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Plant enclosure rethink reduces time and costs

Kentish firm Box Clever Engineering is promising installation cost and time savings before arriving on site, by rethinking the humble plant enclosure. Andrew Gaved reports

Anyone who thinks that specifying plant enclosures is just a question of working out what size steel box you need, hasn’t spoken to Kevin Broughton.

The former commissioning engineer and property manager for Tesco has applied his experience at the refrigeration sharp end to the fundamentals of where you start your install. After a sojourn working with sound enclosure businesses (of which more later) Mr Broughton founded Box Clever Engineering in 2009 driven by the desire to put a refrigeration perspective on the world of housings and enclosures.

The aim was to design product that actively helps the refrigeration contractor and customer, rather than trot out a series of boxes that have to be adapted, tweaked or worked around in the factory, or on site.

It is, Mr Broughton acknowledges something of a niche, but a niche that allows a company such as his to stand out in terms of quality and different thinking. “We see as ourselves as providing innovation to make the job easier on site and providing unrivalled quality. We work to tolerances of plus or minus 0.5 mm for instance.”

Indeed, he is keen to stress for the rac reader that the firm does just make the housings, it doesn’t make the refrigeration packs to go in it.

The spec for the product line is necessarily high to ensure that it is up to the tough environments it will be put in, he says. ‘Weatherproof’ is an overused term, but a plant enclosure needs to withstand everything the European climate can throw at it. The Box Clever Commercial product line uses UV resistant powder coated Zintec steel, and corners that are welded closed and sealed internally, during assembly Mr Broughton says, “for real waterproofing, not just with an external silicon bead.”

The enclosures are also designed with a ground clearance, to ensure that they can be easily lifted into place by forklift, crane or pallet truck, without the need for an additional pallet.

Given Mr Broughton’s recent background in acoustic housings, the soundproofing is a  high spec too - a high-density polyurethane foam, taking up less physical space than the more common mineral wool and avoiding the problems of settling and degradation. For those that worry about noise levels  – and there are many that do, especially when specifying for convenience stores – it has been independently tested to an insertion loss (noise reduction) of -20dB(A).

In addition to the general purpose plant enclosures, for heavier or high-vibration plant such as semi-hermetic compressor packs there is the GPR (General Purpose Reinforced) version which features reinforced base legs, which take the vibration into the ground, rather than throughout the box.

Again it’s all about the detail. Mr Broughton points out that by reinforcing the legs alone, the rest of the enclosure can be built in standard material. “What you are talking about is preparing for one lift – putting it on site – and I don’t see the need to over-engineer for the sake of a single lift.” And of course the reduced amount of steel  means a significant cost saving over a fully reinforced box. Sainsbury’s has seen the value of this design, and made its sole supplier for the product.

One of the key themes for the company is the ability to provide what could be termed ‘standard customisation’ where the customer receives a consistent product designed to the customer’s footprint, which the firm achieves with 3D design and computer-controlled machining.

On pack frames, where the internal layout can differ widely Mr Broughton is taking the standard customisation theory to the next logical level, so that external structure and shelves are standard elements, sized appropriately, but the layout of the fixings and holes are specific to that customer’s pack design. However, these fixings for elements such as pipe clamps, filters, switches and the compressors themselves are assembled and the holes are drilled before they leave the factory, thanks to CAD-CAM, speeding up the whole process.

“It allows the manufacturer to assemble only the pack, not to do the drilling and fixing as they go, which means they can speed up the build and be confident of consistency,” says Mr Broughton, “And it means that the architect gets the box shape early in the process, to design into the full installation. Only the layout of the shelves changes.”

By designing around the pack shape the manufacturer can build to a tighter footprint, providing benefits for all parties, not least the ability to build frames that can pass through standard doorways. “There is no wasted space this way,” he says.

The pack frames themselves come in a range of sizes and shelving configurations, for scroll compressors, semi-hermetics and the like, and cabling ducts are included on the shelves where required.

Once you start planning out these elements, rather than designing as you go, it becomes possible to make things even smoother for the engineers, Mr Broughton notes. “You can ensure that all the switches are forward facing, and then you can make the back panel removable for 360 degree service access.”

And of course, a pre-planned layout spells the end to the labyrinth of cables that tends to occur when each component is put in sequentially, simplifying the tracing of electrical problems.

Ease of access is another recurring theme with the Box Clever range – clearly a reaction to the years Mr Broughton spent having to crouch in corners in one tight space or another. This reaches its logical peak in the shape of a range of weatherproof enclosures, where the whole floor slides out. The advantage of the Removable Base version is that the pack builder can assemble the elements in free space, not in a restricted area. The enclosures can also incorporate a number of modular features, such as a removable side panel with holes which allow site pipework to be connected outside of the housing, and the pack to be pressure tested before insertion. A further high-end option is to have a condenser integrated into the housing itself

Following on from an expanding client list with the core business – ranging from supermarkets to pack manufacturers to the likes of Heinz and GEA Grenco on the industrial side, Box Clever has recently harnessed the expertise of consultant SDC Business Solutions to diversify into a trio of related areas.

Given the company’s heritage, there is a natural route into the supply of more bespoke services, so the firm now offers specialist sound attenuation services and structural steel installations. The third enterprise takes the modular approach into the industrial market with a range called Modular Acoustic Enclosures. These are designed as a lower cost alternative to the masonry plantroom or transport container, where the plant is mounted on a concrete slab or steel skid. “Conventionally in these settings, there is nothing much you can do to the plant once it is in place,” Mr Broughton notes.

The Modular Acoustic Enclosures consists of a series of steel portal frames at 1.25 m spacings, with inset wall panels and drop-on roof sections. The as-built structure is inherently waterproof, without the need for site applied sealants which degrade. But significantly sections can be removed to allow plant replacement or added to, if the plant needs to be expanded or upgraded at a later date.

Mr Broughton notes wryly that alongside the benefit of quicker on-site erection, this process enables the engineer to do their work in the dry. In recognition of the industrial setting, the enclosures can also house a variety of forced ventilation options to enable safe installation of hydrocarbon or ammonia systems.

It comes as standard with the company’s foam lining, which provides the -20dB (A) noise reduction, but greater noise reduction options can be provided if required, including double skins.

The enclosures arrive in kit form and are assembled on site by Box Clever installers, with the wall panels push-fitted from inside. The roof section comes with an integrated harness wire to enable safe work at height and services such as cable traps and fire-stops can be slotted in.

The first enclosure was built on site for Heinz Frozen & Chilled Foods in North Norfolk and it came about when Box Clever was asked to quote for a 10 m by 10 m conventional plant room. The story goes that Mr Broughton knew he had lit on a good concept when Heinz contacted him to tell him not only had he won the tender, but he had immediately been placed on the preferred supply list.

Boxing clever for the refrigeration industry, you can see where the name comes from.

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