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4 Energy-Management Best Practices for Tech-Savvy Machine Shops

Energy efficiency has improved in the U.S. over recent decades, meaning manufacturers are achieving comparable or improved results by consuming less energy — and shops are looking for more, innovative ways to make efficiency upgrades and cut costs.

Machine shops consume energy as they turn raw materials into desired products, and often a lot of it. Overall, industrial concerns consume more than 33% of all energy in the United States. Manufacturers may overlook energy cost because it's only two or three percent of the total production cost, but doing so ignores the total amount of power used in mining raw materials, metal treating, in facilities that make paints and dyes, and much more. Consumers pay for this energy consumption at all stages, whether it's put to good use or wasted.

Nevertheless, energy efficiency has improved in the U.S. over the past few decades. The amount of energy required to produce one dollar of finished goods has been cut in half, and this reduction can be attributed to upgrades in energy-efficiency — or, doing the same amount of work by consuming less energy.

Tech-savvy machine shops are looking for additional innovative ways to make efficiency upgrades and cut costs. If you're a manufacturer, consider these four energy-management best practices.

1. Schedule energy audits — To cut costs, machine shops can audit operations with free tools and software provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). A typical energy audit takes one day for small or mid-sized businesses and three days for large corporations. Since 2006, more than 2,600 companies in the U.S. have identified energy savings by this route.

Free DOE software features system-specific metrics that analyze energy use in process heating, cooling, steam, machine drives, and more areas. With a small investment, a machine shop can identify ways to improve energy efficiency with a minimal effect on production.

For large enterprises, the DOE says the average savings per energy audit is $1.4 million. Small and medium-sized companies see an average savings of $165,000. The purpose of an audit is to identify best practices manufacturers can implement to make operations more efficient.

It's also recommended that you educate employees about the standards for machine shop efficiency, including the best ways to use software tools and analyze performance. Set up an energy-management team dedicated to reading real-time data reports and analytics. This team also can schedule regular audits designed to improve performance continuously.

2. Partner with suppliers — One way machine shops and other manufacturers can map energy use and strategically avoid costs is to partner with suppliers. Toyota, for example, recognized the energy demands of its facilities and decided to partner with parts and material suppliers to create an action plan and protect the environment.

In 2000, the automaker issued green supplier guidelines, and in answer, 98% of North American suppliers became ISO 14001-certified. Suppliers are required to eliminate all chemicals included on Toyota's banned list and to implement systems for handling the transportation of hazardous materials.

Businesses are always partnering with each other to achieve solutions in distribution, inventory, and profits — so why not in energy management? Machine shops can cut energy usage and save money by partnering with suppliers to reduce waste.

Manufacturers should focus on establishing a comprehensive approach to waste minimization and opportunity positioning. Search for ways to reduce emissions and manage energy better across the supply chain. Working directly with suppliers will allow you to understand how investments can make improvements on the factory floor.

3. Find an energy-management system — The Internet of Things (IoT) is the ability to interconnect multiple wireless devices — such as cell phones, lamps, thermostats, washing machines, headphones, etc. — to the web. Allowing these devices to talk to one another can deliver significant value to the user.

On the consumer side, the IoT means your car has access to your calendar and will know already the best route to take to your next appointment. If traffic is heavy, your vehicle might text the other party to notify them you'll be late.

For manufacturers, the IoT allows complete data integration through a factory-wide energy-management system (EMS.) Such a system optimizes energy consumption to reduce carbon emissions and operating costs. An energy-management system can monitor, visualize, control, and optimize consumption of both renewables and fossil fuels. The system looks at each piece of equipment to gather real-time data and generate intelligent insights toward cost-savings opportunities.

4. Invest in renewable energy — Fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and crude oil dominate energy sources in the manufacturing sector. Tech-savvy machine shops are making the switch to renewables as a way to help create a cleaner environment and reduce production costs.

Turning raw materials into finished products is one of the costliest and most energy-intensive operations in manufacturing. A vast amount of electricity is required to power heavy machinery, run heating and cooling systems, keep buildings lit and much more.

For example, Tesla promised to power its Gigafactory with 100% renewable energy by the end of 2019. Because of the savings, the company expects to slash the price of forthcoming electric vehicles by up to $3,000. If this factory — which measures 10 million square feet and will produce thousands of car batteries each year — can implement renewable energy sources, just about operation can do the same.

The switch to renewables also provides machine shops with stability. Oil prices are difficult to predict, and some industry experts believe prices will increase in the near future. That resource is finite and environmentally destructive, as well. Moving operations to renewables provides security and savings over the long term.

Energy management best practices for machine shops — In the manufacturing sector, conscientious energy management may no longer be optional. If you want to reduce waste, save operating costs, and prepare for the future of renewables, it's essential to implement an effective energy-management strategy. With the advent of the Internet of Things and machine learning, it's easier than ever to collect real-time data and gain valuable insights.
Kayla Matthews writes about the IoT, IIoT, automation and smart technologies for publications like InformationWeek, Manufacturing.net, Robotiq others. To read more from Kayla, follow her personal tech blog, Productivity Bytes.

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