Humidifying to Reduce Static Electricity

Key to General Mills’ success in the crowded food processing industry is understanding the needs and lives of its consumers. General Mills meets these needs with more than a dozen iconic brands, eight of them generating more than $1 billion each in annual sales.

General Mills—Golden Valley, MN

Through experience or simply by extension, General Mills also understands and cares about the lives and needs of its employees. The company’s wellness program includes onsite physical therapists and a preventive cardiologist¹. A corporate health department advocates for employees on health-related workplace concerns, one area of concern being indoor air quality.

In response to reports of office air being too dry, the General Mills facilities team analyzed the existing
humidification equipment and the relative humidity in their Minneapolis-area buildings, where winters are desert dry.

“The main driver for this analysis was a new call-in service for building service calls to our maintenance department back in the mid-1990s,” recalls Tim Weiss, the company’s facilities team leader at the time. “We trended and categorized these calls and noticed that wintertime complaints of office spaces being dry were common, especially when the outside temperature was below zero.”

According to the call logs, complaints about static shocks and requests for printer support also increased during the winter months. Static shocks are a nuisance, but static electricity in computers and other office equipment can be very costly. Even a small amount of energy in a static spark can ruin a circuit board or cause serious damage to a hard drive.

Existing humidification systems needed more capacity and attention

Two trends emerged during the equipment analysis. One, the existing humidifiers tended to be undersized for
winter humidification demand. And two, they were not on preventive maintenance schedules. Hidden away
in air handlers and seldom needing attention, some of the humidifiers were serviced on a reactionary basis
or even shut off year-round. Clearly, the existing humidification systems were not meeting the needs of the facility.

New humidification systems centrally monitored and controlled

As a result of the analysis, and with buy-in from the on-site health department, the facilities team recommended equipment updates and a new approach to humidifier maintenance.

“We set a standard that all future air handler purchases include steam humidification systems sized for winter,” explains Weiss. “We also upgraded the undersized systems and wired them into the building automation system for centralized monitoring and control.” Aside from convenience, central monitoring would also provide a means for
tracking humidifier performance and scheduling shutdowns for preventive maintenance.

Amazing results the following winter

“We were amazed the following winter by the decreased number of calls on dryness, static electricity, and printer performance calls,” said Weiss.

On sub-zero winter days in Minnesota, most humidified buildings form condensation on the windows. An additional benefit of centralized control was the ability to prevent window condensation.

“We addressed the condensation issue that first winter by experimenting with various conditions. We came up with a building-wide program that lowered the relative humidity when outside temperatures plunged below zero,” said Weiss. “By now, the humidification systems have been modified even more as controls have evolved, but the premise of the humidification standard remains the same.”

DriSteem is pleased to provide the key components for meeting a healthand comfort-focused humidification standard.

Resources

PDF Version of the Case Study

Learn about the following equipment installed at this facility:

Ultra-sorb XV Steam Dispersion Panels


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