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Fresh Ideas for Boeing's Phantom Works Component Robotic Paint Labs

Gerry Williams, PE, Burns & McDonnell

This project can be summed up using one word: Innovation. Innovation assisted the engineers in using a heat recovery wheel for a paint lab application when conventional wisdom indicated that the paint would clog the wheel. Engineers overcame obstacles presented by this application of the heat recovery wheel by using double exhaust air stream filters and a laminar air flow design through the heat wheel. Traditional supply air diffusers are designed for turbulent mixing. This would disturb the air flow patterns entering the lab-hindering painting and possibly creating unsafe conditions for the operators. By replacing the diffusers with a large plenum with filters on the bottom, the air was slowed down enough to discharge in a laminar fashion and the air also had the added benefit of receiving final filtration at the lab entrance.

Through the innovative use of existing and new technologies, the project team of Boeing and Burns & McDonnell was able to reduce the size of the central heating and cooling equipment by half, generating savings of nearly a million dollars for Boeing over the life of the equipment.

The results of these energy savings can also be felt by everyone by reducing the amounts of CO2, SO2, and NOX, which have been attributed to contributing to global warming, acid rain, and smog. The innovative use of engineering technology has resulted in significant savings for the client and has allowed all of us to breathe a little easier.

Labs21 Connection:

The life cycle cost analysis that engineers at Burns & McDonnell conducted indicated that by using total enthalpy heat recovery wheels, over $800,000 could be saved over the life of the system. This resulted in less than a three year return on investment for the added costs of the heat recovery equipment. Additionally, the energy savings of the heat recovery equipment resulted in optimizing the whole building efficiency by decreasing the size of the steel piping support structures and allowing an existing empty support building to be used to house the new mechanical room instead of needing to build an entirely new building for the boilers and chillers. This approach contributed to protecting occupant safety by allowing the full air changes required to create safe breathing environments, while at the same time significantly reducing the amount of energy required to heat and cool that air, and thus reduced the amount of environmental pollutants that are created during the production of electricity. This resulted in a cleaner environment for everyone.


Gerry Williams is a senior associate mechanical engineer in the St. Louis, Missouri office of Burns & McDonnell. Mr. Williams was one of the first 1000 engineers to receive LEED™ certification and the primary LEED™ facilitator for Burns & McDonnell. As a lead engineer on projects valued at more than one-half billion dollars, Mr. Williams' portfolio includes more than 100 research laboratories. Mr. Williams has several nationally published articles including "Research Lab Profits from Low Overhead Expansion" and "Blue Skies for Boeing" recently published in Engineered Systems Magazine. Mr. Williams is currently responsible for writing the new ASHRAE national standard for Forensic Laboratory design to be published in the 2007 ASHRAE HVAC Applications manual. His laboratory designs have received numerous awards including four Outstanding Achievements in Engineering Awards by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers in St. Louis. Mr. Williams serves on national ASHRAE committees for Justice Facility Design and Sustainable Building Design.

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