To Stay Competitive, Manufacturers Must Become Energy Efficient

Environmental advocates can cheer for a bit of good news — the pressures of the market have almost made energy efficiency mandatory in business. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Environmental advocates can cheer for a bit of good news — the pressures of the market have almost made energy efficiency mandatory in business. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Environmental advocates can cheer for a bit of good news — the pressures of the market have almost made energy efficiency mandatory in business.

It’s not there yet, of course. But consumers everywhere are taking a closer interest in the health of the planet and holding industry accountable. On that note, manufacturers, in particular, find themselves with a variety of pressures, as well as opportunities, to capitalize on this momentum.

Energy efficiency is crucial to the manufacturing industry today. But how do you actually accomplish it? Here are some ways manufacturers can improve their processes.

Identify your periods of peak energy demand

One major efficiency measure you can take is accounting for periods of peak energy consumption in your operation. Newer technologies give us better granularity in our data and more ways to pinpoint when energy needs spike — and what causes them.

Think of the inefficiency caused by turning high-electricity-demand machinery on and off throughout the day. Then, think about how much better off you’ll be if you instead plan for peak demand and implement production shifts to accommodate this “energy needs schedule.”

Control your start-up spikes

Start-up spikes are an issue of their own, but they closely tie to identifying your scheduled peak power demands. The concept is simple to understand and to remedy.

Start-up spikes are an issue of their own, but they closely tie to identifying your scheduled peak power demands. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Start-up spikes are an issue of their own, but they closely tie to identifying your scheduled peak power demands. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Turning on all of your manufacturing apparatuses at once can cause more strain than necessary — on your machinery, your electrical system, and your power expenses. Instead, come up with a logical start-up sequence for your equipment and don’t turn anything on that isn’t needed at the time. Making small efforts here will reduce unpredictability in your energy needs and availability without cutting into your production schedule unnecessarily.

Optimize your compressed air systems

Compressed air systems are used in enough industrial and manufacturing processes that they more than earn their place on this list. Compressed air is more than likely used in your operation, too — whether it’s for moving materials from one point to another, cleaning parts for assembly, or assembling hygienic packaging, compressed air is a manufacturing godsend that’s worth getting right when it comes to energy efficiency.

While it’s true that compressed air is a somewhat “lossy” process where energy is concerned — with only 5 to 10 percent of its energy use actually remaining “available” — it’s still absolutely vital for quite a lot of manufacturing processes. So if your system needs another look, here’s what to look out for in green-friendly, higher-efficiency compressed air systems:

  • Variable-speed compressors may offer energy savings of up to 35 percent compared with less-efficient rotary screw compressors.
  • Some “smart” compressors dynamically reduce or increase capacity depending on your needs in real-time. Some processes require nearly 100 percent flow, but not necessarily 100 percent capacity. Smarter technology can greatly reduce your costs and your energy footprint.

Another reason this is worth mentioning is that if you upgrade your existing systems or find ways to substitute existing equipment with an efficient compressed air alternative, you might also qualify for efficiency rebates depending on where you’re located.

Compressed air systems are used in enough industrial and manufacturing processes that they more than earn their place on this list. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Compressed air systems are used in enough industrial and manufacturing processes that they more than earn their place on this list. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Monitor your weekend energy use

Finally, another potentially overlooked piece in the manufacturing energy-efficiency puzzle. Your “weekend” might not be the same as somebody else’s, but the point is that your operation has off-hours on a regular basis where your energy use should drop considerably — not to zero, but probably close to it.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook a lot of wasted energy if you haven’t used analytics to get a clearer picture. If you haven’t taken the time, it’s well worth the effort to see what exactly might continue to draw power within your facility even when you think you’ve shut down for the night or the weekend — or perhaps even a major holiday.

Naturally, there’s a cost-benefit calculation to be made here. In some cases, it makes more sense to leave machines on — depending on the type of apparatus and the time interval in question — than it is to turn everything off. Some of the abovementioned factors come into play here, including start-up spikes. Consider, among other things, the “rest cost” of each piece of equipment you rely on to do your work.

If you haven’t taken the time, it’s well worth the effort to see what exactly might continue to draw power within your facility. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

If you haven’t taken the time, it’s well worth the effort to see what exactly might continue to draw power within your facility. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

How energy efficiency can give you a competitive advantage

It’s not hard to see how most, if not all, of these steps, could deliver energy savings for your company. It’s also not hard to see how this translates into a potential competitive advantage. Just be forewarned — making your company more environmentally friendly does not necessarily translate into greater profitability. Some of the currency you trade here is purely reputational. That can be one of the most valuable kinds if you play it right.

An ever-larger body of market research indicates customers are more willing than ever to cut ties with companies that don’t take eco-friendliness seriously. Moreover, the entire consumerist history of America is marked by successful boycotts of companies that did not take their social and ecological responsibilities seriously. The age of the Internet has made it easier than ever to see who’s pulling their weight and who is not.

But your competitive advantage starts at home — and that means in your workplace and among your employees. Researchers have remarked upon the much higher productivity and engagement among employees of “greener” companies. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how more enthusiastic and globally-conscientious workforce easily inspires trust and loyalty among your target market. That means more sales and better brand loyalty.

And it can all start with focusing on your energy footprint and snowballs from there. Sometimes, big changes take a few small ones.

Megan Ray Nichols

This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her website Schooled by Science.

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