Improving industrial equipment efficiency

Industrial equipment manufacturers (IEMs) build a specific type of industrial equipment repeatedly without much customization. Improvements can be challenging, but it can result in major savings and better efficiency for companies.

By Gas Technology April 17, 2022
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Industrial equipment manufacturers (IEMs) build a specific type of industrial equipment repeatedly without much customization, such as packaging machinery, metal and plastic forming equipment, testing machines, and other equipment managed by controllers. They are often designed once and do not require many modifications afterwards.

While this can be comforting to a manufacturer that does not require specialization, it can make improvements a challenge. In many cases, manufacturers or customers don’t look at an IEM unless there’s a problem. Why would they? They’re designed to constantly run without a break and handle simple tasks.

If companies put in the time and effort, though, they can see a greater return on investment (ROI) from a financial standpoint and can prevent breakdowns and downtime that will have a lasting and negative impact on the bottom line.

Replacing catalytic oxidizers with regenerative thermal ones

Novolex is a packaging manufacturer that deals in paper, plastic and sustainable materials for the food, retail, health and industrial markets. They have 62 manufacturing facilities and administrative offices in North America and Europe, including two plastic recycling facilities and specialize in the food and beverage industry. They recently replaced two catalytic oxidizers with a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO).
An RTO works on the principle that the heat energy of the exhaust gases can be transferred to a solid media (in this case a ceramic material) and subsequently transferred to the incoming gases. In this way, the incoming gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be heated to full oxidation temperature while adding little energy.

The RTO is designed with a combustion chamber section, which operates at about 1500ºF, located between two heat storage sections. The exhaust gases from the combustion chamber travel through one of the heat storage sections at a time wherein they are cooled to about 170 to 230ºF. As the gases flow through the media the heat generated during combustion is transferred to the ceramic media. Then a valve system causes the gas flow to reverse so that the incoming fume stream will pass through the other heat storage section. In this way, the incoming fume stream will be heated to 95% of the combustion chamber temperature.

For the selected RTO technology, all energy savings are calculated as compared to the existing recuperative catalytic oxidizer (RCO) system for achieving the same destruction efficiency level for VOC reduction. While the new RTO will be nominally rated to handle 75,000 scfm of process air, the energy calcs are based on existing 71,226 scfm of flow. The annual therm savings of installed RTO vs baseline is projected to be 509,934 therms/year.

Improving production at an automotive plant

Nahanni Steel Products Inc. is an automotive parts manufacturer. At its Brampton, Ontario facility, conventional thermostats kept the plant at a constant temperature, resulting in energy waste during unoccupied times. Today, new smart temperature controls optimize energy use, provide fault detection, and improve zone temperature control, while providing greater visibility into how the plant uses energy. The project cost a little over $13,000 and is expected to achieve a payback of less than two years and reduce heating costs by 40%.
What prompted this project was an Enbridge Gas site visit that identified the energy conservation opportunity.

During the site inspection, the team spotted exhaust coming from a rooftop unit (RTU) during the summer. It turns out that a thermostat had been hit by a forklift and this damage was causing the RTU to fire during the off-season. The RTU would have continued to waste heat all summer had this gone unnoticed. If a smart system were in place, this anomaly would have triggered a fault notification, allowing for the issue to be resolved right away.

Saving money during unoccupied times

The new system provides greater visibility into the plant’s heating consumption and adjusts start times automatically. “We now have clear data and 40% lower heating costs,” said Sebastian Zupanec, general manager at Nahanni Steel. “If you can’t see energy waste, you can’t save it. This project has uncovered many opportunities for future energy savings.”

Today, temperatures can be scheduled to be reduced during unoccupied times so that Nahanni Steel isn’t paying to heat an empty space. Even better, the HVAC system can be controlled off-site using a smartphone.

“We had a conversation about deeper savings. [Zupanec] has a strong desire to understand the building better and reduce its energy consumption. We decided on a site visit,” said Per Polderman, an Energy Solutions Advisor for Enbridge Gas. “Based on Nahanni Steel’s operating schedule—the building is unoccupied 75% of the time—I suggested temperature setbacks during the unoccupied times.” The greater the unoccupied times, the greater the potential for energy savings. Built-in logic optimizes the system based on how long it takes to heat the building. If a shift starts at 7 a.m. it will adjust to come on at 6:40 a.m. The system is also zone-controlled and scalable, should the company wish to automate lighting or ventilation later.

Financial incentives also influenced Zupanec’s decision to proceed with the project. “They’re always beneficial to our return on investment (ROI),” he said. “We could have waited, but the incentive allowed us to complete the project sooner.”

The results of this project have also created a desire for Nahanni Steel to be smarter and more proactive. This is a constant for many companies who are realizing there is a wealth of information that can improve operations.

“While off-the-shelf big-box store thermostats can provide similar savings, they don’t provide the data our customers desire. The data enables the customer to dig deeper,” Polderman said. “Fault detection allows the customer to correct issues before they cause serious problems with continuity, energy waste and occupant comfort.”

“The customer now has full remote control of HVAC equipment, which provides peace of mind and prevents people from changing parameters. Overall, smart technology helps with employee retention, continuity, energy conservation and future planning.”
The project is also an investment in Nahanni Steel’s personnel. “It’s important for us to put systems in place that create better comfort for our staff,” Zupanec said. “It’s hard for any company to find and keep great people. It’s an added benefit that we’re saving money.”

Industrial equipment manufacturers facing new normal

The demand and expectation to be efficient from a production and energy standpoint is the new normal. A good way to do this is improving IEM on the plant floor.

“Companies like Nahanni Steel supply larger manufacturers, who are starting to lean on their suppliers to reduce their scope 3 emissions and become more sustainable,” Polderman said. “Nahanni Steel is required to report their emissions because it becomes part of the manufacturers’ overall product footprint.

“Temperature setbacks during unoccupied times and ventilation optimization or filtration are the low-hanging fruits to reduce the amount of natural gas consumed by HVAC equipment.”

Benefits of IEM improvements

When it comes to IEM, the new normal can be a challenge when dealing with old equipment that is prone to breaking down or is too embedded in operations to shut down. While it might be inconvenient, the alternative of constant and unexpected downtime is not acceptable anymore. As shown in the examples, taking the time to thoroughly examine what is and isn’t working can improve operations and save a company more than money long-term.


Nahanni Steel Products Inc.


– This article appeared in the Gas Technology supplement.