Issue Jan Feb 15
As concerns about indoor air quality and black mold have increased over the years, the desire for dehumidification has created additional markets for Desert Aire. Founded in 1978 to dehumidify rooms with indoor swimming pools, the company’s equipment is now specified for indoor ice rinks, water and wastewater treatment plants, office buildings, schools and universities.
Desert Aire’s swimming pool systems not only dehumidify the air, but also heat or cool it so no other HVAC system is required. Its other dehumidification products and dedicated outside air systems work in conjunction with commercial HVAC equipment. The bulk of the company’s products are sold in North America, but they also are exported to the Middle East and Asia, where Desert Aire President Keith Coursin sees opportunities for future growth. Only small indoor pool dehumidifiers are designed for single-family homes, with the majority being designed for the commercial marketplace.
“Our product line is configured to order,” Coursin notes. “There is a standard series and a multiple series of products, depending on the type of application. Our sales reps can use the software to configure the solution for the customer. We have nothing in inventory – no wholesale stock. Everything that leaves the building has been configured for a customer’s needs.”
Those plans are highly detailed. “We have our manufacturing and our design operations basically send out a configurable bill of materials with the appropriate instructions on how to put those items together,” Coursin explains.
Doing this requires a high degree of knowledge about dehumidification equipment. “We do a lot of training for the manufacturing force so they understand what the base rules of refrigeration design would be and then provide instruction tools for them to be able to configure these products as they come down the line,” Coursin says. “We’re unique in that the wide range of sizes and units rolling down the line one after each other is quite diverse. So we had to figure out how to configure the flow of work.
“You have units that are large and need access to reach the upper portions of them, and units that are small that you need to have a work platform so that they can be elevated so they’re at the appropriate ergonomic level,” Coursin continues. “They’re not run down traditional roller lines or anything else. We had to come up with a mobile carts and wheels system to maneuver the units down the shop floor.”
Using this type of manufacturing requires everyone to work on the same page, and with Desert Aire’s touch screens throughout the manufacturing plant, they are. “The manufacturing staff has the latest in correct drawings at their instant disposal,” Coursin points out.
Desert Aire is in its fourth year of rolling the touch screens out throughout the plant to replace paper plans. “They started in one of those offline subassembly cells that supply multiple product lines in the plant,” Coursin notes. “By integrating it there, we were able to see an impact across all the manufacturing lines.”
The company uses a hybrid of the assembly line and manufacturing cells in its 100,000-square-foot plant in Germantown, Wis. Lead-times for many of the company’s products are from four to 12 weeks.
“We are an assembly operation where we work with our key suppliers in the industry to do the major components,” Coursin says. “The coils, the compressors and the sheet metal are all done externally to our operation. So we have a very organized supply chain.” Besides assembly, the company also uses brazing to weld copper components together.
Desert Aire’s products are designed using 3-D modeling software so its vendors all have the exact specifications for each component. “The software has reduced the design time and enabled us to catch all the misalignments faster,” Coursin says. “So we’re able to go through the design process to shipping product at a much faster rate than we ever have in the past.”
When Desert Aire introduces new products to the market, it sometimes takes that opportunity to optimize its production line. “Normally, it happens as a new product comes out,” Coursin explains. “We continue to tweak its design and take cells offline on a continuous basis as we see opportunities to optimize the manufacturing. A complete cell or a complete line would get a major overhaul. That happened two years ago when we stripped the line down, rebuilt and reconfigured it for the workflow of a new product. It was a modification of a dedicated outside air unit, where we’re designing it for some cost reductions and reducing the price to the field.”
Coursin attributes the company’s success to its sole focus: dehumidification. “It’s what we want to be known for,” he says. “It’s what we provide the design and assistance to the industry on. That – coupled with a focus on energy-saving design – keeps us at the forefront of the industry. Our focus on this art is what we want to continue to develop and be noted for. So the new products and new designs – along with solving problems that are out there with more energy efficiency – we think will sustain our position in the marketplace for the long term.”