Just inside a bend in the Arkansas River, an imposing white cube of a building towers over the surrounding landscape in the south-western corner of Tulsa, Oklahoma. On a hot, sunny day, temperatures outside can soar to more than 100°F, but inside this 134,000-square-foot structure, conditions may be arctic.
The 65-foot-tall Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center (NAIC) is a climate testing marvel. Completed in 2019 at a cost of US$35 million, it tests semi-custom and custom-made heavy-duty heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment for Nasdaq-listed company AAON, ensuring the products are able to withstand tough conditions and meet customers’ exact needs.
There is no other laboratory in the world where airflow, temperature and acoustic performance can be tested simultaneously at such high capacities.
The center has chambers where it can rain or snow at the click of a mouse, where temperatures can drop as low as –20°F and wind speeds can reach 50 miles per hour. Elsewhere in the facility, microphones dangling from rods swoop through the air atop large tripods, measuring how much noise the equipment makes.
There is no other laboratory in the world where airflow, temperature and acoustic performance can be tested simultaneously at such high capacities. The center can accommodate a 300-ton air-conditioning system, while most of AAON’s competitors can only test units of up to 63 tons.
Customers can visit the NAIC to witness all this happening from the comfort of monitoring rooms, enabling them to be part of the process and come away highly confident that the systems they’re investing large sums of money into will perform as needed. For an opera house or a cinema, for example, it is mission-critical to have air-conditioning and ventilation systems that don’t make too much noise. Finding out the machinery hums too loudly after installing it would be extremely costly.
The center is named after the company’s founder, who had the idea to build it as he was approaching retirement. He wanted to create something to ensure AAON would endure long after he stepped down, and saw the NAIC as a way to take the company’s long-established innovative spirit to the next level while cementing its role as the technological leader in high-performance HVAC systems.
Norman Asbjornson founded AAON in 1988 by acquiring the air-conditioning and heating division of the John Zink Company. It has since grown to a firm of more than 2,000 employees with three facilities across Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, with a combined size of over 1.8 million square feet.
IT engineers, manufacturers, markets and sells products including roof-installed air-conditioning units, chillers and outdoor mechanical rooms as well as geothermal heat pumps, which circulate air from a few feet below ground, where the temperature stays constant throughout the year, meaning the pump can cool buildings in summer and heat them in winter.
Customers can visit the naic to witness all this happening from the comfort of monitoring rooms.
AAON’s units for indoor swimming pools neatly demonstrate the benefits of decades of innovating, tweaking and testing to ensure the best results in a given environment and according to a certain set of needs.
Regulating the climate of a pool room is tricky; you have to ensure people are at a comfortable temperature both in and out of the water. At the same time, it’s important to make sure that not too much water evaporates. Not only does it increase operating costs to lose pool water, it also makes the environment uncomfortable for swimmers. It fogs windows and makes walls and other surfaces wet with condensation, which can also cause structural damage to the interior of walls.
The company’s AAONDry dehumidifiers were designed with all these considerations in mind. With energy recovery wheels, high-efficiency filtration and variable capacity scroll compressors, the units help to precisely control temperature and humidity.
Such attention to detail has helped drive some impressive results. The company’s second-quarter sales for 2021 reached an all-time high of US$143.9 million, up from US$125.6 million for the same period in 2020.
On top of that, there is still more growth to be seen as the construction industry recovers from the pandemic, and AAON’s disciplined pricing strategy and improvements to productivity are expected to drive profits higher.
In other words, the climate looks favorable.
The company’s second-quarter sales for 2021 reached an all-time high of us$143.9 million, up from us$125.6 million for the same period in 2020.