Plugging in the numbers

Some days, it takes all the energy we can muster just to deal with all the energy issues. We’re facing another summer of making the best of escalating energy costs. The issues of sustainability and energy efficiency are top of mind for manufacturers, and they were key issues at this month’s Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit.

By Bob Vavra, Editor April 15, 2008

Some days, it takes all the energy we can muster just to deal with all the energy issues.

We’re facing another summer of making the best of escalating energy costs. The issues of sustainability and energy efficiency are top of mind for manufacturers, and they were key issues at this month’s Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit. That’s because managing energy costs — even more than managing people — has become a mission-critical activity for a plant manager. Success may mean keeping the recession away from your front door.

So the energy to manage your energy costs is worth expending. Like the energy itself, though, your personal energy management requires the right tools to give you the right information at the right time in the right way.

At Schneider Electric’s Engineering Services Division, for example, the task was to figure out an energy model that accounted for variables in weather and production. After analyzing three years worth of data, they developed a model that could calculate electric and gas consumption. That model was compared to actual consumption to identify weaknesses in the system.

The model was so successful internally at Schneider Electric that it’s going to be expanded to more than 60 sites in 2008. It’s also being used as a consulting tool for the Engineering Services Division to work with external customers.

A similar success story at Dow Corning Molykote division also began as a way to measure the effect lubrication has on energy consumption within its own facilities. Now Molykote has an online calculator that helps plant managers calculate the impact of proper lubrication on equipment and project energy savings.

Plugged into savings

At Schneider Electric, Steve Austin is at least a $6 million man. The goal is to make him a $6 billion man.

Like his fictional namesake, Austin has the tools and the technology to make things better for energy consumption. “We do two things,” said Austin. “We take a top-down look and track electrical and gas usage, and then we strip back the effects and try to see the results of energy efficiency.

“Then we come up from the bottom, identify projects in the plant, establish what savings we can make on the energy bills,” he said. “Then we meet in the middle. We’ve had pretty good luck reconciling the two.”

That doesn’t mean that the numbers were immediately embraced, though. If the real data showed higher usage than the model, it was often the model that got the blame. Continuing to work on the model, and continuing to find the weaknesses in the consumption proved to plant managers within Schneider that there were improvements to be made.

“It’s an excellent tool for energy managers,” said Austin, “but it doesn’t work by itself. It highlights areas that are out of whack, and that’s its real value.”

By taking weather issues out of the equation in the introduction of a production line in a Ohio facility, for example, the model was able to point to where gas consumption was higher than expected.

Now Schneider Electric’s Engineering Services group is taking that model out to customers with a goal of helping them pinpoint the same kinds of opportunities. “We don’t tell them how to make pharmaceuticals, or paper,” Austin said. “We try to help them get the most for their energy utility dollars.”

Avoiding friction

The whole purpose of oil is to get deep into your machinery and keep it running smoothly. Unless it’s leaking, it is out-of-sight and often out-of-mind — especially when it comes to energy efficiency.

“When you’re dealing with customers, lubrication is fairly far down the list,” said Phil Grellier, Dow Corning global solutions development manager. “You’re told to insulate things, turn things off. But once you’ve gone through all the low-hanging fruit, there are lots of other possibilities.”

When they first started to take a look at the issue, Molykote turned to its own plant managers within Dow Corning. “When dealing with our own reliability experts, we talked about how they optimized our equipment,” Grellier said. “If you can reduce friction, you can save energy, and cut CO2 emissions. We started to go a little deeper. People would say, ‘That’s always been hot, that’s always been noisy.’

“Changing lubrication doesn’t make a piece of equipment into a star performer,” Grellier added. “You need to get things right before you put our lubricant into the machine.”

Energy and sustainability are issues for Molykote’s customers as well.

“Everyone’s concerned with the price of oil; there’s a lot of focus on energy prices,” said Mike Storey, global engineering leader at Molykote. “A key for all companies is to reduce energy, reduce CO2 and stretch out the fossil fuels we’ve got left. It’s certainly starting to become an expectation. It’s becoming part of your ability to do business.”

“Lubrication is just part of good housekeeping,” added Grellier. “Once you get to reliability, you can start measuring the downtime you save. The maintenance guy gets trapped by the budget.”

The Molykote calculator assumes an 8% improvement in efficiency for proper lubrication, then allows the plant manager to plug in variables such as numbers of gearboxes, compressors, fans and pumps, as well as kilowatts, efficiency and hours used. The calculator whirls for a second, then posts projected savings.

Beginning the discussion

As the evolution of manufacturing drags the enterprise level and the plant floor management level together, issues such as energy management and plant-floor maintenance practices have to become a shared responsibility, and a shared discussion.

“This tool switches on the light for management and leads to bigger savings that can be put back into plant maintenance,” said Grellier. “The calculator can lead to better discussions. It can lead to a better level of trust and understanding. There isn’t a magic list. It’s how it is used.”

“The big savings in energy comes from challenging the status quo,” said Storey. “It takes that discipline, and it takes visible, transparent numbers to pique people’s interest.”

One of the big issues is affecting real energy savings without reducing production. Austin said energy costs, and the parallel interest in sustainability, is forcing companies to rethink everything.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in renewable fuels. It certainly seems like the path we’re on. Industrial energy efficiency is important. We’re seeing prices skyrocket. We’re trying to reduce consumption to offset the energy prices.”

Calculators available

There are a number of calculators available to measure energy usage. Go to to plug directly into these calculators.

Sustainable initiatives

Companies such as Dow Corning have made energy and sustainability core business goals. They’ve developed programs for themselves and their customers designed around the frugal use of energy resources while not compromising productivity, safety or quality.

Among Dow Corning’s recent initiatives:

In October 2007 , the company announced a $50 million investment in new equipment for its Midland, MI, plant that is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 20%, total emissions by 75% and lower the site’s consumption of natural gas by 400 billion Btu per year — the equivalent of heating more than 3,500 homes over the winter.

Also in Midland , Dow unveiled a solar panel array for a minor-league baseball team stadium to generate enough power to operate the stadium’s scoreboard.

In May 2007 , it announced a $1.5 billion investment in a plant that makes polycrystalline silicon industry (the critical material that enables solar energy to be a reality).

In September 2007 , it announced its sponsorship of the International Polar Foundation’s efforts to study climate change and sustainable materials at the world’s first zero-emission research station, the Princess Elisabeth Antarctic Station.

In July 2007 , it inaugurated 1,000 square meters of solar panels that will provide electricity and reduce CO 2 emissions at its Wiesbaden, Germany, plant.

Startwith an energy audit

The impact of rising energy prices is being felt in every corner office and boardroom. A recent Duke University study ranked high energy costs as the No.1 concern among U.S. executives, ahead of even healthcare costs and rising interest rates. Yet, remarkably, the same study revealed that only a minority of companies have made any attempt to improve the efficiency of their facilities.

Better energy management can, however, carry a sizable payoff. According to the Energy Cost Saving Council, aging buildings and out-of-date technologies coupled with sky-rocketing energy costs are creating tremendous economic opportunities to invest in energy management upgrades. With advances in energy efficiency over the last 10 to 20 years, there is dramatic room for savings in almost every area with a swift return on investment.

The first step toward realizing those savings is developing a comprehensive and integrated energy management plan. That plan will provide the blueprint for better controlling a plant’s energy use and ultimately improving its bottom line.

The first and most important step toward developing an energy management plan and reducing energy consumption is gaining a clear understanding of your existing use patterns and the technologies involved. That information can be captured only through a comprehensive energy audit.

During an energy audit, experts in energy efficiency typically identify the sources of energy use and prioritize them according to the greatest to least cost-effective opportunities for energy savings. However, additional savings can be generated by establishing energy use patterns in comparison to similar facilities in the region, evaluating peak demands and utility contracts, unearthing potential maintenance issues, equipment efficiency levels, power quality problems and more.

By monitoring and analyzing energy use, companies improve internal awareness of how much and for what purposes energy is being consumed. That provides an opportunity to track needs and allocate resources in the most efficient way possible while avoiding negative impacts on productivity.

Accurate front-end energy use data is critical to understanding where the greatest potential savings lie and what progress has been made since system or process changes have been implemented. To capture the energy use data, facilities rely on power monitoring systems.

Today’s electrical manufacturers offer a wide variety of option-rich and customizable power monitoring solutions. Circuit monitors can accurately measure electricity display inputs from other utilities — including gas, compressed air, water and steam. Furthermore, users can track a variety of energy use metrics and use interval data information to create diagnostic reports or generate alarms notifying the facilities manager of potential issues.

Through customizable reporting capabilities, advanced power monitoring systems allow the user to drive maximum efficiencies by measuring energy use against virtually any variable that’s important to them. A manufacturing plant may track the total kilowatt hours and benchmark that data against outside or inside temperature, time of day, production levels, time of year, square footage or any other quantifiable value.

While power meters on their own don’t reduce electrical consumption, their payback has been well documented. A study by the Energy Cost Savings Council revealed that meters and monitors have an average payback period of less than six months and an average return on investment of 200%.

Cassandra Quaintance, MAS, CE, is energy market segment manager for Schneider Electric.