July 7, 2010

The word Sustainability has come to mean the capacity to endure with a low affect on the environment and being a good corporate steward of resources. This definition of the word must also imply profitability – for a manufacturing business to be sustainable it also has to be profitable.

Business sustainability means that a manufacturing facility must make money for its stakeholders, pay employees, suppliers, and taxes as well as being sustainable in the environment. I have always talked to individual manufacturing facilities about sustainability in the broad sense. “If you can keep this facility making a higher profit margin on your product than your competing plants – internal or external – then you will be in business no matter what name is on the sign out front.” Sustainability is not a balance between two opposed positions – profit and environmental impact . Sustainability efforts should be driving both environmental and profit sustainability through good business.

There are two ways to achieve both – Revolutionary and Evolutionary change. Revolution is making disruptive  changes to existing systems. Evolution is making incremental positive changes that can immediately help all facilities and putting systems in place that will guide and support all future changes with decision support intelligence tools.  I have helped manufacturing increase production effectiveness by keeping real time dashboards and reporting in front of people for better decisions for lowering changeover, cleaning, downtimes, rejects, labor and material cost per unit. These are the tools that can drive success in environmental sustainability and be a major part of profit sustainability for the facility. Let’s look at energy management for example.

Energy management, and all that encompasses such as electrical, steam, fuel, compressed air, water use and effluent, are key indicators of environmental sustainability and areas of huge potential savings for manufacturing. Excess water use means that too much energy is used to pump it around a facility and then deal with pumping and cleaning the corresponding effluent adding to energy use. Excessive emissions from boilers and processes may not be just an environmental problem but a sign that boilers are not running efficiently. Compressors and boilers run far too much because of leaks and misuse. These all add to the cost per unit in the manufacturing process.

Many companies work from static audits and implement projects to lower the cost/consumption of energy such as improved lighting or new VFD motors without ever measuring the actual energy use before or after the project. There is nothing wrong with this except it the employees are not engaged. Posting the energy bills monthly and asking employees to be good citizens is not engaging.

Energy intensity can be an excellent Performance metric for a manufacturing plant. Energy intensity is the amount of energy used to produce a unit of output. Tracking energy intensity per grade, process area, shift, line and more provides not just a benchmark for performance but also a target to beat. Getting this metric displayed in real-time helps everyone see the correlation between their performance and energy consummed. This is active energy management.

It seems to me that arguments against energy management are primarily centered around three items.

  1. Some don’t see how they can move from seeing a problem to figuring out how to change procedures or justify a capital project to resolve the problem.
  2. Energy management is not a core business and everyone is busy just making production.
  3. There are no energy experts at the plant to analyze data and calculate ROI for energy management.
  4. Metering can be expensive.

Still manufacturing margins are tight. Every facility has to look at its own business sustainability that includes smarter manufacturing and lowering energy use whether it is a small operation or part of a multi-national conglomerate. Sylution has three levels of systems that can be applied to existing infrastructure in any facility to provide the intelligence, feedback and awareness to lower the cost of energy in manufacturing.

Level 1: Provide a web-based dashboard with trending of energy using dials, gauges, and trending. Provide email alerts, and information about what electrical, steam rates, fuel use, air use, water and effluent systems connected to your data. Get this information in the hands of those that can use it and act upon it. This is a low cost option that can be implemented a little at a time and addresses item 1 above. Putting the information in everyone’s face has certainly paved the way to procedure changes and capital before. However, energy data without the context of production data is important. High energy use may just mean that the plant has set a new production record!

Level 2: Employ a Sustainability solution that is remotely hosted with web based dashboards, reporting and remote energy experts working for you to lower the cost of energy on a subscription basis. Meters are connected to the “Green Box”. The green box transmits the energy information to the host system every minute. At the hosting location a web site if built for the client facility and dashboards, graphs and reports are produced and put online. The client only needs a web browser to see dozens of reports and dashboards freeing up their IT staff. The system can be set up by the user to produce email alerts and notifications. But further – the subscription pays for an energy consultant to be assigned to the plant as part of their team. The consultant will talk with the plant assigned contact often and will analyze the plant data comparing it to dozens of other typical plants. The consultant will enter potential projects into a log on the web site with estimated costs and savings for the facility to save energy, look for energy rebates, find government incentives and help avoid use of energy during peak rates. The client will get a monthly executive report of energy use, suggested projects, savings from completed projects, and more. This solution addresses objections 1, 2, and 3.

Level 3: A higher level of addressing sustainability is to use Manufacturing Operations Management or MES solution. MES is a performance management system that looks at production performance, batch phases, operating rates, products, and equipment lines to produce manufacturing key performance indicators for process performance. Energy use, air, water, steam, fuel, etc. can be captured and displayed in web dashboards to show use of energy and rates of effluent as it correlates to rate, products, equipment, and more. An MES can also provide alerting and even dynamic work instruction to operators or managers of to perform tasks like looking for air leaks, lowering the header pressure when equipment is down, etc.  Energy use – like labor tracking – is an integral part of the system providing web-based dashboards and reporting. This solution addresses both items 1, 2, and 3. There is no better way to save energy than to run at optimum speed, without downtime or rejects – in other words – the better you run the process – the less energy that is used. Seeing energy use as a function of production rate and product makes it the business of operations.


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