Reducing Manufacturing Energy Costs: Some Simple Steps

March 15, 2022

As the cost of energy continues to increase, many manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce the amount of energy used on site. Luckily, there are a number of things any manufacturing site can do to achieve greater efficiency.

In this blog, we offer some ideas to help you combat ever-increasing energy costs. Keep reading to find out more, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want further information on any of the suggestions made.

Proactive Maintenance

Reactive maintenance is still a reality in many data-rich manufacturing facilities, and unplanned downtime is the obvious headache you have to endure as a result. However, there are many other hidden costs to bear when a truly proactive approach is not taken by management, and one big cost is higher-than-necessary energy consumption.

Chillers, boilers, air handling units, ventilation, compressors, etc. are a constant drain on energy. While many managers try to be proactive about minimizing energy use, overloaded work schedules often lead to a “set it and forget it” approach. Although setting and forgetting can save time in the short-term, it typically leads to runaway energy costs if left unchecked.

Even though a building management system (BMS) is crucial to the running of your facility, it is not generally configured to track and tackle energy efficiency. Specialist building analytics platforms can have a huge impact on energy savings within weeks of implementation.

Sitting above your BMS, a building analytics platform utilizes building intelligence, machine learning and technical engineering support to pinpoint inefficiencies and their exact cause. It will then offer clear actions you can take to get equipment running at full efficiency again, and more importantly, keep it that way.

A Healthy HVAC Is More Cost-Efficient

Given that heating and cooling a facility can account for 20 to 40 percent of your energy costs, ensuring your HVAC system is operating as efficiently as possible should be a key priority. HVAC systems were also highlighted by 100 facility managers as the number one expense on manufacturing sites in a recent research report commissioned by CIM.

There are two ways to tackle your HVAC energy problem:

  1. Upgrade your HVAC and controls system.
  2. Ensure your existing HVAC unit is operating as efficiently as possible.

The first option means you have the latest and greatest HVAC technology operating at your facility, but it also comes with the most cost, effort and disruption. Even if capital is no issue, replacing air handling units means downtime, massive project work, cranes on site and a very uneasy quality team.

Ensuring your HVAC equipment is operating as efficiently as possible is far more achievable in terms of capital investment, and it will always yield savings and energy reductions in a shorter time frame. The best way to ensure your existing HVAC is as efficient as possible is through a building analytics platform.

What Is a Building Analytics Platform?

A building analytics platform sits above a building management system (BMS), collecting data from multiple existing sources in your building such as AHUs, chillers etc. The BA platform ingests this data, standardizes, and applies automated FDD rules to provide you with prioritized actions. It uses machine learning, building intelligence and technical engineering support to provide you with metrics, insights and priority actions.

It essentially pinpoints inefficiencies and offers opportunities for improvement. For example, if the temperature in an area fell out of its normal operating range, finding the source of the issue could be difficult because this error can be caused by any number of reasons. A building analytics platform will use data from multiple sources to help you quickly find and fix the issue.

Look For Leaks in Your Compressed Air System

Leaks, in any system, can be a big source of wasted energy. In manufacturing, a leaky compressed air system can cause output waste by as much as 20 to 30 percent, according to the US Energy Department.

More than that, the Compressed Air and Gas Institute state that “poorly designed and maintained compressed air systems, by some estimates, account for up to $3.2 billion in wasted utility payments” in the US alone.

Both of these figures highlight the importance of monitoring and maintaining your compressed air system. While finding leaks will also require some manual work, a good building analytics platform will help you capture total airflow changes or abnormalities. And depending on how the air is metered, provide you with an indication of the leak location.

Pinpointing leaks is difficult and requires manual inspection. Tools like sonic imagers can be useful when detecting air and vacuum leaks.

If you’re interested in discovering the true cost of air leaks, you can use this formula:

(Number of leaks) x (Leakage rate in cubic feet per minute) x (Compressed air generation requirement in kilowatts per cfm) x (Number of hours per year) x (Energy cost per kilowatt hour)


Lighting: The Low-Hanging Fruit

Energy efficient lighting, and the use of lighting controls, are two obvious ways to reduce energy across your manufacturing plant. With that said, there are many facilities still not taking advantage of this upgrade.

The old standard, incandescent bulbs, waste a significant amount of energy through heat. These bulbs also emit light in all directions, rather than at the areas which require it.

LEDs use up to 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs, but industrial CFLs are also a good option. LEDs are extremely efficient with light and energy. They are a directional source of light, which means the light is cast where needed and the small amount of heat produced is dealt with by a rear heat sink.

This delivers energy savings in two important ways:

  1. Maintaining constant light across your facilities costs less.
  2. Your HVAC system will use less energy because LEDs radiate less heat.

Keep It Cool, Naturally

Controlling temperature is crucial to the effective operation of any manufacturing site, and according to our research, it is also the single biggest energy cost in manufacturing.

Excessive heat can cause equipment to operate inefficiently, result in wasted energy, and cause serious issues in controlled environments. It can also raise health and safety concerns and cause unhappy and less productive employees.

While many managers understand the importance of their economizer and the benefit of prioritising free cooling, our engineers continuously encounter manufacturing sites that do not avail of free cooling and instead have chilled water cool their air instead.

So, the next time you have a spare moment, why not take a look at your current cooling settings to see if free cooling has priority over chilled water cooling. What you find may result in significant energy savings.

Carry Out an Energy Audit

An energy audit can be an effective way to improve the energy performance of your site while also reducing its carbon footprint. It is also an excellent way to highlight potential opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed.

While there are many reputable firms available to carry out an energy audit for you, there are some basic steps you can take to carry out an in-house energy audit to identify energy saving opportunities.

Step 1: Take the time to familiarize yourself with the energy audit process. This is a detailed resource to help you with that.

Step 2: Outline the scope of the audit, what data you will need, and which team members you will need to pull into the project.

Step 3: Do a quick analysis of the data you collected. This will help identify areas that may require further investigation. This is also the stage where you will create your audit checklist and the agenda for each site inspection.

Step 4: Conduct a full site inspection. This is best done with senior management to ensure buy-in when changes need to be implemented.

Step 5: Conduct a technical assessment of items such as HVAC, pumps, refrigeration, compressed air and renewable energy. Contractor and consultancy fees can be a barrier at this stage, but a building analytics platform can offer technical insights with far less expense.

Step 6: By this stage, you will have a list of opportunities for greater energy efficiency. You should now conduct a financial analysis of these opportunities to put a clear cost beside each.

Step 7: Identify opportunities and prioritize them. With the investigation complete, it is time to focus on the opportunities which will yield the largest increase in efficiency. Again, a good building analytics platform will help you with this.

Step 8: This final step focuses on reporting your results. You will want to communicate the scope of your investigation and the key opportunities identified.

See how CIM’s PEAK platform can help reduce your sites' carbon emissions and minimise impact on the environment.

CIM Team
March 15, 2022