Chip Mill Cooling Challenge

Marty Drinkwine, Westend Radiator
Special Collaboration


Daily, you will come into contact with products made from wood fiber, chips or similar forestry constituents. Unlike the “Demon Plastic” we hear so much about, these products are convenient, rugged and wholly recyclable and biodegradable. The manufacture of these products is a critical element in the Canadian economy.

Wood fiber, pulp, and chips can be a difficult environment for machinery to work in. Located in small communities these mills and facilities are dotted throughout the Canadian landscape from Newfoundland to The Rockies. That generally means hot dry summers and bone chilling winter temperatures and an abundance of the dust generated by handling the material. It represents a challenge to maintaining the fluids and lubricants on equipment, mobile or stationary, which in turn puts the burden onto the cooling systems.

The move to synthetic oils and ever-increasing systems monitoring diagnostics means faults are readily identified and must be addressed immediately to maintain production and conform with warranty conditions for newer plant. Lubricants that cannot hold a steady temperature will breakdown, contribute to wear and increase fire hazards. Coolants lose the ability to maintain manufacturers’ recommendations when dust, particulate and pitch (pine tar) fill gaps and adhere to cooling surfaces.

Particulate matter and fine dust penetrate a cooler core. As it warms and cools, the moisture content changes and it can form a cementous material that even a powerful air blast cannot dislodge. High pressure washers and steamers can have some effect, they can also press the material deeper into the core and damage delicate fins and extrusions. This is particularly troublesome on conventional aluminium coolers which often have pressure warnings to avoid such damage. The lower jet pressure, the less effective the cleaning can be.

As equipment makers strive to lower costs and weights in their designs, there is an unfortunate slide in durability. Most applications are unlikely to suffer, but in high production, extreme environments this frailty can haunt an operation. It is not a slide from “Good-to-Bad”, rather one from “Rugged-to-Adequate”. Throw-in a desire to add beauty to the beasts – or enhance operator’s sightlines for added safety – and contours and compactness further exacerbate the maintainers task.

There are many solutions which can combat these conspiratorial forces in the pursuit of dependability and reliability. Reversible fans are an obvious one and are very effective at improving the fight to keep the coolers clean – Cleanfix is one brand who have been successful in these environments by retrofitting controlled fans to customer units – this may require a conversation with your dealer or service provider at the time of purchase.

Another seemingly effective tool at combatting build-up on coolers is the choice of jet washing equipment. An interesting innovation in this field is the Cold Jet dry ice washer which uses minute particles of dry ice in a jet to somewhat simulate media blasting but with the promise of being non damaging. This can be effective on coolers under certain circumstances but largely depends upon the robustness of the cooler itself.

Like most solutions, going back to basics is often overlooked when specifying or building equipment though it is certainly the most effective at avoiding in-service issues. The more extreme the situation, the more this principle is proven to be true.

One cooler that gets back to basics and builds-in solutions to clogging and ruggedness is the MESABI Vee Core from L&M Radiator. These coolers are a unique modular design of individual tubes and seals and come in radiator, oil cooler, CAC and tube/shell configurations. Caterpillar, Komatsu and others offer these as standard or optional equipment on many models. Again, a discussion to have for your next machine procurement with your dealer or service provider.

The Vee Core design incorporates passages to permit debris to pass through the cooler, considerably reducing clogs. The heavy-duty materials used can also handle pressure washer settings considerably higher than typical cooler cores can. In extreme circumstances the coolers can be designed to hinge for easier access and if required tubes can be removed, cleaned and re-installed as part of a routine scheduled maintenance plan.

The next time you handle a piece of OSB, build some flat pack furniture or put some paper out for recycling, remember the dust and heat these products were conceived in. Not a woodland glen, but a bustling production mill were downtime caused by overheating equipment will raise everybody’s temperature.

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