Conway, South Carolina — Utility workers in this river town near the coast of South Carolina are in the business of repairing power lines, which are frequently damaged by hurricanes. Because of the state’s terrain, it’s not uncommon for power line poles and transmission lines to traverse many of South Carolina’s coastal swamps and marshes in sweltering heat to maintain the state’s transmission lines.
And that’s where things get…interesting.
It’s been said that the insane heat and thick muck of a South Carolina swamp are reminiscent of a boiling hot pot of split-pea soup, complete with wet greenery snaking through and around the waters. The difference is, in these soupy waters, you might actually be the meal.
South Carolina’s swamps are known for the daunting presence of large reptiles, such as alligators, boa constrictors, and pythons. Since there are laws against harming the wildlife in the swamps, the one defense utility workers have against these swamp monsters is a long pole, which they use to gently push the reptiles aside.
“These guys absolutely earn their keep. They are fighting mother nature’s hurricanes, critters, and heat all in one,” said David “Sully” Sullender, Midwest Territory Sales Representative at L&M Radiator. “And let’s not forget the mosquitos, too.”
“When the stakes are that high,” said Sully, “they needed a solution they could count on. This is a story about how L&M Radiator delivered.”
Broken PowerBully Machine Leaves Utility Workers Stranded Among Swamp Monsters
In a high-stakes environment such as this one, it is extremely important that you can count on your equipment – with complete confidence. Imagine the frustration (and worry) when a critical machine, responsible for transporting utility workers to and from power lines in the middle of a swamp, shuts down only 100 feet on its destination to a power line because it is being swamped (pardon the pun) with swamp water.
One PowerBully Track Carrier machine, owned and operated by South Carolina’s largest public power utility Santee Cooper, had a radiator that was prone to overheating. The machine would make it about halfway through a swamp to a power line before overheating and shutting down completely.
The only thing the utility workers on the field could do about the problem was to shut down the machine long enough to let it cool down, leaving utility workers stranded in the marsh while the machine rested. And while they waited, it felt like every eye in that swamp seemed to peer up from the green and black muck to eye the workers…with a personal invitation to supper.
“The radiator of the machine is actually the first part of the machine to hit the water. It fully submerges into the swamp water and must be built to endure the thick muck which surrounds it,” said Sullender. “In a swamp environment, their original radiator kept giving them problems – they spent more time waiting around than getting the work done. And believe me, these swamps are one of the last places you want to be just hanging out.”
Besides increasing the stress and frustration of the utility workers on the machine, the broken radiator multiplied the time and money needed to complete the project by an unnecessarily large amount.
“It was a true source of aggravation for the maintenance manager at Santee Cooper,” said Sullender of the maintenance manager at Santee Cooper who contacted L&M Radiator. “By the time he picked up the phone to call us, he was at his wit’s end.”
Paving the Way Through Murky Waters
After years of dealing with a radiator that couldn’t cut it, the team at Santee Cooper had finally had enough.
“The representative from Santee Cooper was familiar with Mesabi® Heat Exchangers from other machines they had on-site,” said Sullender. “His boss knew about L&M Radiator and he said, ‘Call these guys. They’ll be able to fix this issue for you.’ And so they contacted us.”
Exhausted from years of dealing with the overheating radiator, the team at Santee Cooper had begun to lose faith that a solution even existed.
“I honestly felt like the folks at Santee Cooper weren’t even confident that our solution was going to work — they were that desperate,” said Sullender. “Our team has found solutions for heat exchangers in harsh conditions all over the world, so our engineers were confident that this was nothing out of reach for us.”
Santee Cooper sent the broken radiator up to L&M Radiator headquarters in Hibbing, Minnesota, to be reverse-engineered, a practice that is standard for the aftermarket. The team began by investigating the nuances of the machine and identifying the problems with the engine and radiator. They also measured the machine’s mount points, to ensure they provided the utility with a solution that’s a direct fit for the specific machine.
“Right away, I could tell their fan shroud wasn’t designed properly for the application,” said Chris Domogalla, Design and Applications Engineer at L&M Radiator. “The fan hole opening was much too big for the fan to move air efficiently. When the opening is that much larger than the fan itself, lots of air can escape, which reduces the efficiency of the cooling operation. That was one of the main things we wanted to improve.”
Also, when the plastic fan met the thick marsh water spinning at 2,000 RPM, the fan would strike the water and immediately crack and explode. The lack of air flow, due to the fan’s failure, drastically reduces the radiator’s ability to cool the engine. Additionally, when the fan failed, the blades would often strike the radiator’s core, causing the core itself to start leaking.
Clog-Resistant V-Core Technology Overcomes Swamp Conditions
“Because the main issue was clogging and overheating, we used our V-Tube™ Radiator design, which is a clog-resistant core for the application,” said Sullender. “The V-Core is extremely durable, so much so that it is also used in heavy-duty equipment used in waste management, underground mining, and logging.”
“Based on what Santee Cooper told us about their issues, we knew installing the V-Core design would be the best fit for the customer,” added Domogalla. “It is built strong to withstand this kind of environment, and the built-in debris path makes it much easier for the customer to clean, which is crucial when working in swamp conditions.”
Though it’s much less likely damage will occur with the new radiator in place, engineers also chose to implement the V-Tube™ Radiator due to its supreme ability to be easily repaired in the field.
“We wanted the utility workers to be able to work on the radiator in the field even if the fan was to explode and take out the radiator core,” said Sullender. “Whereas before, if their fan hits the core of the conventional radiator, it would destroy the whole radiator. You’d have to replace the whole thing. With our V-Core design, it will be easy for them to quickly plug a tube hole or replace a tube in the field if need be.”
In addition to replacing the old radiator with a new Mesabi® V-Core Copper Heat Exchanger, L&M Radiator engineers also implemented a new fan shroud into the finalized design.
“To allow for optimized airflow, our engineers asked Santee Cooper if we could quote a new shroud with the radiator to improve airflow,” said Domogalla. “I think that was a huge help on our end. We were able to provide a design that would capitalize on the airflow, which helped us achieve the cooling capacity that they needed.”
The new fan shroud improved air flow by enhancing the fan position within the shroud opening, while the Mesabi V-Tube core reduced clogging (eliminating the potential of overheating) and improved cleanability. Santee Cooper was once again ready to tackle the marsh and the swamp monsters that come with it.
See You Never, Alligator
“After the first operation of the machine, our customer at Santee Cooper called me and said, ‘I need you to come on down here.’ He gave me no context as to why, so honestly, I was a little worried,” laughed Sullender.
“When I went to see him, he was just all smiles,” added Sullender. “They had the machine on the trailer, getting ready to take it out to do some work. He was just going on and on and had this huge grin on his face. I really couldn’t even get the opportunity to say two or three things to him. He just kept saying how pleased they were. It was a great moment.”
Though Santee Cooper only needed to replace one machine’s radiator for this project, the customer was so happy, they are considering equipping their other swamp machines with Mesabi® Heat Exchangers.
“I’m so impressed with Chris [Domogalla’s] design. It’s just amazing,” added Sullender. “Santee Cooper is saving so much money and downtime because the machine never overheats anymore. It’s a huge game-changer for the utility workers in the field, Santee Cooper as a utility, and for the families that depend on electricity from those power lines.”
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