Pella Gettysburg invests in air conditioning to protect employees and beat the summer heat

To protect the health of its employees, Gettysburg-based Bella had to find a way to beat the summer heat.

Winter was not a problem because the company’s heating system kept the factory warm. But the summer months were a different story for the privately held window and door manufacturer, which is headquartered in Pella, Iowa, but has manufacturing and sales operations in several locations across the country, including Gettysburg and Harrisburg.

In recent years, Bella’s Gettysburg factory has experimented with different ways to cool its 230,000-square-foot site.

“I’ve been at this site for eight years, and every year we’ve tried something different to try to cool the plant,” said plant manager Gilliam Els. “We get warm weather in June, July and August, and to improve the air quality over 230,000 square feet, we took out fans and intake and exhaust fans that start at certain temperatures and draw in fresh air and draw in hot air. But they weren’t enough to cool the plant during the summer months .

“We tried these types of ways to cool the plant down. We also gave team members extra breaks, distributed more water and straws, and adapted the break room to keep team members healthy.

However, little has succeeded in a plant whose indoor heat index reflects the temperature outside.

“If it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s 100 degrees inside,” Els said. “Our job is very hands-on, and when you’re busy like that, temperature means a lot more than if you were working behind a desk.”

Especially when that work involves eight- to 10-hour shifts four to five days a week. High heat and humidity can not only deplete water, but are also dangerous. Els said meetings involving team members and management produced a plan to install air conditioning units to handle the extreme heat.

The result was a proactive approach that would protect workers while also increasing productivity by reducing heat-related events. Using Sunbelt Rentals and its in-house engineering team to do the installation, Pella placed three air conditioners — an 80-ton unit, a 40-ton unit, and a 25-ton unit — on the grounds surrounding the plant to stabilize temperatures and humidity.

“What these units do is create airflow,” Els said. “They draw hot air from inside the plant into the unit, cool it, and then return it back to the plant. This is done for the safety of team members.

“It wasn’t a specific person’s idea. It came from suggestions from team members and management, in terms of what we could do to cool the plant. We listened to the team members in meetings, and how it felt for them when they were working.

The units were installed at the end of May and are used to cool the plant during September, when the heat and humidity of the summer months subside. The difference at the plant and among team members was noticeable, Els said.

“From a safety perspective for our team members, it makes working in those conditions more comfortable for them and keeps them safe from sunstroke,” he said. “There has been a very positive response, and all our team members are smiling.

“When you’re working a 10-hour shift, the humidity is what hits you. One of the team members’ comments is that when you walk into the plant now, you don’t feel like the temperature is affecting you because of the low humidity. The units pull the moisture out and stabilize the temperature inside the plant .

“Obviously the cost of getting the air conditioning units was significant, but we had to make a difference at the plant. We showed that we care about safety by going the extra mile, lowering the temperature and getting the humidity out.

Bella believes that its strategy can serve as a model for others in the industry.

“We installed this at a significant cost to our company, but for the safety of our team members we felt we needed to do this,” Els said. “From a Pella perspective, we pride ourselves on being a caring company, and this is another way we showed we care about our team members. We wanted to make sure we were taking care of them.”

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