Used in large commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities, water chiller systems pump cool water through building heat exchangers or hot machinery to draw away heat. A typical chiller is 16 feet long, weighs 20,000 pounds, and makes a lot of noise. It’s so large, in fact, that in new construction it’s generally lowered into the basement, and the building is then built around it.
Revenues: $65 million
What It Does: Manufactures water chillers for commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings
“An architect designs a building that will last 100 years and puts a machine in it that has a 25- to 30-year life,” notes Mark Platt, president and CEO of Sparta, Wisconsin–based Multistack. “There’s no way to get it out easily” when it needs to be replaced.
Three executives from Wisconsin–based Trane Company founded Multistack in 1989 to provide a modular approach. “The concept was, can we make these things in smaller pieces so you can get it through a door, up and down an elevator, and into an equipment room?” Platt says. “They figured out a way to bolt multiple modules together to get to the capacity you need without tearing your building apart.”
In June 2002, Platt, who had been at Multistack since 1995, led a management buyout and acquired the company, which at that time was controlled by New York merchant bank Allen & Company. “I believed in what was happening here, and I knew what we could do with this company in terms of the untapped potential in the market,” Platt explains. Revenues jumped from $9.8 million to $14 million during Multistack’s first year as an independent company and reached $65 million last year.
A conventional chiller has one compressor, which is the heart of the machine, and one set of controls; if something breaks, the whole system goes down. Multistack provides redundancy without requiring a costly backup unit. Perhaps Multistack’s best value proposition is energy efficiency.
“A traditional chiller is designed to cool a building on the hottest day of the year,” Platt explains. “The problem is, it’s only 100 degrees one or two days a year. The rest of the year, that large machine is running at 20 or 30 percent of its capability, which is extremely inefficient. With our modular chiller, if you don’t need all that horsepower, you start turning things off. And ‘off’ is extremely efficient.”