The key descriptive that best defines GEA FES Inc. is “innovative.”
In business for more than a half-century, it is has always been recognized as the most innovative – and, in turn, the leading – company in the industrial refrigeration market.
“Innovation ties in with the FES motto, which is ‘continuous improvement,’” says Jeff Cook, the York, Pa.-based company’s marketing manager. “Throughout our history, we’ve guided the industry with numerous important developments.”
According to Gary Schrift, vice president of standard refrigeration products, some of FES’ major milestones in innovation include:
- Screw compressors for industrial refrigeration – in the 1960s, the company developed and was the first in the United States to use this innovation.
- Microprocessors – in the 1980s, FES was the first company to use microprocessors for refrigeration compressor control.
- The manufacture of shell and tube heat exchangers for refrigeration and other markets, which it initiated in the early 1990s.
Because of its pioneering efforts, FES currently leads the industrial refrigeration market, providing quality engineered products customized as necessary.
But what exactly does it do?
“We manufacture refrigeration compressor packages,” says Schrift. “Our line includes screw and reciprocating compressors, controls and automation, shell and tube heat exchangers and industrial chiller packages. We also offer parts and service to go along with all of that.”
FES mainly serves the food and beverage and the chemical/petrochemical industries. However, its products and services also find application in the pharmaceutical and energy related industries. It designs, builds and services commercial and industrial equipment for customers in North and South America, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Rim.
IT BEGAN WITH ICE CREAM
The company was formed in 1949 to design, build and install automatic freezing systems. “We used reciprocating and rotary compressors in the ice cream freezing process,” relates Schrift.
The company’s technology also proved a boon to the then-burgeoning frozen food sector. A joint effort with the Fuller Company – to redesign the Fuller rotary air compressor as a refrigeration booster compressor – led to early success. For this redesign, FES developed and patented the oil cooling system currently used on FES Fuller Rotary Boosters.
In 1954, FES formed its Engineering Contracting Division to offer turnkey installations as well as engineering, installation and service facilities. Up to 1958, FES designed, built and installed individual quick freezing systems with capacities ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 pounds per hour and ice cream hardening from 1,200 to 3,000 gallons per hour.
In 1965, FES began field tests on ammonia oil injected rotary screw compressors. It installed its first high-stage screw compressor in 1968. Beginning in 1970, FES developed a series of innovations in the packaging of oil-injected rotary screw compressors. It was the first to develop high efficiency oil separation with guaranteed oil usage, elimination of water for oil cooling by substituting built-in refrigerant cooling, and two-stage screw compressor packages without need for inter-stage gas cooling.
In the next decade, FES recognized the need for a single facility to manufacture screw compressor packages. As such, in 1973, FES built a production facility to produce packaged engine room equipment to fit specific applications. Since then, GEA FES, Inc. has continually expanded in all areas, such as facilities, personnel, and product lines.
BURSTING AT THE SEAMS
The FES productions facility, located in York, boasts capabilities second to none – and these involve both equipment and personnel.
“We employ 250 people involved in manufacturing, engineering, service and sales,” describes Schrift, “and we have 120,000 square feet of manufacturing space.”
That space includes a computer-controlled ESAB plasma burn table, a paint booth with air and airless paint-spraying equipment, a steel grit blast booth, an 8,000-pound capacity power washer, and 20,000-gallon capacity hydrostatic pumping and storage systems that use refrigerant lube oil as its medium.
In keeping with its approach to continuous improvement, in 2009 the company increased its facility size to its current footage when it added 20,000 square feet to its manufacturing area. The addition accommodated the manufacture of heat exchangers for the geothermal power industry.
In the facility, FES manufactures its diversified line of screw compressor technologies. Specifically, this line includes reciprocating, rotary vane, screw, or centrifugal compressors run by electric motors; gas or diesel engines or steam turbine; as well as liquid recirculation packages, pressure vessels, evaporative condensers, plate heat exchangers, and a family of stand-alone microprocessor controls panels that offer “smart” local control for compressors, evaporators and condensers.
“We also have five satellite offices that offer parts and service and compressor rebuild,” adds Schrift.
These offices are located in York, Montgomery, Ala., Houston, Texas, Stockton, Calif., and Springvale, Ark. These locations are staffed by comprehensive teams of service technicians. Further, each office provides initial start-up service, field troubleshooting and maintenance service for customers across the world, and are equipped to repair or completely rebuild rotary vane, reciprocating and screw compressor units regardless of the brand.
FES was a privately held company until 1985, the year it was purchased by The Carrier Corporation. It remained part of the United Technologies family of companies until 1992, when it was purchased by the Thermo Electron Corporation.
In 2000, FES was purchased by its current parent, the GEA Group AG. The acquisition made FES part of the GEA Refrigeration Division. Headquartered in the Netherlands, the division includes 36 companies in 15 countries. The GEA Group itself, which is headquartered in Bochum, Germany, has more than 20,000 employees located in 50 countries. This global technology enterprise operates in two major business segments: thermal engineering and process engineering. The refrigeration division – and FES – is part of the latter.
Following its acquisition by GEA, FES continued on its innovative path, developing the G Series rotary screw compressor packages (including the GS, GM and GL families of compressors). In 2005, FES developed the Intellisoc electronic liquid injection system. In 2007, it introduced the G Force microprocessor “touch screen” control for refrigeration compressor and system control.
X MARKS THE SPOT
The latest innovation/continuous improvement effort involves the introduction of the X Series World Compressor Package. “This new screw compressor package was designed as a group concept among all of GEA’s refrigeration compressor manufacturers, including us,” says Schrift. “The intent was to create a ‘best of all breeds’ package developed by combining ideas from all of GEA manufacturing facilities to form a world package design.”
Combined ideas culminated in a screw compressor package new in every aspect – from the package arrangement, to the oil management system, oil filters and the accesses, as Schrift indicates. Size is especially important.
“An extremely small package, it’s easily operated and maintainable,” says Schrift. “Even in a 500 horsepower machine, everything is at eye level or just below, which enables the easiest maintenance and operation.”
Several substantial elements make the X series stand out, including the aforementioned size and arrangement. “Also, some of the features, like the thrust bearings, can be replaced without having to remove the compressor from the package,” says Schrift.
In addition, it has exceptional product life, by virtue of the compressor itself, explains Schrift. “It is sleeve bearing, which means it has infinite life in operation.”
Further, the package arrangement reduces noise. “The compressor and motor sit on its own base, separate from the oil separator, which minimizes noise generation and vibration,” describes Schrift.
Efficiency is an especially important attribute for company and clients. “The patented rotar profile design offers optimal efficiency levels,” says Schrift.
Specifically, the optimized rotor profile is manufactured with the latest cubic boron nitrid grinding technology for improved volumetric efficiency and lower power consumption.
ADDRESSING MARKET PERCEPTIONS
FES finds that efficiency is an increasingly important consideration for customers, Schrift points out. He describes the current market landscape: “It’s getting more difficult to find trained operators of refrigeration systems. Companies see refrigeration as a necessary evil. They view it as something out-of-sight and out-of-mind. So, they want to spend less money on the personnel necessary to do the maintenance and operation, and they’re looking to purchase equipment that is easily serviceable and lasts a long time. Also, with electricity rates going up, they want as much energy efficiency as possible.”
FES has – and continues to – integrate such considerations into its innovations.
“Another trend relates to more natural refrigerants, because of hydro fluorocarbon bans and concerns about damage to the ozone layer and about global warming,” reports Schrift. “Thus, more of our customers seek to use ammonia and CO2 as their refrigerants.”
As the company reports, the only refrigerant with a zero ODP (ozone depletion potential) and a zero GWP (global warming potential) – as well as superior thermodynamic properties and worldwide availability – is ammonia, or NH3.
The use of ammonia and CO2 in refrigeration systems represents innovative measures to preserve the ozone layer. Moreover, as ammonia quickly breaks down into its natural components it reduces the detrimental “greenhouse” effect. But FES’ history includes ammonia usage; now, others are starting to perceive it as an important refrigerant for the future. This is just another way that FES has been far ahead of the curve.
Further, it poises the company to present even yet one more innovation. “We’re looking to integrate new compressor package designs into better and more cost-effective manufacture of an ammonia chiller package,” reports Schrift.
As FES continues moving forward, customers will not only benefit – so will the world.