Industrial and Commercial Fans and Blowers and Air Purification Equipment

SIC 3564

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers firms primarily engaged in manufacturing blowers for general industrial and commercial use, and commercial exhaust fans, ventilating fans, and attic fans. Also included are manufacturers of duct collection equipment and other air purification equipment for heating and air conditioning systems and equipment for industrial gas cleaning systems. It does not include manufacturers of refrigeration and air-conditioning components, which are covered under SIC 3585: Refrigeration and Heating Equipment. Small household fans, kitchen and bath ventilation fans, or other domestic fan components are included in SIC 3634: Electric Housewares and Fans.

Industry Snapshot

In 2009, estimated U.S. shipments of products within the ventilation equipment manufacturing industry were valued at $2.37 billion. The air purification segment in particular experienced strong growth in the mid-years of the first decade of the 2000s due to increased attention to the health effects of allergens. In 2005, this segment had been projected to nearly triple in value by the end of the decade. However, the global economic downturn of 2008, which reached its peak in 2009, tempered the robust outlook.

Of the approximately 1,421 companies in this industry, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Texas were the leading states in employment, employing approximately 34 percent of the industry's total workforce.

Organization and Structure

U.S. industry depends on the low-pressure, high-volume movement of air. Without it, much industrial and commercial activity would quickly dissipate. Consequently, fans are found in applications as diverse as the huge blowers used to bubble air through sewage water and industrial waste to street cleaners and industrial leaf blowers. In modern shopping centers and commercial/industrial strip malls, unnoticed roof ventilators silently exchange contaminated air for fresh, and attic fans perform the same function for homes. Heating and air conditioning systems depend on fans to move heat away from coils and heat exchangers and into the structure, and to feed the fossil fuel combustion processes with large quantities of oxygen-bearing air. Exhaust systems push the products of this combustion outside the structure or extract grease and heat from commercial cooking appliances and industrial ovens.

The ability of the fan to move large quantities of air makes it the base component of the rapidly expanding air pollution control industry. Starting with the plant, the device has been harnessed to help contain and remove pollutants like dust and metal particles, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, and hydrocarbon solvents in a variety of filters and traps.

Fans and blowers belong to the same family of devices as compressors and pumps. A pump moves liquids, while fans, blowers, and compressors move gases. A compressor can provide a means of increasing the pressure of the gas to more than 40 pounds per square inch (psi). That gas can then either be delivered directly to the application or stored for metered use. A blower can also increase the pressure of the gas to as much as 40 psi, but delivers it directly to the application through an area of high resistance such as a pipeline. Fans provide large volumes of uncompressed gas and operate in low-resistance environments that could also include ducting systems. Technically, an increase in gas density of less than 7 percent between inlet and outlet defines the gas as uncompressed.

The two most common types of fans and blowers are axial and centrifugal, which account for about 45 percent of the industry's output. Axial fans are used to produce low resistance to airflow. The gas is moved in the same direction as the fan's axis of rotation, much as a water wheel on a classic mill or paddle steamer. In a centrifugal fan, the gas moves perpendicular to the fan's axis of rotation. Most domestic fans use angled and curved blades to produce the centrifugal effect at low pressure. Centrifugal blowers and fans are used in relatively high resistance applications and usually provide quieter operation than axial units.

The main uses of fans and blowers, according to the Compressed Air and Gas Handbook, are for process services, including chemical alterations like combustion, nitrogen fixation, polymerization, hydrogenation, and alkylation, and for change-of-state operations, including quenching, drying, and atomization. Products that result from these types of procedures include liquid fuels, plastics, synthetic rubber, ammonia, and fertilizers.

Background and Development

The world's first pump was probably the force or air pump built by Ktesibios of Alexandria about 270 B.C. He used a cylinder and plunger arrangement to pump air through pipes of various lengths, creating the first water organ. The water was used to maintain a steady air pressure in the system. Simple air pumps and bellows provided low-pressure "compressed" air for such devices as organs and blacksmith furnaces, but major advances in fan technology did not occur until the Industrial Revolution.

As large-scale manufacturing emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fans became an integral part of factory and commercial building infrastructure in the United States. The fan and blower industry's successes are fundamentally tied to the health of commercial and industrial construction and renovation.

The general industrial slowdown of the 1980s hit the fan and blower industry hard. Major clients like the petrochemical industry, the construction industry, and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning industry cut back on orders for new equipment and left existing components idle. A strong U.S. dollar made U.S. products uncompetitive in foreign markets.

By 1988, this started to change as a weakening dollar stimulated exports and a general pickup in the manufacturing climate sparked new domestic orders in almost all sectors. The industry continued to modernize production by consolidating facilities and adopting sophisticated CAD/CAM systems and metalworking and casting technologies. New materials and designs were explored to extend the life of components in corrosive environments and to increase reliability.

New environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and their global counterparts spurred the development and sale of air pollution abatement equipment. Two major products in this category were particle emission collectors, with shipments of $513 million in 1990, and gaseous emission control units, with sales of $220 million that year. In 1990, the major clients for such products were steam electric power generators, industrial steam plants, pulp and paper mills, chemical and fertilizer producers, and petroleum refiners. The industry benefited in the late 1990s and early years of the first decade of the 2000s from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, because the amendments imposed time limits on the reduction of specified hazardous industrial air pollutants. Compliance generated significant capital investment into this industry's products.

The success of this industry coincides with the seasons of the year and with allergy seasons. Changes in weather conditions prompt consumers to buy products such as fans at certain times of the year. Air purification equipment tends to be more popular during allergy seasons. In 2008, shipments in this industry were valued at $5.3 billion.

Current Conditions

The industrial and commercial fan and blower and air purification systems industry took a substantial blow during 2009 when the United States experienced the blunt effect of the economic recession. Demand declined across most business sectors throughout the United States. To combat the poor economic conditions, many firms slashed overhead costs. These cost-cutting measures included postponing or foregoing capital improvements. Thus, firms that sold air purification systems, fans, and blows saw a significant loss of business during 2009.

Specifically, according to industry statistics, overall industry sales were down from more than $5.3 billion in 2008 to $2.37 billion in 2009. Air filters, the leading product category also experienced the largest decline, falling from $1.1 billion in 2008 to $573.7 million in 2009. Air purification equipment, at $317.6 million (down from $382 million in 2008), represented the second largest product segment, while purification and dust collection equipment was third at $278.3 million (down from $349 million in 2008).

Industry Leaders

Greenheck Fan Corporation of Schofield, Wisconsin, was a leader in the field, with roughly 2,400 employees and manufacturing facilities in the United States, China, India, Singapore, and the UAE. Founded by brothers Bernie and Bob Greenheck in 1947, the one surviving brother Bob continues to run the company. Other industry leaders include Lau Industries of Dayton, Ohio, and Wahlco Inc. of Santa Ana, California. Wahlco had sales of $23 million in 2009.

Workforce

Employment for the industry was 30,620 in 2009, a decrease over the 32,733 employed in 2006. Nearly half of all employees worked for small establishments with less than five employees.

America and the World

Blowers and fans and the increasingly important air pollution abatement equipment are manufactured to international standards, allowing U.S. manufacturers to compete effectively on the international market. These same standards, however, also make the United States vulnerable to foreign competition, particularly on price and quality. The U.S. imported $464.3 billion in air purification equipment in 2009 from 53 countries and exported $410.7 billion in goods to 150 countries.

Globalization is particularly important in the air pollution abatement equipment (APC) sector. U.S. and European multinationals use direct investment, cross-border mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, and foreign collaboration to gain entry to each other's markets and to other markets around the world. The main target markets for such equipment were Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, since the industry already faced significant competition from domestic producers in major trading partners like Japan, Germany, and France. Mexico also was a potentially significant market for U.S. fan and blower products. Many firms preferred to license to foreign manufacturers instead of competing directly, creating a brisk trade in environmental technology.

Research and Technology

New and more stringent environmental regulations in the United States and around the world encouraged research into new air pollution abatement technology. This especially was true since some regulations called for pollution limitations in excess of what was technically possible at the time. In addition, as energy costs rose in the late 2000s and into the 2010s, the industry sought ways to expedite air flow in economically efficient ways.

The industry found ways to apply old technologies in new ways. Some major areas of research included electrostatic precipitators with the addition of high-voltage direct-current pulses to capture fly-ash; filter bags treated with microporous films or membranes to keep dust cake out of the filter material; conditioning flue gas streams with sulfur trioxide or ammonia before filtering to improve the life of the filter; the development of sulfur trioxide generators to convert flue gases without the need of adding chemicals; new plastic materials to extend the concept of flue gas cooling with water beyond the wood products industry; and sorbent injection of such materials as carbon, char, and sodium sulfide to capture heavy metals like mercury.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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