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Heat exchanger cleaning: Bucking the status quo.

The Status Quo……………The Enemy of Progress In 1922, Carrier Corporation invented the first water cooled centrifugal chiller. The chiller used water and refrigerant gases to create air conditioning for large spaces, usually commercial in nature. Simply put, water is run through a bundle of long tubes absorbing heat from the…

The Status Quo……………The Enemy of Progress

In 1922, Carrier Corporation invented the first water cooled centrifugal chiller.  The chiller used water and refrigerant gases to create air conditioning for large spaces, usually commercial in nature.  Simply put, water is run through a bundle of long tubes absorbing heat from the refrigerant gas which is then used on the other side of the chiller to absorb heat out of the water.  The cooled water is then run to radiators in the building creating cool air.  An amazing invention, but it came with a problem; the water used to absorb heat from the refrigerant often deposited scale and silt on the inside of the tubes.  Scale and dirt acts as insulation reducing effective heat transfer.  The solution, starting shortly after 1923, was to manually disassemble the chiller and clean the tubes using a large brush, much like cleaning a rifle barrel.  Ironically, the method used since 1923 for heat exchanger cleaning is still the status quo.

The status quo works …… until it doesn’t.

The Status Quo is good, it creates stability, reduces risk, and acts like a “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)”.  The status quo works ……. until it doesn’t.   There is a saying in the Navy SEAL community that goes something like, “The status quo works until the problem its intended to solve changes”.  When the problem changes, continuing to employ the commonly accepted solution can create the opposite of stability.  This happens gradually, sometimes suddenly, causing damage, churn, and instability.  While this sounds like ordinary wisdom, bucking the status quo to create improvement is a major problem in most institutions.

If you look, you will find outdated and ineffective processes in many industries and I suspect most of us are touched by archaic processes that seem impossible the change despite universal acceptance of their infectivity.  I grew up on a farm during the 80’s when technology and a financial crisis were changing farming almost daily.  Despite the changing environment, many farmers stubbornly clung to the methods learned from their upbringing continuing year after year, despite a new available playbook.  They would continually plow fields, even though farming technology enabled zero-till capability that reduced cost, soil erosion, and even increased yields.  Unfortunately, many who stuck to the old status quo didn’t survive and often lost farms that had been in their families for over a hundred years.  Why? Because of an attachment to the status quo that no longer addressed the problems they faced.

5 reasons the status quo plagues large institutions

Glen Llopis effectively stated the major reasons for attachment to an outdated status quo in his Forbes article, “Five Reasons Leaders Are Afraid To Challenge The Status Quo” ( Llopis identifies five reasons why leaders in the workplace adhere to habits of the past.  Here are those reasons:

  1. They’re unwilling to turn the spotlight of accountability on themselves
  2. They’re afraid of risk
  3. They don’t know how to get started
  4. They lack organizational readiness
  5. They have not evolved as leaders

Facilities operators who manage chillers are usually not incentivized to take risks.  Perhaps this is why manual heat exchanger cleaning is still the status quo amounting to a modern industrial problem addressed with an outdated, 100-year-old solution.  Today, market and regulatory forces have emerged to require a strong focus on efficiency and cost-reduction but manual chiller cleaning somehow seems to survive in the shadows?  Sadly, widescale use of manual tube cleaning enables the preventable waste of billions of energy dollars, millions of tons of green-house gas emissions and countless man hours of labor.

Break the status quo of manual heat exchanger cleaning by eliminating the problem of tube fouling altogether.

The Helios Tube Cleaning System (TCS) ® Chiller and Condenser Tube Cleaning System by Innovas Technologies – YouTube is challenging the status quo.  The system continuously cleans heat exchangers by circulating sponge balls through the heat exchanger tubes at programmed intervals, preventing residue, deposits, and biofilm from accumulating in the tubes.

The award-winning Helios TCS® represents a breakthrough solution eliminating the fouling that robs chillers of efficiency through a fully automatic, mechanical, preventative cleaning process. The savings and operational benefits of the Helios TCS® over the manual cleaning “status quo” are numerous:

  1. Big saver of electricity (means money)
  2. Enables your chillers to generate more air conditioning with no extra power expense. (Called free cooling)
  3. Empowers less draw from grid by national commercial air conditioning
  4. Enables water savings
  5. Reduces (significantly) greenhouse gas emissions
  6. Reduces labor (needed to manually clean chillers)
  7. Improves chiller life (Fouling makes things break)

Notably, the electricity savings translates to an average payback range for the installed Helios TCS® in 1 to 3 years.

So, in this case, why is the outdated status quo of manual chiller cleaning so hard to break? Nobel Prize winning Economist Richard Thaler (University of Chicago) defined the concept of status quo resistance as Status Quo Bias. Richard Thaler – The Business of Social Games and Casino (   Thaler says Status Quo Bias arises from long ingrained habit and a fear of making the wrong decision.   He says the bias amounts risk aversion and that it often causes organizations dearly by staying wedded to the status quo.

To use a farming metaphor, we like to show two status quo scenarios that are of similar age.  One status quo broken, one not


bucking the status quo for heat exchanger cleaning


The above chart shows how harvesting corn by hand was the status quo in 1920.  Manual heat exchanger cleaning of shell and tube chillers was that status quo starting in the 1920’s.  Strangely, manual cleaning of chillers (tube brushing) is still the status quo in 2022, even though there is a proven solution that eliminates the problem of tube fouling altogether. For many chiller plant operators, marriage to the outdated status quo will cost them millions over time and will slow their compliance with growing sustainability requirements.

Kevin Gilroy, of Gilroy Associates, states that “The biggest enemy to your business is the momentum of the status quo.” Furthermore, he adds, “The status quo is powerful. It’s exceedingly comfortable, and so people get stuck in myopic thinking. They resist change. They stick to what’s worked in the past. And as a result, they drive sub-optimal performance that can prove fatal to the business.” The Biggest Threat to Your Business: The Status Quo — Gilroy Associates.

The lessons are clear, and the key to breaking the spell of the status quo is to recognize the problems and challenges have changed.  Our understanding of technology has changed, yet often, due to the chains of the status quo, we journey unnecessarily, and willingly to the shadows of ineffectiveness.  In this instance, the new solution doesn’t just break the status quo, it eliminates the problem altogether.