Listening Carefully to Customers is the Key to Developing Lasting Custom Solutions with Mesabi® Radiators, Coolers and Heat Exchangers
“It all starts with a conversation and a lot of insightful questions,” said Roger Bauer, Southwest and Aftermarket Sales Representative for L&M Radiator, based in Hibbing, Minnesota, in the heart of Minnesota’s Iron Range. “Where are you seeing problems? What are your needs? How can we resolve the problems?”
From around the world, in some of the harshest conditions on the planet, Mesabi-brand radiators, coolers and heat exchangers are sought out by leading oil & gas and mining companies. Because conditions can vary dramatically from one location to the next, L&M Radiator has built a reputation for developing custom solutions to meet the demanding needs of its customers, from mining operations located at 14,000-feet altitude in the Andes to underground mines where moisture and corrosive conditions would doom ordinary radiators.
A customer may have problems with an existing cooling system or they might have a new application that has not even been thought of yet. Regardless, L&M Radiator’s engineers, who have traveled the world and have seen Mesabi radiators being used in just about every imaginable application, are ready to collaborate with their customers to find a solution that meets an exact need.
“L&M works with customers through our application engineers to ask the right questions to determine exactly what a customer’s need is first,” added Bauer. “Once the need is fully defined, we get to work and develop the solution.”
“Many of our customer’s needs are complex, from a mechanical and physics standpoint, and others are less complicated,” added Bauer. “We don’t just send you what we have on the shelf; we make sure it’s exactly what our customer needs to get them up and running and to keep them up and running.”
Retrofitting Other’s Products: Not a Problem for L&M
For example, Bauer noted the challenges facing an oil and gas customer operating in the Permian Oil Basin in West Texas. The operator was experiencing issues with the existing cooling system in its pressure-pumping fracking operation. The system is comprised of multiple sections, including radiator sections, oil coolers, hydraulic coolers, and charge air coolers. The existing charge air cooler section, a competitor’s product, was constantly cracking and regularly failing. When it failed, the entire operation stopped — costing thousands of dollars per day in downtime.
L&M design engineers worked directly with the customer to replace that section within the existing cooler system. It resolved an ongoing issue — no more cracks or air leaks and no more costly downtime.
L&M Engineering Ingenuity for All Types of Needs
From an engineering standpoint, L&M Radiator can either help a customer develop a custom solution from scratch or develop a solution to fit within an existing framework or system. More often than not, L&M is developing a solution that works with one of the five major industrial engine brands — Cummins, Caterpillar, MTU, Volvo or Waukesha — typically used in oil and gas and mining operations.
“When developing a blank-slate solution, we typically work with a standard, less-complex design,” explained Brian Pierzina, L&M Design and Applications Engineer. “The goal is to fit the customer’s equipment requirements within the available space. We spend a lot of time with the customer to determine the most effective mounting and design elements possible. That time spent upfront is invaluable and saves time and money on the backend.”
“Our design is different than a conventional design where all mount points in different interfaces may not match what the customer currently has and the right design may not immediately match,” Pierzina added. “We adapt our design to the existing system to get the required performance and reliability. This process takes a lot of close communication with the customer to get it just right.”
L&M works directly with customers in the designing process, exchanging drawings and taking measurements of all the equipment. Having onsite experience and seeing an oil and gas operation or mining operation in person provides the additional context that L&M engineers need to create a custom solution. For example, through observation, L&M engineers may see an extraordinary number of particulates in the air, or they may observe the effect of corrosion on other mining equipment — input that helps L&M engineers custom design configurations that can withstand the impact of the environment.
“We need to know everything about the environment that the radiator is operating in,” explained Pierzina. “We have to make sure that we don’t interfere with other operations within the existing system. It all needs to work seamlessly together. But at the end of the day, our customers are relying on us to give them more reliability and less downtime. That’s the goal.”
No Operational Factor or Environmental Condition Overlooked by L&M
Beyond harsh operating conditions, L&M engineers consider several other factors in developing a custom solution for a customer, including:
• Noise Pollution — “Noise pollution is an important consideration today. A lot of customers are looking for quieter units because the pressure pumping is taking place closer to residential areas,” said Pierzina, pointing to the oil boom in West Texas or in North Dakota.
• Power Consumption — “We look to reduce power consumption by either allowing for more net power for the user or allowing them to reduce the power that they are using.” said Pierzina.
• Parasitic Power — “We also look at parasitic power: the fan power that is consuming engine power that can’t be used in the process. We look to divert energy from the fan and apply it to the actual operation of the equipment to minimize those effects,” explained Pierzina. “Helping improve efficiency is always a primary design consideration.”
• Weight — Weight is another factor that L&M engineers consider when developing the right custom solution for oil and gas customers, added Tim Cass, L&M Applications Engineer for Truck and Underground. “Reducing weight can help increase the efficiency of an engine.”
• Cleanability — The ability to clean a radiator or an oil cooler efficiently and relatively quickly, is also important, added Bauer.
“We look at every facet of operations and environments to develop systems that not only meet the design requirements but minimize costs wherever possible,” added Pierzina. “It’s a multi-step, complex process and we do not overlook any detail.”
Extreme and Remote Locations: Not So Extreme or Remote for Seasoned L&M Engineers
Mesabi products are tested for reliability and durability in some of the most remote and extreme places around the world.
“Our sales reps and engineers have been everywhere to analyze environmental and work conditions firsthand,” said Bauer. “It is essential to experience the entire operation, so no detail is overlooked in application.”
From the iron mines of Pilbara in Northwest Australia to the diamond mines in the Kalahari and Mirny, heat, cold, humidity, altitudes, and applications are evaluated and analyzed. Air and fluid flows also are considered in design development.
“When the air is less dense and there’s less mass flow, proper fan speed and selection are also critical,” Kerry Hecimovich, L&M Design and Application Engineering Manager explained. “No detail is insignificant. It all plays a critical role in the successful development of a radiator or air cooler that will do the job and last – day after day.”
For example, Mesabi radiators and coolers are used in underground mines that are extremely hot and corrosive in Poland. These underground mines are hot, have limited ventilation and are extremely dirty. The life of underground mining equipment is relatively short. Haul trucks, loaders and other equipment are constantly being subjected to physical impacts, such as when a piece of equipment hits the wall of a tunnel. And as you might imagine, it’s more difficult to maintain equipment underground compared to equipment on the surface.
As a result, there is limited space for the cooling system and by necessity, the cooling system gets packed in more tightly. “The underground OEMs must give up some power for the fan so we can make the cooling system smaller,” Cass explained. “Generally, a higher percentage of the engine power is used to run the fans, but we have been able to mitigate that a bit with hydraulic drives.”
Underground has some of the worst corrosion conditions on the planet. Believe it or not, corrosion is minimal in salt mines as those are generally very dry. The highest corrosion often occurs in copper mines in Australia that have the salt deposits near them, and the water runs through those salt deposits. Those mines will have the big salticles (like an icicle) hanging from the ceiling of the mine and are the most corrosive of work environments.
In many instances, customers are working under the water tables, so the equipment is running through water. Those mines are pumped out. Some of the smaller machines run through two-to-three feet of water and mud and that water and mud pours through the cooling system constantly.
“That type of operational environment takes the biggest toll on the equipment,” said Cass. “It’s hard to imagine what that is like. It’s the toughest of work environments and we do very well in helping to manage those underground conditions.”
“We get out to these mines to see the conditions firsthand before designing anything,” added Cass. “There is so much our customers take for granted because they deal with it every day. We need to see the operation to know exactly how the equipment is used and the magnitude of environmental conditions it operates in to create the right solution. You can’t imagine what it is like no matter how anyone describes it to you.”
Custom Solution Includes Custom Service: Onsite Service and Maintenance
With the goal of expediting the repair process and saving customers even more downtime and money, L&M Radiator engineers work with many of their customers to train them to repair radiators and coolers themselves. They have also been known to conduct repairs onsite at a customer’s location as well, when needed.
“Our customers need to be operational with as little downtime as possible from the start to the finish – getting them the right product in the first place and then helping to keep those products running consistently and efficiently,” added Hecimovich. “At L&M, we all work together with our customers to help each of them do just that.”