Say Watt?

By Jeff Dearduff

The summer of 2007 heat waves once again have exposed issues with the electrical supply infrastructure of the United States. Rolling blackouts and demand exceeding supply left people out West in the dark on several occasions. Once again, we are tempted to look forward and wonder if this problem will ever become a story of the past. The way things are going, it’s not likely to get much better anytime soon.
If we are to do our part as an industry, we should get started now. We simply need to reduce our overall usage of electrical power by operating our bakeries much smarter. This is one of those cases where every little bit helps. There’s no reason to worry about doing “big, wonderful things.” We can start small and go from there.
Did you know that some of the biggest users of electrical power in a bakery are air compressors? Compressed air is many times taken for granted, much like water. Walk over to a hose, pull the trigger and voilà! You would be astounded how much it costs to produce 100 cubic ft. of air every minute. Then multiply that amount by your bakery’s demand and operation time.
Another surprise comes when you determine the amount of air pressure the bakery really needs to operate versus the amount of pressure that is actually produced in the compressor room. To save you a bunch of time figuring that out, here is a simple test for you to try. Pick a day when the production lines are down, and just walk around and listen. You are sure to find hissing solenoids, leaky hoses and air escaping from pipes. That’s the sound of money simply disappearing into thin air.
 If you want to go deeper, you can use an ultrasonic listening device to find even more problems. During this test, your plant might not be running, but your compressors are operating — at least running more than they need to. So if you have leaks when it’s quiet, you have leaks when you’re running, and not only are they running up the electric bill, but they also are wearing out the machines.
There are plenty of projects you can implement to reduce the amount of air your bakery uses and save money. In addition to fixing leaks, make sure pipes and receiver tanks are sized properly, and then move into a controlled operation by using some devices that your maintenance crews are already familiar with. When pressure switches, check to see if your valves and compressor controls are integrated into a PLC. If so, you can really get your game together and cause the meter readers to take a second look when they come by to ring you up.
Oh, yeah, here’s another tip. Don’t forget about getting the oil and water out of the air system before they cause problems down the line.
The next big user of the power supply is your lighting system. If you still have those old T12 fluorescent lamps throughout the facility, you are spinning the meters harder than those fixtures that have been retrofitted with newer options. During the last couple years even the ever-efficient T8 has been outdone by the super-efficient T5 lamp. Not only do these lamps slow down the meter and produce better light per watt, they also give us all an advantage in the environmental arena because they have lower levels of mercury.
If you are in a position to consider a retrofit, there are many ways to go about it. One way is to hire professionals who, both literally and figuratively, can show you the light. These experts can assist your bakery in finding the best solution for your lighting system issues. They can study your plant and determine the savings that you might generate when you replace old systems. These guys are on the edge of new technology and innovative solutions, and they know things about the subject that the typical bakery engineer would not. You can find these specialists in every major market — Google them.
Finally, check out your motors. In the automated bakery, electric motors are the organs that keep the body moving. Electric motors use a lot of energy, as well. Some motors are built on old designs and should be moved aside for newer high-efficiency units. Consider setting a policy stating that any motor that burns out gets replaced by a high-efficiency one every time. You might even look around to replace motors that are real power hogs.
Sometimes we think “more is better,” so when a simple conveyor starts to give us trouble, we put on a bigger motor. We forget that when the conveyor was commissioned, it ran fine on the lower. By putting on a more powerful motor, we cause two problems. First, the new motor is naturally using more energy. Second, the problem with your old conveyor is causing the new motor to overwork. That’s a double-whammy that’s negatively affected your electric bill.
These energy tips only start to work when you and your company have decided to make things better. A philosophy needs to be developed that focuses on energy reduction, and your program needs to have longevity. So many times we start out with good purpose, only to let other priorities get in the way.
If you stay focused, you eventually will reap the benefits from “watt” you have done. At the same time, you will begin to address sustainability.