seasons.

In summer, the building trapped heat from sunlight that came in through the massive east- and west-facing bay doors, which compounded the sweltering humidity that already bogged down workers. In winter, the same bay doors made it easy for heated air to escape the facility.

Ricoh USA worked with Big Ass Fans to purchase and install Basic 6 fans throughout the distribution center. Six fans were installed in the shipping and receiving docks, and four more were installed in the central warehouse to combat the sweltering summertime conditions. Not only do the fans provide a cooling breeze, but they complement the facility’s ventilation system, creating facility-wide air movement.

However, Ricoh soon learned Big Ass Fans are beneficial in winter, too, keeping employees comfortable and lowering heating costs by eliminating thermal stratification.

Stratification is the layering of different temperatures of air at different heights. The principle behind the problem is simple: heat rises. Hot air is 5 percent to 7 percent lighter than cold air. As heaters pump hot air into the space in the winter, the hot air becomes trapped at the ceiling, leaving employees at ground level cold.

The higher the ceiling, the worse the problem — and Ricoh’s ceilings are 40 feet. In a typical facility that size, heaters run nearly constantly, which is necessary to saturate the space with warm air and provide comfort to workers on the ground.

Big Ass Fans’ Basic 6 eases the strain on Ricoh’s heaters by pushing hot air downward and mixing the air to create a uniform temperature facility-wide. The fans reduce heating use and costs by up to 30 percent, and significantly increases comfort and speed up “recovery time” — the time it takes the docks to warm back up after the bay doors have been opened.

Ricoh’s Basic 6 fans are each 24-feet in diameter — in large, open areas such as warehouses, huge fans are ideal because they move a lot of air even at low speeds. Prior to installing the Big Ass Fans, Ricoh used smaller, higher-speed fans that were so ineffective employees couldn’t feel them at ground level.

Even if they could, breezes that cool employees in the summer can become uncomfortable in the winter, making high-volume, low-speed fans preferable. Large fans operating at low speeds mix the air and warm employees without creating a draft. Basic 6 includes variable-speed controls — the fan can be operated anywhere from one percent to 100 percent of its top speed.

Traditionally, fans are thought of solely as a way to cool off when the weather is hot. However, fans can improve employee comfort and lower heating costs in the winter, as well. Through the use of ceiling fans, Ricoh USA created comfortable air movement for employees in the summer and efficiently distributed heated air in the winter.