Green Mechanics

By Jeff Dearduff

A green mechanic just might be one of the most valuable people in the bakery in today’s crazy business world. In the past, the term usually stood for a crew member who had a lot to learn — you know, still wet behind the ears. Today, it takes on a whole other identity. The new generation of “green” mechanics includes those who can bring value to an operation because of what they know ... about “green,” that is.
The people who strap on the tool pouches in our operations are in touch on a daily basis with many of the areas that make up the expense side of the company’s ledger. They are dealing with equipment and systems that are using most of the electric power, gas and water that the company purchases each year. Having them trained and educated in the topic of conservation will lend to overall operational savings and better performance of the plant as a system.
Electrical power, or kilowatts, can be saved all over the bakery with some simple practices that can be carried out by the maintenance personnel as they move through their day. Turning lights out in machine rooms and parts stores when unoccupied might not sound like much, but when added to some of the more significant efforts in and around the bakery, these simple things can impact the overall electric bill in a positive way.
Do your mechanics understand Newton’s first law of motion? Put simply, do they realize the effect that friction has on the electric bill? In our bakeries, there are thousands upon thousands of moving parts, and anytime you mix moving parts with friction, your power usage increases.
For example, bearings that are on their last leg, conveyor pulleys that are rubbing the side of a conveyor frame and metal-to-metal wear can cause the load on the motor and gearboxes to be higher than designed and bigger than it needs to be. When a motor is straining, it is consuming more power than it needs to do the job effectively.
Additionally, educating the crew on proper sizing of motors is a place where power savings can be harnessed. If a motor is oversized for the application, you are simply wasting energy.
What about those pesky flickering fluorescent lamps throughout the plant? Yeah, there’s a cost associated with them. They aren’t putting out light, but they’re still sucking up the juice. A green mechanic always is looking for such power hogs and taking action to get issues resolved as a part of his normal day.
On the other hand, natural gas conservation is a little more difficult to get a grip on, but again, some simple education can pay off here, too. Proper burner adjustments, whether on an oven, a boiler or a large fryer, can leave some gas in the pipe that is otherwise wasted if the flame is inefficient. Better operational practices such as the timely lighting of an oven prior to production can yield some benefits. You need to heat the oven up before product gets to it, but how long does that really take? Determine the shortest amount of time an oven has to be turned on before baking, and adopt that process as your standard-operating procedure. Then inform the crew that every minute an oven is fired up has a cost to it. So what does it cost to fire the oven up too early? Try to calculate how much money is going up in smoke.
Water is the next place to conserve. Tray and pan washers, cooling towers and condensers are places to start looking for water use efficiencies. A misadjusted float on a water tank can send precious water down the sewer, causing a couple issues for you. One is that you bought the water and, secondly, you are paying for it to go down the drain before it has done a job for you. A harmless-looking water leak with a one-gallon-per-minute leak rate can toss a half-million gallons down the drain in a year. Water no longer can be taken for granted and must be conserved, especially if you consider the trouble that the drought-stricken Southeast is having with their supplies.
Other places where green mechanics can pay off is in and around the maintenance shop. Metal scrap can be collected for recycling at a later date, and boxes from parts orders can make it to the plants bailer for corrugated rather than the shop’s trash can. Anything we can do as an industry that reduces the loads on the landfill will benefit everybody in the future.
How do you get the maintenance crew to start thinking green? It begins with the manager. When the manager is setting the example, and positive results are publicized, others will jump on the bandwagon. Everybody hears the term “green” every day, so it’s nothing new. It’s just new to the workplace mentality.
If you set an example, the next thing you know, your crew will be coming in to work talking about the compact fluorescent light bulbs they installed in their homes or how they are recycling more than they ever have before. It’s all about a culture and a mindset.
For the betterment of the space in this world that we are borrowing right now, it’s time to start changing our own thoughts and the behavior of those around us on how we take care of precious Mother Earth. Remember, it ain’t easy being green, but it can pay off in more ways than one. SF&WB