At Kuntz Electroplating, one of the largest independent electroplating plants serving original equipment manufacturers of steel and aluminum wheels and bumpers, reliable power is paramount. To meet its growing need for cost-efficient power to fuel production processes, Kuntz, Kitchener, Ontario, chose four Caterpillar natural gas engines in a recent cogeneration application.

Although the original installation included three G3516 low-emission natural gas engines, Kuntz added a fourth after realizing such significant operational savings from the first three units. Each engine can produce 815kW of continuous power running 24 hr a day, seven days a week. With 3.2 mW of total power, the engines produce electric power for the electrochemical plating process and thermal energy for process heating. This represents nearly half of the electricity consumed by Kuntz; the remainder comes from the local utility.

Since just-in-time delivery of nickel- and chrome-plated automotive parts is a top objective for Kuntz, high-power reliability is essential. Even momentary power outages can cause substantial production losses. For example, within 2 sec of a power outage, the filter medium in an electroplating bath begins to fail, and it takes nearly an hour to start up the line again.

Through a load-shedding and switching scheme, the installation provides standby power to the electroplating line during a power outage or interruption. The utility breaker opens, physically separating the facility from the rest of the power grid, and the engines power only the critical loads.

"When we disconnect from the utility, our processes experience no downtime," says Keith Laycock, power plant operator for Kuntz. "The engines stay online to power our critical processes."

The cogeneration system not only improved the reliability of Kuntz's power supply, but it also lowered gas and utility costs by approximately $335,000 annually. The facility uses heat recovered from the engines' jacket water and exhaust systems for process heating. It also uses heat recovered from the after-cooler and oil-cooler circuits for the facility's hot water and heating purposes. In addition, a high-tech waste oil furnace burns the expended oil from the crankcase, providing space heating.

As a result of this cogeneration effort, total energy efficiency of the installation approaches 90%. And as operations grow, Kuntz expects to increase its power load by adding a fifth engine.