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Keeping Your Cool When Facing Molten Copper

The average high temperatures for Shelby, North Carolina are generally quite pleasant – ranging from 47 degrees in January to near 90 degrees F in July. But inside the Ames Copper Group facility it’s a different story, as temps can be much higher. The smelting and refining furnaces, used to recycle scrap copper into anodes that are 99.7% pure copper, produce molten metal…and lots of heat. Working in this environment would be a challenge, especially for those working inside the casting perimeter who wear aluminized PPE. Thanks to some innovative technology, the casting crew and refractory technicians can—literally—keep their cool.

The Ames Copper Group takes various forms of copper scrap from metal fabricators in the form of copper wire, wire nodules, and both heavy and light copper. This scrap copper is then loaded into a tilting furnace, where it’s completely melted down. The impurities—which can include lead, tin, and iron—are deslagged from the molten copper, and the refined liquid is then cast into copper anodes.

“Our casting process usually lasts five-and-a-half to six hours, and during that, these guys are…face-to-face with molten copper,” says Brian Scott, the EHS Manager. He recently became responsible for the safety of the crew he oversees and needed a tool to help them mitigate the 100-degree heat on the production floor. Otherwise, his crew ran the risk of contracting heat illness or worse.

He found it in the form of StaCool Vests. The Florida-based company manufactures cooling vests that include thermal packs which are frozen ahead of time, then inserted into pockets around the vests to help regulate core body temperatures.  Vests are available in versions to be worn under or over clothing, and each style is fully adjustable to ensure a proper fit for any body type.

“All of my guys here alone, they say it’s a game changer for what we do,” says Scott.

The ThermoPacks sit on either side of the vest, so the weight is evenly distributed around the body. The material used in the ThermoPaks inside is completely non-toxic, non-flammable, and even FDA-approved so it can be used in direct contact with food. Although not a factor in this facility, Scott appreciates how safe the product is.  At Ames, each worker has their own vest.

Since Ames is a relatively new company, Scott spent some time researching what other foundries use to keep their workers cool. “Keeping core body temps down and staying hydrated are the staples of any good heat stress management program,” says Scott. He came across StaCool Vests, and after ordering one and trying out a vest for himself, Scott let other workers on his crew wear it and see how they felt after a shift. The workers found that they weren’t completely drained after working in the heat, so “at that point, I got our site management here to agree to go ahead and make the purchase of all our operators,” says Scott. “The StaCool team was great, and the vests were simple to work with and very user friendly.”

All the workers now have individually issued vests. “They’re not to share them with anyone else,” says Scott. “These guys have been given their own.” StaCool emphasizes talking to your workers to see what kind of vest will best suit your needs.

The vests can also be worn over or under clothing, depending on the wearer’s need. If workers are inside the casting perimeter, especially if they are casting, Lancing, or working near the molten copper, they wear the vests over the shirts, but under aluminized jackets that protect each casting worker against the heat and splashing. In addition to the jackets and shirts, workers also wear fire resistant pants, safety-toed shoes, hard hats, heat-resistant face shields, and several different types of gloves.

Finally, he’d found a tool that could protect his workers without sacrificing productivity. In fact, since integrating the vests into the workplace, Scott’s noticed that productivity has been on the rise.

Keeping Cool While Turning Up The Heat

Turning copper from scrap into an anode takes about 24 hours total, and Scott’s crew works in 12-hour shifts. Three operators will be on the floor of the warehouse alongside a supervisor, and a production manager. The three operators are responsible for keeping the molds free of debris; eliminating buildup in the ladles and launders; monitoring temperatures, and performing maintenance as needed.

Each worker in the “heat zones” start their shifts with a StaCool vest. If workers are off the casting floor, away from the furnaces and smelting process, one set of ice packs in a vest can last them up to five hours. For those working in the aluminized suits and others closer to the molten materials, the thermal packs might need refreshing sooner. It’s an easy process to switch out the ThermoPaks: the packs are kept in a chest freezer in a separate, air-conditioned room off the floor. According to Scott, the room also serves as a place where workers can take a minute to get some relief.

“We use it as a cooling station, as part of our heat mitigation program,” says Scott. “They get some water, and they can change their ice packs out in there. They all do it.”

The vests have been so effective that Scott’s working to integrate them into Ames’ official heat mitigation plan. If it gets above 85 degrees inside the building, the workers will be required to wear StaCool vests. When the workers are on the floor during the casting process, they wear the vests under their aluminized PPE. Once they’re off the floor and away from the furnaces, they can just wear them over their shirts. While some parts of the facility are partially open, the casting floor itself is closed off and contained.

In addition to keeping workers safe and comfortable, Scott has noticed an increase in efficiency/production with the use of the StaCool vests. It takes about 24 hours total to transform scrap copper into anodes. Scott has three casting operators, and since they started using the vests, each of them can go an entire six hours on the casting floor—that’s almost an entire work day. Once they’re done, they can quickly recharge the furnace and get it ready for the next shift. If the vests get dirty, the company just washes them in warm water with a mild detergent. The workers have a locker for their PPE, but some elect to take their vests home after their shift.

Before, Scott says, he was just making sure the crew stayed hydrated and took breaks when needed. The StaCool vests, instead of just helping the crew feel cooler, keep their core body temperature low. That translates to a major difference between how the workers feel at the end of the day.

“It allows these guys to just stay energized,” says Scott. “There’s a difference when these guys are wearing the vests versus when they haven’t had them on.” Thanks to StaCool, workers at Ames can keep their cool—literally—when working with some of the hottest materials around.

About StaCool

StaCool Industries, Inc., has been manufacturing body core cooling technology since 1997.  Their proven StaCool Vest™ is ideal for industrial/commercial use as well as for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis or other conditions that cause susceptibility to heat.   Operating room surgeons and technicians rely on StaCool Vest™ technology to keep them comfortable during long and intense procedures.  The StaCool Vest™ is available in children’s sizes and all StaCool Vests ™ can be made in fire retardant material.  They can be purchased directly from StaCool Industries at www.stacoolvest.com , or through national distributors, contact them for a distributor near you. For additional information visit www.StaCoolVest.com, or write info@StaCoolVest.com, or StaCool Industries, LLC, 3215 N. Pinelake Village Point, Lecanto, FL,  34461, or call (866) 782-2665.

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