In recent years, Chicago Blower Corporation, the Illinois-based manufacturer of industrial strength fan technology, has blown away competition because of a distinctive approach that combines customized engineering solutions with an obsessive commitment to quality. Dan Harvey reports on the winds of change.
As its name obviously implies, Chicago Blower Corporation was born in the famed “Windy City” of the American Midwest, but its trademark technology, industrial strength fans, can now be found all across the world, implemented for almost every kind of application imaginable, and positioned inside some of the most distinctive international structures.
For instance, the company’s high quality and very reliable blower technology has been installed inside the world’s tallest buildings: the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Much closer to its home, Chicago Blower’s fans operate throughout the United Air Lines Terminal in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, including the famous underground tunnel.
Chicago Blower has accomplished a great deal in its nearly 60 years of existence. The privately held company was founded in 1947 as an industrial fan and blower company. In 1968, it moved to its current headquarters in Glendale Heights, Ill. Along the way, it became the first industrial fan manufacturer to come out with an airfoil blade, according to Scott Kossman, Chicago Blower’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Today, Chicago Blower’s air moving products are renowned in their markets for their industrial quality, a status defined by their exceptional performance and dependability and their remarkable longevity. The company serves diverse industries including mining, manufacturing and processing, and its technology helps clients resolve difficult fan problems in countries all over the world. Applications involve energy production, environmental control and material handling.
Chicago Blower, an ISO: 9001-2000 certified company, manufactures many types of fans, some for broad-based applications and others for specific markets or environments, but doesn’t make residential products. Rather, it services a diverse list of industrial and OEM clients, providing them with a wide-ranging line of axial and centrifugal fans.
“Compared to our competition, we are very unique in that we service several markets and offer a much broader product line,” comments Kossman. “We supply to customers in the HVAC industry, of course, but we also serve a variety of industrial markets, which takes us into areas such as pollution control and pneumatic conveying. Most recently, we’ve become more involved in the petroleum industry. That has been our biggest push of late. So, we’re actually involved in three different sectors and go up against three different sets of competitors.”
On the whole, Chicago Blower’s technology falls into three categories: general duty fans, designed for clean- or supply-air applications; industrial duty fans that are built especially to run in dirty-air and corrosive environments, and heavy duty fans, which are larger fans that have been modified for specific applications and custom engineered according to a client’s needs.
Company products that would be used in a clean-air environment include the SQA airfoil, centrifugal, or axial-bladed fans. Products designed for dirty-air environments include radial tip or radial-bladed dirty-air fans.
More specifically, Chicago Blower’s centrifugal fans and blowers include the airfoil-bladed centrifugal fans, recommended for all supply-air and clean-air exhaust applications as well as variable volume systems; backward inclined centrifugal fans, which feature rugged steel wheels for dust conveying or other industrial airstreams, erosive installations, and material handling applications, and radial tip and radial-bladed fans and blowers and single-stage pressure blowers, which are all well-suited for combustion air, pneumatic conveying, and other higher pressure applications. The company’s line of axial fans includes vaneaxial fans, tubeaxial fans and panel fans, which are generally used in variable HVAC systems and in light industrial applications such as fume exhaust.
The company has also developed a line of plenum fans, which are specifically designed to help HVAC manufacturers meet the new industry standards that require higher efficiencies and quieter operating sound levels. Its newest offering in this direction is the Design 5120 plenum fan line, which meets the standard requirements at a decreased cost. In developing the line, Chicago Blower modified its quiet airfoil wheel to even further improve its efficiencies and sound.
Besides being an ISO: 9001-2000 certified company, Chicago Blower gained the Air Movement and Control Association International (ACMA) ratings certification, which assures performance and sound level ratings.
Committed to Quality
The certifications the company has garnered underscore Chicago Blower’s dedication to quality. In seeking ISO: 9001-2000 certification, the company wanted to meet the rigorous requirements of the most comprehensive ISO designator: the SGS International Certification Services. SGS has a global reputation in the field of inspection and testing and has more than 28,000 accreditations around the world. In Europe, the SGS symbol is recognized in quality management much the same way that the UL symbol is recognized in the United States for electrical safety. According to the company, the symbol represents “an international passport of management quality.”
Also, as the company has made inroads into the petroleum industry, its products meet standards set forth by the American Petroleum Institute (API). “Currently, only a limited number of manufacturers can meet the API standard, and that is one of our biggest strengths,” says Kossman.
Even more, Chicago Blower has developed a considerable reputation for exceptional performance and reliability, as it consistently helps its clients solve its difficult and unique air-moving problems. Company personnel include a staff of specially trained engineers who design fans to fit quite specific dimensional and performance requirements. Chicago Blower describes these engineering capabilities as the “art of fan building.” This “art” involves developing for customers the best fan for specific applications. This is where the company’s 50-plus years of experience come into play. Its engineers demonstrate a solid understanding of any application.
“We are highly driven when it comes to tooling, more so than any of our competitors,” remarks Kossman. “In all of our manufacturing processes, we have industrial engineers who analyze and re-evaluate to enhance the design in tooling and the processes as they go. This has the benefit of not only reducing the manufacturing throughput time; it also eliminates potential inspection difficulties.”
As such, Chicago Blower advances the concept of the “factory man.” A “factory man” is an individual project engineer assigned to a heavy duty or custom fan who is responsible for a customer’s progress of their fan, from design and manufacture through installation and follow-up. In this way, Chicago coordinates customers’ needs with their factory capabilities, and the engineer becomes an integral part of a client’s project. At the outset, the engineer brainstorms the application and evaluates solution options. This requires a fresh approach for each application.
The process not only involves building a high-performance fan that meets or exceeds specifications; the fan must also be built on time to meet customer production or construction deadlines. Chicago’s sales and service staff also play a key role. These technologically savvy professionals understand how to help customers best evaluate their needs, and they provide appropriate recommendations.
The company’s distinctive engineering approach, combined as it is with reliable technology and the input from knowledgeable sales and service representatives, has fostered substantial recent growth. “We’ve experienced 20 percent growth in each of the past two years,” informs Kossman.
What’s even more remarkable about that growth rate is that it has developed in the face of daunting market circumstances. “Our markets have been decreasing domestically,” Kossman points out, “but we’ve aggressively pursued our market share. Many of the suppliers who were seen as solid are now having difficulty, and we’ve been able to benefit from that.”
The company has been able to push its market share thanks to its network of sales offices strategically located throughout North America. In addition, to enhance its manufacturing output, centered in its 250,000-square-foot facility in Glendale Heights, Chicago Blower also licenses manufacturers who deploy its engineering capabilities in 22 locations around the world to build its fans.
By thoroughly occupying itself with customer needs, Chicago Blower Corporation has developed a true partnership with a large base of loyal customers. That is, the allegiance traverses a two-way street: Chicago Blower is dedicated to meeting customers’ specific products requirements. In turn, customers, no matter where they are located, know that they need look no further than Glendale Heights to discover solutions to their unique problems.