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Can You Go Green Without Breaking the Bank?

Wed, 08/12/2009 - 1:05pm
John Murphy, Director, Solution Marketing Infor EAM
It's more than just cool to be green – it's profitable. But can you do it without breaking the bank?

John Murphy, Director, Solution Marketing Infor EAM

More and more we continue to hear of "super" green efforts undertaken by some of the Fortune 500, including brand new LEED-certified and carbon neutral production facilities. The truth is many companies simply cannot afford such an expense. For the majority of companies, sustainable initiatives are more moderate, ranging from replacing lighting and encouraging employees to carpool, to recycling and adjusting climate control settings.

Another option for food manufacturers is to invest in new, more energy efficient equipment. After all, the equipment in your plant is one of your largest consumers of energy. Unfortunately, the ability to rip and replace equipment at will in an effort to reduce energy expenses and be more environmentally conscious is a luxury few companies can afford – especially in these trying economic times. For most food manufacturers, there has to be a middle ground for going green that does not require an endless expenditure of greenbacks. While "low-hanging fruit" green projects like unplugging electronic devices at night to reduce energy waste and encouraging electronic distribution of materials instead of paper copies are a good start, for asset-intensive companies to truly benefit from "green," it is imperative that they are able to accurately evaluate the energy usage of all their assets and develop procedures that improve energy efficiency across the organization. The energy demand of your infrastructure is a critical area that can be easily controlled with minimal fiscal investment. By adopting a strategic infrastructure management plan, food manufacturers can decrease annual energy consumption by as much as 20 percent, which benefits the planet and margins.

Managing the infrastructure
For most food manufacturers, processing and facility equipment represent a significant portion of their operating expense. In fact, food plant assets such as HVAC, refrigeration, tanks, mixers, pipes, etc. are some of the largest consumers of energy. Odds are, these assets are also operating below designed efficiency levels and therefore "stealing" energy from your operation. Most companies today have visibility into energy usage at the corporate level, or even the plant level. But without visibility down to the line or asset level, there is no way to effectively manage and control energy efficiency. Think of it this way – it's as if hidden beneath your processing lines and assets are buried treasure chests full of gold. Find them and your business will be rewarded handsomely.

Another important benefit gained by greater visibility into energy use is improved equipment reliability and availability. Manufacturers often overlook fluctuations in energy consumption, but these variations can be a key indicator that an asset is not functioning properly. By carefully monitoring an asset's energy use, one can predict when an asset will fail. This enables companies to shift production to another line and/or material to another tank/mixer, and conduct maintenance on the underperforming equipment before it fails completely – significantly decreasing downtime. Additionally, this information allows manufacturers to plan for long term equipment needs, reducing the number of spare parts on hand and the storage space required for surplus parts inventory.

Both of these roads to operational excellence – asset energy efficiency and asset reliability – lead to an Enterprise Asset Management program that is both preventative and predictive, and inherently encompasses energy utilization in the context of your operation.

Taking this a step further, the success of such a program is dependent upon the collection and processing of relevant, real-time data, which allows manufacturers to determine which actions are beneficial and, if necessary, redirect efforts to address areas of weakness. By implementing a comprehensive preventive maintenance program that takes into consideration energy usage of all current assets, as well as factoring energy consumption into any future asset acquisition, allocation or replacement, financial managers can account for more than 80 cents of every dollar of operating expense per asset.

Establishing an effective program
Like most things in life, asset maintenance is often a reactive process with maintenance programs focusing on tactical procedures to track and fix assets, rather than providing analysis into why assets fail or predicting when they will. But shifting an asset management program from reactive to proactive is not something that can be done overnight. It requires in-depth evaluation of the interrelated assets that comprise the complex production system on most plant floors. After all, assets do not operate in a silo. One asset often impacts another, which in turn impacts another, so great care and consideration must be given to the relationship between the various assets and their effect on the entire system.

Identify strategic assets
Predictive maintenance is not a practice to be realistically applied to all assets. Therefore, it is critical for food manufacturers to identify the assets that have a direct impact on their revenue. For example, tank performance and availability have a direct impact on production output. Also, manufacturers should consider production throughput in order to know to what extent equipment failure will impact revenue. For example, the failure of a highly efficient production line that operates at a high throughput may have fewer repercussions on the business than the discontinuation of a production line that struggles to meet throughput requirements but is more effective in meeting required demand – and therefore, more greatly impacts the bottom line.

Determine best indicators of failure
Asset failure occurs for different reasons and varies by equipment, environment and operating requirements. A mixer may show signs of wear and tear through excessive consumption of energy to keep output constant, but since there can be numerous indicators for asset failures companies need to be wary of monitoring signals in a vacuum. For example, if material usage variances are high and equipment usage is high, it may appear as if the asset is near failure. In this case however, excessive energy usage could simply be due to poor material or formula quality and the equipment is performing properly. Therefore, manufacturers need to consider the performance history of assets, failure studies, and individual experience. By doing so, trends and patterns emerge, which enable an organization to accurately determine which indicators really signal under performance so they can minimize production disruptions.

Actionable analysis
The key to an effective predictive maintenance program is having actionable analysis of real-time operating data. Traditional practices force staff to sort through data to develop an analysis that is inefficient at best and more likely inaccurate, considering the additional time lag between data collection and analysis. In addition, these manual review and analysis processes prevent staff from performing necessary maintenance and create a backlog of activity. By automating the procedure, companies free up time for the staff to take action on the analysis provided.

Analysis and trending technologies compile information and, based on business conditions and experience, identify issues and trends. Then the system produces predetermined work orders, allowing staff to take action. Software that includes a trending engine can pin-point problems, filter false alarms, notify stakeholders immediately, adapt to ever-changing conditions, and help a manufacturer drive their asset management practice to the next level.

"Greening" your business overnight is unrealistic, but a proactive, strategic infrastructure management and asset maintenance plan are progressive steps any food manufacturer can undertake. Besides environmental stewardship, the recent high profile food recalls that resulted from leaky pipes and roofs, and improperly maintained filling equipment, serve as a reminder to manufacturers that real asset management is more than simply balancing performance and longevity – it is about ensuring product safety and protecting brand equity. By combining a comprehensive infrastructure and asset management program with the right technology set, a company can be environmentally responsible, stimulate its bottom line, improve operational excellence and enhance consumer confidence – without completely overhauling its infrastructure or breaking the bank.

For more information on infrastructure management and asset maintenance plans, visit www.infor.com.

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