STARKVILLE — Saving energy doesn’t just make a company feel good about being environmentally responsible. It can also save a considerable amount of money.
Small- to medium-sized manufacturers in Mississippi can get free advice on ways to save energy, reduce waste and improve productivity through the Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) at Mississippi State University (MSU).
A good case history for the program is a Miller-Picking plant in Hattiesburg that manufactures large, custom air conditioning units. An IAC assessment led to recommendations that ended up saving the company $55,000 in one year. Energy-related recommendations resulted in savings of $18,000 off the company’s annual utility bill of $117,000, and waste-reduction recommendations saved $43,000.
“Obviously, these recommendations save the business money,” said Dr. Glenn Steele, head of MSU’s department of mechanical engineering. “When they do the things that are recommended, they use less energy, and have a more efficient operation.”
Steele said reduction of waste can also be a big money saver. For example, a metal company in Mississippi was paying for disposal of waste from their operation. The IAC evaluation found someone who needed that waste product for their manufacturing operation. A waste product was turned into a byproduct, and the company’s expenses for disposal of that waste material were eliminated.
There are about 35 IACs in the U.S. The IAC center at MSU covers an area that includes parts of Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. About 25 to 30 businesses per year participate in the program. National IAC conferences allow engineers to compare notes, sharing success stories that might be duplicated elsewhere.
Steele said that many small and medium-sized companies are so busy trying to make a product at a profit that they don’t have the time and resources to deal with energy issues.
“This particular program helps some of those small and medium size companies,” he said. “We have a lot of those in Mississippi. It is amazing how many we have when you get out there and start dealing with them. It is also amazing how international many of them are. They have customers all over the world. I’ve been quite impressed with the breadth and quantity of manufacturing businesses in Mississippi.”
Manufacturers must meet the following requirements in order to receive a IAC assessment:
• Standard industrial classification codes of 20-39.
• A maximum facility energy cost of $1.75 million per year, and a minimum facility energy cost of $75,000 per year.
• A maximum of $75 million per year in gross sales.
• A maximum of 500 employees.
• Lack in-house expertise in energy conservation.
Brian L. Eddins, staff engineer at the IAC, said he feels the program is not well known.
“We have a problem with publicity,” Eddins said. “I would really like people to know about this program, and would like to see more companies use it. We would be glad to talk to any manufacturer in Mississippi. We almost always can save people money. We have lots of customers who are very happy. The program is 100% free. All it takes is a little cooperation.”
Another advantage of the program is that it gives MSU students practical experience in applying what they have learned in the classroom. The students are used to help develop the recommendations under the supervision of Eddins, Dr. Keith Hodge, IAC director, and Dr. Richard Forbes, IAC associate director.
“This is wonderful arena to teach the students this type of thing, especially in this area because there aren’t many companies who do this kind of work,” Eddins said. “The students actually do 99% of the work. I just help them out with the things they can’t figure out. We look at boilers, compressors, and any type of oven. In industry, that is where the biggest savings are. Lighting and utilities, in general, are a high part of the cost of manufacturing. Every company should look into this. It is very easy, and doesn’t take a whole lot of their time. We work almost independently.”
The energy audits aren’t a class project. Students are actually being paid by the DOE for the work that involves practical applications of classroom training.
The IAC programs results in an assessment report that identifies and recommends specific actions to conserve energy and/or energy costs, reduce waste generation and costs, and improve production methods. Implementation costs and payback periods are estimated for each recommendation.