Food and beverage manufacturers face unique challenges when it comes to energy consumption. The good news is that this also presents a large opportunity: food and beverage companies can significantly reduce their costs by becoming more energy efficient.
According to IndustryWeek, managing energy consumption is a "business necessity" for food and beverage manufacturers, with increased competition, tighter margins and rising energy costs being the key drivers. “While electricity is the largest energy cost for most food and beverage plants, it also offers the greatest opportunities for savings and can deliver the fastest payback," notes IndustryWeek.
In a world where corporate responsibility includes environmental consciousness, focusing on energy efficiency can help food and beverage companies position themselves in a more favorable light with customers, business partners and shareholders.
Seven Steps to Take Now
Food and beverage companies use energy for everything from cooking and refrigeration to heating, sterilization and other processes in between.
Here are seven steps food and beverage companies can take right now to reduce costs and improve productivity, all by managing energy consumption:
- Pinpoint the biggest sources of energy use: Look at where, when and how much energy is being used by the food processing plant and related activities. Then, use that data to figure out specific power-consumption costs, noting those areas where consumption doesn’t align with the actual activities (i.e., a food processing plant where two motors are using more energy than the rest of the facility as a whole).
- Pay special attention to motors: According to the Department of Energy (DOE),manufacturing accounts for 83 percent of total industrial sector electricity consumption in the U.S., with machine drives accounting for half of that total number. Be sure to factor governmental regulations into the motor selection process, and take advantage of opportunities for tax credits and utility rebates that may affect your decision.
- Replace or rewind motors: The typical industrial plant can reduce its electricity use by around five to 15 percent by simply improving the efficiency of its motor-driven systems. When replacing motors, you’ll want to take a total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) approach to the process and evaluate the economics of replacing all the motors in your operation (to save energy and create a more environmentally friendly plant). If a high-efficiency motor (EPAct) is still in serviceable condition and was installed before December 2010 (when the E.I.S.A Federal Legislation came into effect), you might choose to rewind it rather than replace it. In general, rewinding a motor costs about 40 percent of the purchase price of a new unit.
- Try using variable frequency drives (VFDs): Used to slow down the operation of motors and fans, VFDsare installed on any type of mechanical equipment—from pumps to fans to motors to compressors. “Traditionally, a motor or fan only toggles on or off, so even if it is only needed to perform a relatively small task, it would still ramp up to its maximum capacity,” Power to Transformpoints out. “A VFD allows for more control over a motor or fan, and adjusts the output according to specific needs.”
- Consider the physical work environment: Incremental changes can add up to big energy savings in the industrial environment, where high ceilings or large, empty spaces can consume a lot of energy. A large liquor distributorthat installed two 24-foot diameter fans in its 125,000 square foot facility (with 34-foot ceilings), for example, reported a $35,000 savings (based on a 19 percent reduction in natural gas consumption) during the winter. Other areas of the plant to consider include windows (are they well insulated?), heating/cooling (can you harness solar power?), and lighting (LED fixtures use less energy and require less maintenance). To save money on lighting, look at the amount of natural light available and work to maximize it. You can also install sensors that turn lights on or off (or dim them) when people enter or exit a space. An article by Manufacturing.netnotes, “The latter requires a greater investment upfront, but it allows artificial and natural light to adjust on a sliding scale depending on the environment.”
- Harvest the daylight: Ready to take your energy-efficient lighting beyond LEDs? Consider daylight harvesting. By allowing daylight to offset artificial light, food processing companies can reduce the amount of energy used on lighting by 20-60 percent, according to Facility Executive.Natural and electric lighting controls—from photosensors that provide automatic switching or dimming control to automated shading systems—allow manufacturers to adjust light levels based on the available daylight. Other tools include light shelves, which are used to help direct daylight further into a space by reflecting light to the ceiling. This helps natural light to fill an entire space, instead of what it can naturally reach from an open window.
- Make it a top-down initiative:A commitment to energy efficiency from senior leadership can make or break an initiative. When energy efficiency becomes a corporate priority—and when senior leadership is onboard from day one—everyone wins. According to the DOE,these commitments can be paired with goals and targets for plant-level management, which prove indispensable in reaching energy efficiency (EE) goals. At General Mills’ plants, EE targets have become part of the greater responsibility of plant management. The base of the program is the full–time, plant-level energy engineers at each “Big 'G'” plant who report to the plant manager (and who then coordinate with the corporate EE team and the other plant-level EE engineers). The DOE says energy engineers request funding for projects out of the plant budget, with approval coming from the plant-level finance team for smaller projects and the corporate finance team for larger projects.
Committing to running a more energy efficient food manufacturing plant takes work, but the payoffs are well worth the energy, time and money that are put into it. Manufacturing facilities in the U.S. spend $200 billionannually to power facilities yet, by not implementing good energy management processes, the same companies waste nearly 30 percentof that energy.
By prioritizing energy conservation, taking the time to assess which areas need to be overhauled the most and committing to energy efficiency initiatives at all levels of the organization, food and beverage manufacturers can improve food processing efficiency, manage energy consumption and reduce costs.