Kohler is meeting the challenges posed by mission critical facilities with a focus on innovation across a wide range of data centre applications. Serving the diverse needs of its customers is key when increasing processing and power density in restricted locations while continuing the drive to improve sustainability and efficiency.
Power Across Generations
Industrialist John Michael Kohler established the business that still bears his name in 1873. Initially developing farm machinery, the company went on to manufacture a host of kitchen and bathroom appliances with its products used in homes across the word. Kohler first entered the power business back in 1920 providing generators to farmers who weren’t yet connected to the grid. Over the past 100 years the company’s offering expanded to include switchgear, ATS and now UPS.
As the largest private power generation manufacturer in the world, Kohler has more than 100 years of experience in industrial power and benefits from the integration of global R&D, manufacturing, sales and distribution. The company’s worldwide distribution locations provide
personalized customer support and technical assistance 24/7. A consistent, world class approach to customer service sees all of its equipment supported by a global network of certified Kohler distributor technicians and backed by factory-direct technical support.
“We have a full ecosystem of data center power products,” adds Sean Farney, Director of Data Center Marketing. “We've been providing generators and power systems to all types of mission critical and commercial customers, as well as residential customers for many years - everything from a residential home generator for back up, to the systems that power facilities like hospital, medical care, university and municipal, to keep power running if there's ever an issue with utility.”
Kohler - Power Optimized Designs for Data Centers (PODS)
Inspired by collaborations with its clients, Kohler has developed dedicated solutions for the data center industry worldwide. Kohler’s PODs (Power Optimized Designs) for mission critical facilities are designed with standard and reliable components, and available in a variety of configurations. Whether you need to secure the power supply of your data center or simply replace your current backup generators, customizable power options are available. Kohler’s qualified technical teams guide customers towards the right technical solution for each project, based on individual requirements and regulations. Stackable and rackable solutions can be deployed with short lead times…
- Density PODs: Walk-in enclosure/canopy or 45ft container. Best power density on the market. For Hyperscale data centers up to 500MW
- Modular PODs: Skin tight enclosure/canopy or 40ft container. Stackable, rackable and ready for quick deployment. For Regional data centers up to 25MW
- X-Press PODs: Skin tight enclosure/canopy or 20ft container. Compact and with a short lead time. For Edge data centers up to 5MW.
Kohler’s growing focus on data centers reacts to the sector demanding more and more power gear to the point where it’s now one of its biggest customer areas globally. “Hyperscalers spend $150bn a year in Capex to build new facilities,” notes Farney of a sector whose global footprint is growing at a rate of 20% per year. “They’re an important global customer segment so we're meeting that demand with new products. A perfect example is our 4MW Gen Set, the KT4000 series is the largest on the market in the world right now. It’s really specific to Hyperscale data center operators who are building 100-200MW facilities. This approach complements our full product set from 100kW now up to 3.2MW.
“And now there's a new term: ‘Gigawatt Campus’, which to me is shocking because 10 years ago, when I was running data centers for Microsoft, our 120MW facility was considered huge! The stakes have been raised so Kohler is meeting that need with larger scale products and you'll see continued development from us across the space.”
Recent Synergy research calculated a $1.5bn uptick for the Hyperscalers due to the global pandemic which Farney notes shows the resilience of the sector and how it’s growing: “If this new modality of how we work remotely from home and anywhere does become the new normal with less interaction in office environments, then we will see continued impact to the upside for data center builds and providers.”
Kohler has broken ground for its new manufacturing facility in Mosel, Wisconsin where it is developing 155,00 square feet of manufacturing space to keep up with demand. An aggressive expansion roadmap will see increased overall production capabilities for power products and test capabilities. “We're also going to make it easier for customers to do factory witness testing and access our engineering consultant expertise at our new customer experience center,” adds Farney. “We're very excited about this expansion and it shows our commitment to be all in for the data center sector. Our manufacturing facility in Brest, France continues to grow and we're increasing our US presence alongside capabilities to supplement what we do in Asia.”
How will Kohler be reacting to trends across the data center panorama to meet the needs of its customers? “There are some fascinating innovations going on in the data center field and not necessarily influenced by the fallout from Covid,” explains Farney. “The likes of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon - have robust R&D budgets and teams of PhD level electrical and mechanical engineers working on better ways of doing things because for the Hyperscalers, when you're running gigawatts of critical load, small tweaks can make a really big difference. At Microsoft, we would change the ambient temperature in a co-location facility by just a few degrees and see thousands of dollars of savings. Hyperscalers are incentivized by the green dollar, but also by the push for sustainability. Really forward-looking leaders like Christian Maier at Microsoft are experimenting with immersion cooling, for example, using evaporative and conductive cooling of liquid to reduce or increase the ability to exhaust heat. Hats off to the data center leaders for funding this research and looking ahead at different ways to be more sustainable, to be more efficient, and to run their operations tighter.”
“It's innovate or die,” maintains Farney. “That never changes... We need to continue to drive new product growth. Everyone knows the importance of generators for mission critical facilities. They have contractual agreements and binding SLAs in those contracts to guarantee uptime. Data center operators are financially incentivized to retain that uptime and make sure the facilities don't go down. And in generators, we provide the backup power to ensure that. We recently saw the importance of generators in the US in Texas, when they experienced power grid issues, but the data centers stayed up because they were running on diesel generators. It’s very important to continue to innovate and appreciate the importance of the growing role of backup power in data centers in general.”
Kohler is investing heavily in its R&D to develop alternatives to diesel generators. “We’re exploring parallel options with new technologies like hydrogen fuel cells,” reveals Farney. “We like to innovate under the umbrella of sustainability. Is it a revolution where we're going to throw out diesel generators and move to hydrogen fuel cell technology, or is it evolution? Are we going to continue to tweak and refine and make our existing products more efficient so they run cleaner and greener? The answer is both.”
Kohler pledges to continue to innovate and develop revolutionary new products while increasing the efficiency of existing products to adhere to the EPA tier 4 final specification in the US for emissions. “We’re changing approaches to maintenance routines and testing procedures,” adds Farney. “We’re aligning our engine technologies so we can help data center operators do their testing and operations and maintenance in a cleaner, greener way.”
Farney acknowledges that data centers are power hungry; they currently consume almost 3% of global power as they react to the culture of our insatiable appetite for technology and connectivity. “We’re living in what I call a data centered economy,” he says. “Everyone starts and ends the day with a data center whether it's Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter. As we move through this fourth industrial revolution our need for bits on the wire and images in the cloud increases. Data center providers react to that and they're growing their footprint accordingly. At Kohler we want to help them plan their power sources in the most sustainable ways possible. We’re looking at engine technology and operational routines so we can further reduce emissions and diesel fuel consumption.”
Kohler is using sustainability as a platform to drive both its new product development and for the enhancement of existing solutions. It collaborates across the industry within a sphere of knowledge leadership to continue to develop new products with the environmental responsibility that reflects global sustainability goals.”
Sustainability is a true north for Kohler and one that aligns with its CSR initiatives worldwide. Globally, it is committed to reducing water consumption and helping developing countries where clean water is not abundant. It is also providing water solutions after natural disasters with filtration systems for purification, portable showering and sanitation all part of Kohler’s efforts. Informing and guiding these efforts are initiatives like Innovation for Good (IfG) which seeks to take Kohler’s associates out of their comfort zone to inspire brainstorming new solutions to global power and water issues.
Kohler is a leader in environment impact initiatives:
- Over 50% of electricity used by renewable sources
- Contributed to over 292 Billion Gallons of water saved through sales of KOHLER WaterSense labeled products
- Impacted the live of over 900,000 people via safe water sanitary initiatives
Allied to this, Kohler has implemented a DfE (Design for Environment) program to incorporate environmental impact analyses and metrics into every NPD (New Product Development) project and EPD (Environmental Product Declarations) initiative for disclosure. EPDs are developed by manufacturers based on life cycle inventories and provide quantitative, third-party-certified details of a product's projected environmental impact from cradle to grave. Some manufacturer EPDs use industry averages in their calculations, while Kohler utilizes a best-practice approach that compiles company-specific data to calculate the footprint of each product over its complete lifecycle.
Meanwhile, in adherence to tier 4 standards, Kohler has launched diesel generators capable of meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) strictest emissions guidelines, utilizing the markets most simple system, yet sized up to 3250kW to meet the needs of large and complex installations such as data centers.
Building on history
“We’ve got a great story to tell built on 148 years of history,” maintains Farney. “Kohler is recognised across the world and well positioned as the number three brand in the global generator space. We’ve got the largest generator on the market and we’re serious about making a sustainable contribution to data center power.”