Energy efficiency a powerful topic in the Bicentennial year of 1976

As a company that has made metal fasteners for more than 80 years, Elco Industries always had a knack for hitting the nail on the head. Its approach to energy efficiency is no exception. “Today’s rapidly rising energy prices, the possibility of fuel cutbacks and company’s public spiritedness have spurred Elco’s top management to finance the development of new conservatio...


As a company that has made metal fasteners for more than 80 years, Elco Industries always had a knack for hitting the nail on the head. Its approach to energy efficiency is no exception.

“Today’s rapidly rising energy prices, the possibility of fuel cutbacks and company’s public spiritedness have spurred Elco’s top management to finance the development of new conservation techniques and modification to existing equipment that is energy inefficient.” If that sounds like a quote from last month, think again. Elco Industries and Plant Engineering were on the lookout for energy efficiency back in 1976, when then senior editor Ron Holzhauer wrote those words about Elco’s efforts in the June 24, 1976 issue.

America was on the cusp of the Bicentennial celebration and in the midst of an evolving energy world in June of 1976. When the Elco plant in Rockford, IL expanded in 1974, energy efficiency was at the front of everyone’s mind following the oil embargo.

Elco officials committed $50,000 of the $1.5 million budget for the 137,000 square foot plant expansion to energy conservation.

As Holzhauer reported, the company added $37,000 to the budget for special roof insulation, cutting heat loss in the addition to half that in older parts of the plant. They spent $8,600 more for a metal halide lighting system up front, but estimated annual savings were expected to be more than $6,500 annually. (As Holzhauer noted in his story, when the project began, the cost of electricity was 1.5 cents/kWh; by the time the story ran, the cost had jumped to 2.5 cents/kWh.)

The energy team at Elco created a waste oil recycling system that saved 18,000 gallons of oil by blending filtered waste oil from production machines with No. 2 fuel oil. In 1976, those cost savings were $5,760 because savings were figured based on 32 cents a gallon. Today it’s well on its way to $3 a gallon. Even at that, a chart later in the story showed that while natural gas was three-fourths of the energy used at the plant, electric power was almost two-thirds of the total cost.

Advertisers were also jumping on the energy bandwagon in 1976. One was offering rebates on purchases of fluorescent lamps. Today, the practice is to drive fluorescents out of plants in the name of energy efficiency. Another advertiser had one of baseball’s highest energy players, Pete Rose, as its spokesman for energy efficient lighting. Ads talked of energy savings for insulation, for ventilation systems and for metering systems.

Another ad talked about the cost comparison between installing conduit and cable or busways. The resulting cost comparisons are predictable (the advertiser sold busways) but it mirrors the same kind of discussions around evolving technologies today.

Not all the noise was about energy. Some of the noise was about %%MDASSML%% noise. A feature about reducing decibel levels at plants, with the author’s case study noting that “noise control is most effective when it is incorporated before the plant is constructed.”

That’s true of any technology. What Plant Engineering has spent 60 years writing about is how to upgrade your existing plant with new technologies so that you don’t have to start from scratch.

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Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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