Written by Senior Electrical and Controls Engineer Geoff Chadwick.
Sustainability is a broad term, but when it comes to manufacturing it can get even more complicated. New technology may be able to reduce energy consumption or eliminate waste, but facility personnel have to be able to economically maintain that technology for decades. Manufacturing facilities already struggle with legacy costs and shrinking maintenance budgets, so the burden of adding sustainability targets can seem like an impossible task.
One area that is often the first discussed is replacing older lights with new LED fixtures and the potential electricity savings annually. Some projects also implement smart lighting controls to automatically set light levels based on occupancy or tasks being done.
New light fixtures have immediate recognition for anyone inside the facility once complete, but too often other projects with less visibility (and more significant environmental impact) get set aside because they aren’t ‘cool’.
Replacing outdated equipment is often considered to be a maintenance function – but in reality, these upgrades can impact the plant’s sustainability on multiple levels. The cost of unplanned outages should be considered along with reducing maintenance when considering sustainability along with utility savings.
Many facilities consider compressed air, steam and water (DI water, condensate, etc.) to simply be utilities used by their process and often overlook the costs of these systems as well as their utility impact on-site. Many times, upgrading these parts of the plant offer superior annual savings compared to ‘cool’ upgrades like LED lighting.
When considering what it means to be sustainable, even the human element should be part of the plan. A new high-efficiency boiler, new feedwater pumps run on VFDs and a new condensate collection system may save water, fuel and electricity – but reducing noise by fixing broken steam traps is a benefit to reducing stress on plant personnel and increases safety as well.
If you have any questions about trying to improve the sustainability and environmental impact of your process, facility or building, contact Director of Engineering Design Tom Gilmartin, PE, LEED AP, at (716) 592-3980 ext. 120 or [email protected].