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Duke University Project Update

Innovas Technologies navigates Covid challenges to implement the chiller optimizing Helios TCS system on 47,000 tons of cooling at Duke University….

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Innovas Technologies navigates Covid challenges to implement the chiller optimizing Helios TCS system on 47,000 tons of cooling at Duke University.

Franklin quote

2020 will be remembered as one of the most challenging years in America’s history due most prominently to the Covid 19 pandemic. All of us have been affected and the story of how American businesses are adapting to the world forced by the virus is just beginning to be written. Innovas Technologies and Duke University didn’t anticipate the challenges ahead when we partnered in January to implement the Helios TCS system into Duke’s entire central plant infrastructure. Our story began just as the full force of the pandemic first gripped the nation. Our journey to design, build and deliver complex machinery through the worst of the virus storm is characterized by collaboration, tenacity, adaptation and a healthy dose of American Ingenuity.

The Project

This was, and continues to be, a major project, involving 17 large chillers all critical to operation of the University. Our delivery timelines were compressed even before the virus and a firm requirement required the systems be operational for the start of the cooling season. In normal times the schedule was challenging, when Covid hit at the start of fabrication, the project became like climbing Everest in a hurricane. We had to complete custom design and then manufacture 13 large units in the midst of a broad shutdown. Manufacturing was followed by shipping, installation and commissioning, all, in the broad ranging economic and social shutdown. Every part of our normal process, no matter how simple, became complex and uncertain overnight. People, resources, support, supply……Everything went to the risk category.

The Enemy

covid virus

Perspective. Try to remember the very beginning of Covid. Fear, the virus elicited fear. In February Covid was an unknown enemy cloaked by rumor, speculation and its threat amplified by its potential to inflict personal harm. At the pandemic’s darkest moment was specifically the time when we had to execute the entire project. Suddenly, everyone and everything was in flux. We tried to plan for all possibilities including the complete cessation of our operations but we pushed forward taking things hour by hour. This was the time when our team could have folded and gone home and they would not have been faulted. They didn’t fold though, they stood firm and stayed engaged. Luckily, Iowa’s government empowered operations for as many businesses as possible assuming everyone followed prescribed precautions.


During the darkest time there was a sense among our team that it was our duty to stay working. Everyone shared an understanding of how dangerous this enemy was, but they also seemed to know how our, and others like us, reaction to the virus would impact the future of our country. They could have stayed home, no one would have faulted them but instead they showed up, they welded, they fabricated, they painted, they wired, they installed. They delivered. Truckers picked up the equipment and they just smiled and said, “We’ll be back for the next load”. No credit, no medals, no bonus. Just courage, the lot of them.

Adversity quoate

The Customer

Once onsite, the team at Duke University were there to receive the equipment and engaged in the identical manner, like the continuation of the same song. The virus raged but they had a schedule, so they dug in and worked within restrictive conditions, and helped, even when the issues were another’s responsibility. They were the customer, but they rolled like a partner. They always showed up, they were patient and they helped everyone clear obstacles caused or made worse by the virus with ingenuity and professionalism. The Innovas Techs onsite? They faced challenge after challenge. They travelled, no notice, again and again. They finished the job and were there when they could easily have stayed sheltered. No credit, no medals, no big bonus. Just courage, the lot of them.

Duke University chiller optimizing

The Results

Fast forward to August 1st. Given the obstacles that had to be negotiated to complete the project, the new Helios systems shouldn’t be up and running. But they are. 850 times a day the new Helios’ actuate and in doing so, they ensure 47,000 tons of cooling is delivered unburdened by fouling. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity is now being saved annually, tens of thousands of Kwh’s prevented, thousands of tons of GHG emissions will now be eliminated. All of this could easily have not happened though. Sure, for everyone involved it was their job to build and deliver these systems, but they could have refused, they could have sheltered out of sight and not be faulted. They didn’t though, and they changed the world in no small measure for the better. The virus? It didn’t catch any of us. Maybe because we were lucky, or maybe because everyone was moving too fast.
Encouragingly, in America, stories just like ours were playing out all over the country. Unheralded, unpublicized but people who were able were shoring up our Nation’s foundation through work. No credit, no medals, no bonus. Just courage, the lot of them.

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