Environmental responsibility is becoming more than just not discharging pollutants into the nearby stream or emitting toxic materials into the atmosphere. Many companies are making the decision to “go green” to show their customers, shareholders and employees that they care about the environment; and as an equal incentive, they look to lower energy consumption, increase equipment reliability and cause a positive change to the profit and loss statement. As the leadership of an organization begins to look for potential areas to make investments to achieve these goals, they often look at their production processes to find these opportunities. Many times, the areas of the business that provide the greatest return are overlooked and investments are made in areas that don’t generate the energy savings expected.

The first area identified is often a program to increase motor efficiency. This is a good area for plants to look at carefully because more than half the electrical energy consumed in the United States is consumed by electric motors. Improving efficiency of the electric motors in your plant and the equipment they drive can reduce energy consumption and production costs. The annual cost of operating a motor is usually many times the initial purchase price. As electric motors are rebuilt, it is important to consider the energy efficiency of a rewound motor compared to purchasing a new energy-efficient motor. The new, more efficient motors have technological enhancements that allow them to operate more efficiently with less vibration, increased winding insulation, and, like the new automobiles of today, they use less energy to operate.

A second area of operation that is often overlooked and is a prime candidate to drive increased energy efficiency is the lubrication program. A study conducted by Lubrication Engineers Inc. indicated a typical result of companies that upgrade their lubricant and reliability practices is to experience a documented reduction in energy consumption of 5 to 15 percent. Gearboxes had the greatest decrease of 15 percent followed by air compressors at 12 percent reduction and electric motors at 4 percent reduction. A misconception many organizations have is “if it costs more, it must be better.” Price doesn’t guarantee the best result when it comes to a lubrication program. Sometimes a synthetic lubricant provides the most energy efficiency; other times, maybe a mineral oil would be the most efficient and effective lubricant. It is important to monitor and select the correct lubricant that provides energy efficiency, performance and equipment reliability or the program could be causing more problems than it is solving.

According to a survey conducted by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), 70 percent of manufacturing plants have compressed air systems. According to that same survey, compressed air systems account for an average of 10 percent of electricity consumption in these plants. To further emphasize this point, energy consumption across the United States by manufacturing plants adds up to $1.5 billion annually to produce compressed air. These compressed air systems are one of the most costly consumers of energy in a plant, but are necessary to provide a valuable source of power for a variety of equipment from hand tools to production equipment. Programs to reduce compressed air losses (leaks) can produce 10 to 15 percent savings in energy costs on an annual basis, providing an excellent opportunity to reduce energy consumption.

Conducting a self analysis of current business practices in place today can also expose many areas of waste that consume excess energy. Storage practices for electric motors, gearboxes, pumps, electrical components and other items in the maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) inventory also can cause these units to consume excess energy when placed in service. When thinking outside the plant walls, it becomes clear that procurement practices can also have a negative impact on energy conservation. If the suppliers are required to make additional deliveries to the plant because of bad planning or a reactive maintenance environment, the cost for additional fuel adds to energy consumption. Environmental awareness has gone from thinking inside the four walls of the plant to removing the walls and looking at the effects our products, actions and energy consumption have on our communities and the environment we live in.

This article first appeared in the September edition of Life Cycle Engineering’s Rx Today newsletter.

About the author:
Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, has more than 25 years experience in plant management with three Fortune 500 corporations. As a senior subject matter expert specializing in materials management with Life Cycle Engineering, Wally has helped both domestic and international clients realize multi-million-dollar savings through lean inventory management practices and supply chain optimization. You can contact him at wwilson@LCE.com. For more information on Life Cycle Engineering, visit www.LCE.com