Making Snow with Solid Edge
Jason Brett posted on February 22, 2016 | 10930 views
Rick Chapman, developer of the SealSaver, stands outside his office. Chapman’s innovations, developed using Solid Edge, help ski resorts across North America save water, energy and money in their snowmaking operations by improving the efficiency of vertical turbine pumps.
Rick Chapman, developer of the SealSaver, stands outside his office. Chapman’s innovations, developed using Solid Edge, help ski resorts across North America save water, energy and money in their snowmaking operations by improving the efficiency of vertical turbine pumps.

Rick Chapman is from Maine, so I expected him to be an expert on the topic of snow. What I didn’t expect, however, is that his particular specialty on snow would be how to make more of it! Most people from Maine have probably seen enough of the white stuff by the time spring rolls around, but not Chapman. He is the “Outside Sales: Snowmaking” representative for Trask-Decrow Machinery, and he helps ski resorts across North America extend their seasons and enhance their guests’ experience by making more snow. Not only is Chapman helping his customers create great snow, but his innovations are now helping them make snow more efficiently and more reliably than ever before.

The SealSaver from Trask-Decrow Machinery is an innovative way to improve the efficiency and durability of vertical turbine pumps used in snowmaking operations. Designed by Rick Chapman using Solid Edge purchased on a month-to-month subscription, the SealSaver injects high-pressure, filtered water to cool and lubricate the pump’s mechanical seal and throttle bushing. It is now in use at ski resorts across the United States.
The SealSaver from Trask-Decrow Machinery is an innovative way to improve the efficiency and durability of vertical turbine pumps used in snowmaking operations. Designed by Rick Chapman using Solid Edge purchased on a month-to-month subscription, the SealSaver injects high-pressure, filtered water to cool and lubricate the pump’s mechanical seal and throttle bushing. It is now in use at ski resorts across the United States.

Chapman is not a newcomer to the field of snowmaking. He has been working on pumps and related equipment since the late 1970s. Trask-Decrow Machinery specializes in sales, support and modifications for a wide range of pumps and compressors. Chapman’s ski resort customers use powerful vertical turbine pumps, which pressurize water up to 1,000 psi in order to ensure sufficient head for moving water up the mountain and spraying the fine mist that produces snow. Although the vertical turbine pump is well suited to the demands of snowmaking and has been used successfully for decades, Chapman noticed room for improvement in the cooling and lubrication of the mechanical seals. In most snowmaking pumps, the mechanical seals are cooled and lubricated by allowing a portion of the pumped water to flow through a throttle bushing, past the mechanical seal and out of the pump. This not only wastes water, in some cases up to 10 percent of the total flow, but also allows any grit or particulate matter in the water source to infiltrate the bushing and mechanical seal. This can increase the wear rate of the bushing and result in increased maintenance costs and pump downtime.

Chapman recognized an opportunity to improve these pumps by injecting high-pressure, filtered water into the mechanical seal housing, reversing the flow and eliminating wasted water. Like many ideas that sound simple to the initiate, implementing this solution in a robust and economical manner presented several engineering challenges. For Chapman, one of the first challenges was coming up with a set of drawings for a prototype.

Although Chapman has been using 2D CAD software for years, he had no experience with parametric 3D CAD before embarking upon this project. He knew he was going to need the power and reliability of an industry-standard modeling package, but also one that made financial sense for his company. In the course of researching his options, he found that Solid Edge offered a free trial of their software and decided to check it out. Shortly after signing up for the trial, he was contacted by his local Solid Edge vendor, LMGi Product Development Solutions, to offer support. “They helped a lot and were always there when I needed them,” Chapman explained, describing his jump from 2D CAD to 3D modeling. He started by creating models of the pumps and bushings that he was going to modify and built up his Solid Edge skills to the point where he could begin creating his own designs.

Working mostly on evenings and weekends, Rick Chapman taught himself how to use Solid Edge to design the SealSaver. One of the advantages that Solid Edge provides is the KeyShot rendering engine. Chapman put KeyShot to use here to illustrate the assembly of the SealSaver’s Shuttle Valve.
Working mostly on evenings and weekends, Rick Chapman taught himself how to use Solid Edge to design the SealSaver. One of the advantages that Solid Edge provides is the KeyShot rendering engine. Chapman put KeyShot to use here to illustrate the assembly of the SealSaver’s Shuttle Valve.

Although the team at Trask-Decrow Machinery are experts with pumps and compressors, they specialize in sales and service. There was no design department or drafting team to support Chapman’s innovations. “I was working on it nights and weekends,” Chapman told me, echoing a story I’ve heard from other passionate innovators who see a way to improve a product or process. It also didn’t make sense for the company to make a significant up-front investment in CAD software for what was, at the time, an unproven product. “The monthly subscription worked the best for us,” Chapman said, describing the company’s decision to license Solid Edge on a month-by-month basis rather than purchase it outright. “We don’t have a day-to-day need for 3D modelling, as our work is typically 2D when required,” he said. The subscription option gives Chapman the option to rent the license whenever he needs it. “And it will be the latest version of the software when we do,” he added.

The end result of Chapman’s evenings and weekends with Solid Edge is now a functioning product installed at several ski resorts across the United States. The “SealSaver” is saving about 30 to 40 gallons per minute of water on each pump, and the water saved is the equivalent of adding one or two additional snow guns to the hill. For a snowmaking operation running several pumps, this means they can add six to eight additional snow guns at very low cost. While the snowmaking team thinks the additional output is fantastic, the maintenance teams are also delighted. The clean water injected by the SealSaver prolongs the life of the bushings and mechanical seals. “Each time a mechanical seal fails, you are looking at a $1,500 to $2,000 repair job,” Chapman told me, “not to mention downtime.” Perhaps the most ardent supporters of the SealSaver, however, are the management team. The SealSaver uses water and energy more efficiently, contributing to the resort’s bottom line while reducing their environmental impact. “We’re the only ones that build this product,” Chapman said, advising me that certain aspects of the design are in the process of being patented to help ensure it stays that way.

Trask-Decrow Machinery has many orders coming in for the SealSaver, but they are taking a cautious approach to scaling up manufacturing. “We want to go slow to start with,” said Chapman. “Everything we’re learning is being incorporated into updated designs. We want to get it right.” Chapman also told me that they plan to use a subscription to Solid Edge to log the changes they’ve made as a result of early testing. “I’d like to have Solid Edge here full time,” he added, but for now, the subscription model of Solid Edge is providing exactly what he needs to do the job in the most cost-efficient manner, both for Trask-Decrow Machinery and their snowmaking customers.


Siemens has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to write this article. It has provided no editorial input. All opinions are mine. —Jason Brett


About the Author

Jason Brett teaches electronics and materials science in the Technology Teacher Education Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He has 17 years of experience in technology education, during which time he founded the first For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competition team in Western Canada. He is the founding president of the Pacific Youth Robotics Society and remains actively involved in promoting STEM education through competitive robotics. Brett uses CAD to design and simulate a variety of products that he produces using techniques ranging from traditional machine tools through water jet cutting and 3D printing.

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