Building from the top down
Even in a company with a 130-year reputation for moving air around, when Hunter Fan Company decided to offer a product line in the high-velocity, low-speed (HVLS) fan market, they were starting from the bottom. So they started from the top.
"You always want to be first to market, but that wasn’t the case here, and we actually benefitted from that," said Jeff Chastain, senior VP and general manager of Nashville-based Hunter Industrial. "We asked customers about what they liked and didn’t like. We thought about packaging and shipping. We thought about the ease of turning the motor on. We tried to look at the unmet needs and really develop a step change in the industry."
To do this required a look at not just how the fans would work, but how to manufacture, test, and ship the HVLS fans.
One of the first issues was reducing the weight of the fans to make them both cost-effective to manufacture and ship, but also to be able to hoist them up to the ceiling. "We looked at how Hunter developed their consumer products, and we really wanted to mimic that," said Bruno Chacon, Hunter Industrial’s product development manager.
"Installation is a big challenge," said Hunter Industrial engineering manager Ryan Ebersole.
"You’ve got to be aware of issues such as product failures, safety issues, and gear boxes leaking oil. When we looked at the direct drive issue, we felt like we could do it, and we were able to accomplish it."
The end result was the development of a product that was lighter (85 pounds) but still capable of delivering effective air movement in industrial and distribution facilities.
Getting the product to customers required more thought. "Every fan we send to a customer gets tested before it leaves the facility," Chastain said. "We took the route that we wanted to make sure every fan works before we send it to the customer, and then have it show up to the job site in one box."
The right time for big fans
The HVLS fan market has become more important in recent years with the development of huge distribution centers and a greater interest in worker safety and comfort, especially in warmer climates.
"New construction is one opportunity, but the real sales opportunity is after a building is up and occupied," said Mark D’Agostino, vice president of sales for Hunter Industrial. "The developer is trying to sublet a 2 million sq. ft. distribution space. Once the tenant is in, he cares about how productive and comfortable the workers are. With new construction comes new opportunities. But there’s a much greater opportunity in existing space. Nobody thinks about those days until July, when it’s 95 degrees."
The issues around air movement in distribution centers, or any facility with high ceilings for that matter, goes well beyond the issues of cooling and comfort, D’Agostino said. "The greatest challenge in HVLS is to keep workers cool, but it’s not just cooling," he said. "There’s also destratification of air in the winter. In agricultural settings, the more turbulent the air is makes it less habitable for insects and eliminates water sitting on leaves. Food and beverage plants have washdown, and condensation can create fall hazards. When you look at the value proposition, some buildings that have HVAC systems also have some kind of destratified heating."
Building the process
Hunter’s legacy as a fan company makes the product development part of the HVLS product more predictable. The challenge for Chastain and his team is to continue developing the business, assembly, and operations aspects.
"We have growing pains like any start-up business," Chastain said. "We’re building a team with that start-up mentality. We’re doing a lot of pre-assembly kitting projects. Our next thing is getting at some of our Kanban issues. Our inventory is higher than we would like it to be.We’re making the conscious decision that as we get our process more streamlined and more efficient, we’re going to be looking at our warehouse and fine-tuning our inventory process. "As we’re building the processes, it gives us the capability to grow exponentially," Chastain added. "We need to make the investments today to get the platforms to grow from. We have great human capital, but we won’t have to add human capital to make the business more streamlined."
"I think we’re doing a good job tearing down walls. We’re implementing software, adding marketing collateral. We don’t have the luxury of working in silos."
Hunter Industrial’s location in Nashville is just across the state from the Hunter’s consumer fan location in Memphis. Siting was an important consideration for the industrial business, and Chastain sees their expansion potential, especially in a rapidly-growing business center such as Nashville.
"Our job is to outgrow the facility," Chastain said. "The Nashville area makes a lot of sense for us. We feel confident in our ability to grow here."
Bob Vavra, content manager, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.