The plumbing-heating-cooling engineering and contractor community knows McCormick Place — downtown Chicago’s massive convention center — very well. Almost once a year, the 2.6 million-square-foot facility is host to at least one industry trade show where members walk the floor learning about the latest and greatest products available for applications.

Frank Paulette knows the ins and outs of McCormick Place even better than the PHC industry. For many years, Paulette — the leader of Valparaiso, Ind.-headquartered Correct Mechanical’s Convention Services Division — has assisted McCormick Place in putting on at least 10 national trade shows per year. Events such as the National Restaurant Association Show and the America’s Beauty Show require hot water on demand in exhibitor booths and Paulette is onsite to make it work.

“I probably work about 3,000 hours per year at McCormick Place,” he estimates.

McCormick Place receives its incoming water around 40° F, but exhibitors at such events as the International Kennel Club Show and the Beauty Show need water at their booths to be in the 110° range to properly showcase how to wash a dog or human hair.

“The dogs don’t like having ice on their coats and the women don’t like having icicles in their hair,” Paulette says. “A dish in a dishwasher isn’t going to scream on the show floor.”

To make those hot-water temperatures happen with ease, Paulette worked with Menomonee Falls, Wis.-headquartered Bradley Corp., and its Keltech tankless water heater systems product line. The Keltch units, manufactured in Delton, Mich., were modified by Paulette to be harnessed on movable skids. This makes it easier for Paulette to move a Keltech water heater around McCormick Place’s four halls and set up at a show’s exhibitor booth whenever needed.


Charging ahead

According to Paulette, McCormick Place’s management team recently began subcontracting out its plumbing work for trade shows. “Now you have to be like the cavalry,” he states. “You have to be able to take stuff in and out.”

Putting in 30 tank water heaters was never going to be a viable option because of the amount of space it would take up. Paulette began brainstorming ways to be more efficient. “I wanted to get the same amount of water in a smaller package,” he declares.

After checking out a couple options, Paulette made the call for Keltech units because of the cost savings they provide. The water heaters are able to save the same amount of water and money with three faucets connected to it rather than other options Paulette scouted.

“This is not something we decided to do overnight,” he says. “We put a lot of research into it.

“Comparing Keltech to other similar models was like comparing a Cadillac to a Volkswagen. There was no question the construction, functionality, quality and efficiency of Keltech was exactly what we needed for our temporary water-heater needs for convention work at McCormick.”


Storage wars

Paulette’s mobile Keltech units are locked into place, remain stationary and can be set for the exhibitor’s needed water temperature. It then takes five minutes for the units to be drained, unlocked and placed back into storage.

“The Keltech flexible hot-water solution is the perfect remedy for this situation since water is needed for only certain shows,” he says. “Installing water heaters throughout the facility, whether water was needed or not, would have added tremendous expense.”

Paulette adds the water heaters are used at 30 to 40 events per year and are ready to go when needed. Also, their sturdy construction is key during transport.

“They get their use, but they are not constantly in use,” he says. “When they are empty, I don’t have to worry about elements banging around. McCormick Place is a big facility and when you’re going from one building to the furthest building away, it’s not like you can just put them on a truck and drive them over. We haul them with a scooter so we don’t have to pay for shipping costs.

“Those water heaters bang around, but I don’t lose thermostats or other elements like I did with tank heaters. Keltech built a solid machine.”

At McCormick Place, there are 10 of the Keltech 480 units featuring 100 amps and six units with 60 amps. Paulette wanted some smaller options because of the fluctuating incoming water temperature in Chicago. During the winter the water is around the aforementioned 40° mark, but in the summer it could be as high as the 75°.

Before Paulette’s new setup for the National Restaurant Show, he would have to use a 180° booster and two commercial heaters per station.

“Those two heaters cost me roughly $6,000 apiece and the booster costs $3,000,” he says. “I was running 10 spaces like that — the cost was huge. Now, those would last me five years, but it was still costly.

“The initial cost of these new units was about half what I would spend on one restaurant show.”


Going out on tour

Paulette also runs four major trade shows in California and two in Las Vegas throughout a typical year. Having the units on moveable skids is incredibly important for his bottom line. He is able to save money by having his team members break everything down and load up the water heaters onto the trailer that’s ready to hit the road to the next town.

And to top it off, he is able to save rental and fuel costs on smaller transportation thanks to the Keltech’s smaller physical footprint.

“I can haul a 22-ft. trailer with my stuff and a pickup truck,” Paulette says. “Now, I don’t have to pay shipping costs on a 53-ft. semitrailer and pay a teamster and a cab to haul everything around.”

Paulette stresses how important this advanced setup has been for himself and his tradeshow business. He knows it has been turning heads.

“This has been great for the trade-show industry,” he says. “A couple competitors on the West Coast saw what I put out and asked, ‘What are those?’ I told them that was my hot water. They thought the units wouldn’t keep up.”

The show managers have taken notice as well, in person and with their wallets.

“I’ve received plenty of accolades from a general contractor I work with. They are happy,” Paulette states. “I used to have to put in those two heaters and a booster. Now, I give them more floor space so they can sell another booth on the showroom floor. When you put 10 of these out there, that’s 10 more booths available. They like it and it has worked out well for me.”


This article was originally titled “Hot water on the move” in the January 2018 print edition of PM Engineer.