The Ways of Warehouses and Other Large Facilities

Nov. 27, 2014

Like many business leaders, Robert Kwasnik, president of Tennessee-based Dunlap Industries, wants his business to use natural resources more efficiently. Beyond the business case, and beyond his belief that the country’s politics have tilted in a direction that favors greener solutions, Kwasnik says his taste for efficiency came from his Christian faith. “I feel like I am charged by my God to be a good steward of my environment, and it’s just something that I take to heart and take seriously,” he says.

But, before Kwasnik could reduce Dunlap’s energy consumption at their manufacturing warehouse, he had to assess it. For that, he spoke with EES (Energy Efficiency & Sustainability) Consulting. Dunlap is a manufacturer and distributor of zippers, thread, hook, loop and related textile trim.

“They came in; they went through our facilities,” says Kwasnik. “They took a look at the type of equipment we were using and the amount of power that they were currently pulling.”

The work that EES did for Dunlap, he says, was beyond the expertise that his staff could have brought to the job.

After the assessment, EES gave not just a full assessment of where and how his facility consumed energy, but also a list of options detailed “down to the number of months or years that it’s going to take to cover the costs and reap the savings benefits.”

EES ultimately suggested that Dunlap industries dispose of its older-style fluorescent tube bulbs and replace them with strategically placed compact fluorescents with attached motion sensors. The result, Kwasnick says, was a smaller energy bill and a more comfortable workspace: the new configuration eliminated dark spots and “actually increased the average number of lumens” in the facility.

Since then, Kwasnik has hired EES to identify and address more ways Dunlap can reduce its energy use, including a power generation project.

Kwasnik’s dilemma-and the problem of energy reduction in general-comes back to the old saying made famous by management consultant Peter Drucker: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

But the current market offers ever-growing ways to measure a building or facility’s energy consumption, and even more ways to reduce it-sometimes in a single stroke.

Firms like EES can perform thorough energy audits of a facility’s power draws. Other firms may use satellite images, embedded arrays of sensors, or infrared imaging. Regardless of the approach, companies need to know where they’re wasting energy before they can stop it.

The Energy Bill
According to Dan LeVan, Managing Director of EES Consulting, his firm usually starts assessments by doing a walkthrough and looking at the client’s energy bill. In addition to establishing a baseline for how much energy the firm consumes on a monthly basis, an energy bill can offer an early clue to the firm’s problem areas.

When firms don’t keep tight controls over how much energy they use-particularly during peak times-their electricity provider levies penalties on them. The less control the company keeps over their energy use, the worse the penalties grow. In one case, LeVan says, fees and penalties accounted for fully a third of one client’s energy bill.

In a case like that, LeVan and his colleagues can focus on the equipment that operates at the highest capacity during peak hours. Often, this means upgrading a firm’s HVAC solutions. In the case of Dunlap Industries, the company had recently installed new HVAC equipment. So, EES instead focused on the firm’s light fixtures.

The change reduced Dunalp’s energy bill in one facility by 38%, saving the company $26,765 per year. EES’s assessment also found that the upgrade would pay for itself in just 2.4 years and reduce Dunlap’s carbon footprint by 1.7 million pounds annually.

Getting Technical
In many cases, a broad assessment can only tell a company what system it should focus on. To figure out how and why to upgrade that system, the company or its consultants will have to investigate more closely.

Ryan Shinn, Western Group Marketing Manager for the CentiMark Corporation, says his firm uses tools ranging from infrared scans to pictometry to satellite images to determine if a roof has a problem and where that problem might be; these “roofprints” might have an energy efficiency story to tell.

“From a satellite image, you can actually see differences in shading and staining on a roof, which will tell you very specific answers as to where water tends to pool,” says Shinn.

That pattern tends to highlight areas where seal failures or construction errors have allowed water to seep into the roof’s insulation. Once there, the water boils and expands in the hot sun. “If you’ve got bubbling, the moisture was coming in from somewhere,” he says.

CentiMark will also take core samples of roofing layers to verify or disprove preliminary conclusions. Compromised insulation will result in strain on heating and cooling systems.

Once the company has a complete picture of a building’s roof issues, the next step is to address the problem and install a solution. Shinn says that sometimes his company will suggest stopgap measures, and sometimes they’ll suggest that the company install a new roof.

While CentiMark focuses on roofing solutions, consultants can use similar infrared scanning and core sampling approaches to spot problems with a building’s walls. Regardless of whether a building is losing heat through its wall or roof, Shinn says, building owners should address insulation problems quickly.

Shinn added that companies can also use their roofs for more than climate control. CentiMark has nudged some customers toward installing prismatic daylighting. These systems differ from classic skylight solutions by scattering the light into different directions as it enters the occupied portion of the building.

These systems have their drawbacks. They reduce the roof’s insulation value and add weak points to the roof that will need additional maintenance. But they can also significantly reduce the energy costs associated with a company’s overhead lighting fixtures. During bright hours, prismatic daylighting allows the business to switch off some or all of its electric light fixtures.

“Walmart has invested highly in prismatic daylighting systems,” says Shinn.

He notes that his company also offers another tool that may help reduce a company’s lighting needs: diamond-polished concrete. While lighting isn’t the primary purpose for this product, Shinn says, he notes that the highly reflective floors can reduce lighting needs as a side effect.

Getting Steamed
While Centimark and its associated contractors may use infrared cameras to spot hot areas of a roof, Shannon Enterprises of W.N.Y., uses them to find problem areas in steam systems and verify that the company’s solutions have done their jobs.

Vice president Frank Kovacs says his company uses infrared cameras extensively during the assessment phase of any new project. Infrared measurements, Kovacs says, let the company’s workers “gain general surface condition data found on all kinds of variable fittings with variable temperature conditions.”

Through these examinations, the company identifies which of a facility’s valves and equipment most need additional insulation in the form of a Shannon Insultech blanket. The company cuts and forms the blankets into covers that workers can easily slip on to high-temperature fixtures, and remove them when needed.

Because these areas are oddly shaped and difficult to insulate, facility managers often leave them bare-which can create a significant source of heat loss, which is also energy loss.

“The big issue here is identifying . . . which fittings are most critical,” says Kovacs.

Many of his clients, Kovacs notes, see his company’s blanket covers as a matter of worker safety as much as energy conservation.

“In those cases, we’re insulating things that are at ground level, in clear view, near a traffic lane,” he says.

Other times, the covers significantly improve worker comfort. Kovacs says that Insultech blankets have been able to lower the temperature in a mechanical room by as much as 35 degrees.

Once the company has made insulation covers for all the fittings, the firm will return with thermal imaging equipment to check the covers’ effectiveness. In all, Kovacs said, his company’s heat sleeves can reduce the cost associated with heat loss by as much as 90%.

While the company focuses on a steam system’s valves and flanges, Kovacs says Shannon Insultech workers sometimes find problems with a facility’s general pipe insulation. Shannon Enterprises won’t address poorly insulated pipes itself (the company confines practices to heat blankets, and pipes are best served through traditional pipe insulation), but will notify the facilities manager of the issue.

In addition to measuring the initial conditions and verifying improvements, Kovacs says infrared imaging and thermography has helped the company improve its products. He adds that, in the company’s early days, Shannon Insultech had to assume that the thermal insulation values given by the material manufacturers were accurate and translated directly to Shannon Insultech’s application. Now the company has been able to accurately test its designs and use those tests to improve them.

The company’s blanket designs have also improved in recent years, Kovacs says, because new technology has allowed the company to eliminate stitching in favor of heat-sealed seams, which further reduces heat loss.

Credit: Shannon Insultech
A heat blanket for efficiency, safety, and worker comfort

Seeing It All Together
While spot checks and monitoring the electric bill will help firms address many problems, they can assess-and solve-many more by installing systems that measure their energy use in real-time.

Kevin Tock, vice president of Product Development for Enerliance, says his customers can often tell when and where their building is wasting energy just by looking at a screen. The company’s Lobos HVAC optimization system tracks key building data on a constant basis. In a typical installation, Tock says, the system might track 10 readings on each of 20 floors and display them in a grid that looks like an Excel spreadsheet.

“On one spreadsheet you have 200 critical values,” says Tock. “Just by putting it up that way . . . it’s very obvious to see things [like] where supply fan speeds might not be right on certain floors.”

Seeing those problems, facilities managers can often make adjustments remotely to conserve energy while maintaining tenants’ comfort. But, sometimes, the adjustments won’t work from afar because the sensors or the attached equipment have broken down-which can be particularly acute immediately after a Lobos installation.

“Once we put in Lobos,” says Tock, “we usually try to tell owners that they should budget “˜X’ thousands of dollars for things that are probably mechanically wrong with your building that you don’t know about.”

In one case, he says, Enerliance installed Lobos in a building where the facilities manager boasted that his steam system operated at an efficiency of just 0.5 kWh per ton. “Which would be very efficient,” adds Tock.

“When we looked into it, two of their biggest pumps, they actually weren’t getting any kilowatt readings from those pumps. It’s very common for those kinds of things to happen.”

The system’s constant eye also helps facilities managers spot equipment failures as they happen. When a reading starts coming back wrong, building managers can investigate and quickly replace failed equipment as necessary. This helps maintain the building’s efficiency going forward.

Even during the installation process, Tock says, Enerliance will often identify equipment that should be upgraded to make the system more effective. Lobos’ efficiency depends, in part, on being able to have fine control over the building’s equipment. If a customer doesn’t already have variable speed drives on its fans, for example, the building’s owner will need to install those to make full use of Lobos’ capabilities.

While seeing all of the data in one place can help spot faults and failures, it can also help supercharge a system’s efficiency. In at least one case, Tock says, Enerliance systems have gotten so much efficiency out of a building’s HVAC equipment that even the equipment’s manufacturer needed to be convinced.

The key to this system’s success, he says, is that it gives facilities managers the ability to treat floors individually. The technicians in charge of HVAC systems for large buildings tend to plan everything around the worst-case scenario for the building as a whole. The natural temperature on an upper floor may be higher because it gets more sun-or simply because it has more employees emitting body heat. But tenants on the first floor might complain if the temperature in their comparatively cool office dips too low.

This can lead to perverse situations where the facilities manager turns up the heat for the whole building to keep the first floor tenants warm and then runs hot air over chillers on upper floors so that workers there don’t bake. While that often works, it’s inefficient and wasteful.

According to Tock, Lobos allows building managers to work with the worst-case scenario for each floor individually, and therefore deploy more efficient solutions.

Credit: EES
Strategically placed compact fluorescents with motion sensors are part of the efficiency upgrades at the Dunlap manufacturing warehouse.

Instant Feedback
Enerliance’s Lobos system includes algorithms for addressing changes in conditions, but some systems address the problem more locally.

Intermatic Inc., for example, sells sensors that automatically turn lights on or off based on immediate, on-hand factors including ambient light, time of day, and the presence of workers or customers.

Intermatic customers can even program a delay of up to 100 seconds between a change in conditions and a change in the attached lights’ state. This setting, says Eric Eronen, a product manager with Intermatic, addresses some end users’ difficulties with short-lived events that could trigger lighting changes. The headlights from a passing car, for example, could cause overhead lights to flicker off-which could create discomfort and safety issues for workers and customers. The result is a system that saves energy and comfort by automatically dousing lights when they’re not needed and switching them on when they are.

In addition to controlling when lights turn on and off, light controls from Intermatic will track lights’ operating hours. This can help companies more closely track their energy usage and stay ahead on their maintenance.

“Say you were putting in a light bulb that’s good for 750 hours,” says Eronen. “You can actually set this counter [at] 700 hours. They can see the hours that they have left. It’s going to give them an indication that that light bulb needs to be replaced.”

While this feature mostly allows end users to avoid the minor inconvenience of a light burning out mid-use and the potential hassle of not having enough spare bulbs on hand, Intermatic offers other meters that can help facilities managers avoid more worrisome maintenance shortcomings. Alternating Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC) hour meters will track how long a given piece of equipment has drawn power. For equipment that idles for long periods of time, this may not be useful, but it can create an accurate estimate for equipment that workers plug in only when they’re using it. Keeping track of this can help management properly maintain equipment, which will tend to improve its energy efficiency.

Intermatic also sells a vibration hour meter that can be attached to any piece of equipment, with no need for wires or batteries. The device converts vibrations as minor as a truck’s idle into electrical impulses that power the sweep of a minute hand around the dial. This allows users to track the usage time of mobile or unpowered equipment that may otherwise be difficult to monitor. Chemical mixing tanks, for example, should be cleaned at regular intervals to prevent the degradation of products. The tanks don’t draw power, making their usage time difficult to track. But they do vibrate.

“It can end up saving them a lot of money in wasted chemicals or bad mixes because the tanks weren’t properly maintained,” says Eronen.

Brian Lamberty, another product manager from Intermatic, says the vibration meter can also help end-users track the hourly use of mobile equipment that operates on batteries or diesel fuel-both of which are tricky to track. Some gas-powered generators, for example, should have their oil

changed every 50 or 60 hours of use. Failure to do so means burning fuel less efficiently, and severe neglect could damage the equipment. By sticking an hour meter to its side, a facilities manager can ensure that the generator gets its oil changed on a regular basis, saving fuel, environmental impact, maintenance costs, and costly downtime.

In some settings, creating a basic readout of a facility’s energy use can help reduce it. Mark Liston, vice president of sales for energy solutions with Schneider Electric, says his company created a simple readout of a warehouse’s energy use for at least one client. Workers at this warehouse sometimes raised the temperature for their comfort and disrupted the manager’s energy conservation plan. By showing workers the energy impact of raising the temperature by a few degrees, he found they stopped doing so.

“When people are aware of the impact of making the right decisions,” says Liston, “we have found them to be much more supportive.”

And a little competition might help. Some of Liston’s clients set up scoreboards that compared shifts’ energy conservation efforts against each other (“The Lifeblood of the Operation,” August/September 2013).

Bringing It All Together
As electricity costs grow higher and scrutiny of environmental practices grow stricter, business leaders will find plenty of reasons to reduce their company’s energy consumption and improve its efficiency. Robert Kwasnik found his inspiration in his personal beliefs, but EES’s assessment made it easy for him to sell the idea to the rest of his company. “Looking at the numbers, it just made sense,” he says.

EES dug into Dunlap’s energy usage by scouring its energy bill and investigating the equipment onsite. Other companies will approach issues differently. If the building’s HVAC usage has risen significantly, it may need a new roof-or new insulation in the walls. The facility manager may also be losing energy through unguarded valves flanges or equipment that’s not maintained as regularly as it should be.

In many cases, businesses will benefit from keeping a constant, watchful eye on their energy consumption-or even having their front-line workers do so. Such vigilance can help the company address problems before they become costly.

Regardless of how companies assess their energy consumption, doing so is the first step to reducing their energy use-which is one of the clearest opportunities to increase efficiency most firms will ever see.

About the Author

Matt M. Casey

Journalist Matt M. Casey writes about science and technology.

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