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Motor Maker Finds Pure Solution to Annealing Problems

With a reputation as a top global supplier of reliable, high-performance electric motors, A.O. Smith sought to make further improvements in its production process. (After all, market leaders are never content with “good enough.”) Specifically, the company looked to enhance how it manufactures steel laminations for use in its motors, which power everyday products such as furnaces, air conditioners, pumps, refrigerators and garage door openers. A.O. Smith narrowed its focus to the natural gas exothermic generator used to create an atmosphere for annealing, decarburizing and steaming blue the laminations to enhance the metal.

“We were looking to eliminate carbon monoxide to maximize the magnetic properties of our motor laminates—and, of course, we were looking for cost savings,” says A.O. Smith’s Jerry Shrout, Plant Manager at the Mt. Sterling, Ky., facility. “Our exothermic generators simply weren’t giving us the atmosphere consistency we required.”

For a comprehensive, third-party opinion, A.O. Smith called in a team of Air Products engineers and technicians to thoroughly assess the facility’s technical, equipment and financial needs. The recommendation: replace the exothermic generator with Air Products’ PRISM™ HPN (high purity nitrogen) system, an efficient and cost-effective way to produce one of the industry’s most pure grades of nitrogen. The on-site generators would offer A.O. Smith a fully automatic and highly flexible on-site nitrogen supply system.

Replacing the existing natural gas exothermic generators with the new HPN series plant gave A.O. Smith the capacity to produce 48,000 standard cubic feet per hour of gaseous nitrogen. Onstream since March 2004, the system also offers improved product quality, reliability and safety.

Additionally, the HPN nitrogen was combined with hydrogen from an existing Air Products liquid hydrogen storage and delivery system. The blended and humidified end product provided an optimal atmosphere for A.O. Smith’s motor lamination annealing process.

“Air Products’ team of application engineers and technicians designed and implemented the entire engineering package and converted us from an exothermic atmosphere to a system using nitrogen, hydrogen, and steam,” says Shrout. “This solved our consistency problems, and got rid of the carbon monoxide issues. By installing an on-site nitrogen generator, Air Products was able to reduce our total system costs.”

According to John Bakey, commercial manager, Generated Gases at Air Products, the solution stemmed from the marriage of cutting-edge technology and an understanding of A.O. Smith’s ongoing needs. “Our PRISM systems produce thousands of tons of nitrogen every day without interruption to our customers’ processes,” said Bakey. “That commitment to service is our greatest asset, and one that we look forward to sharing with A.O. Smith for many years.”

The PRISM line of gas generation systems supplies generated nitrogen and oxygen to more than 1,500 customers in over 30 countries worldwide. In addition to offering high purity nitrogen at a desirable cost, on-site gas generation systems offer the benefits of highly skidded and modular generator designs and the ability for remote system operation is backed by customer-specific technical support teams.

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