Plant Blueprints Turn Green

Plant Blueprints Turn Green

Building a new plant? Might as well design it for energy efficiency now, while you still have a choice.

Forget about saving the planet or appeasing environmentalists for a minute. Constructing a new manufacturing facility without energy efficiency in mind makes as much sense as designing a school today without accommodating high-speed Internet connectivity. You'd have to be Rip Van Winkle to not know that energy costs are spiraling out of control and that legislative mandates will likely require manufacturers to control their utilities usage.

While more manufacturers are catching on to the benefits of energy-efficient facilities, most publicized progress in the United States has targeted upgrades to existing structures. Perhaps this is because more plants are being built in low-cost labor markets where energy usage isn't as much of a concern. But at least a few firms have found that it's more practical to expand domestically with less wasteful operations.

That was the case for Xerox Corp. when the Stamford, Conn.-based printing products maker incorporated some unique energy-savings features into its new $60 million toner plant in Webster, N.Y. The 100,000-square-foot facility is divided into zones where utilities can be shut off when they're not needed. The system allowed the plant to use only 10% of its typical power usage over this past Thanksgiving holiday, according to Mary Fromm, manager of the Toner/Developer Manufacturing Group at Xerox.

The company also installed sensors in its storage tanks to monitor fluid levels and temperature. The data collected from the sensors are transmitted to a database that provides more accurate feedback of tank conditions. That, in turn, results in energy savings from less rework that might occur if information on tank conditions is inaccurate.

Xerox workers check tank valves at the company's new energy-efficient toner facility in Webster, N.Y.
The company opted to include energy-efficient features in the plant design rather than retrofit them later, Fromm explains. "If you do a lot of reading you'll often see you should do an energy footprint and look at high-consumption areas, and that's what we do on existing manufacturing operations," she says. "This is a little different in that we start out at the beginning of the process with the energy footprint in the design and look at it more as part of the system as opposed to piecemealing it out. Let's put it all together, and then maybe we can make more intelligent decisions as to how best to use energy resources."

Furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc. took the same approach when designing its Caledonia, Mich., wood products plant. When the facility opened in 2001 it became the first manufacturing plant to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Some of the features that contributed to gaining the LEED designation include a computer system that monitors lighting, dust collectors that act as a cooling system in the summer by pulling hot air out of the plant and large windows that bring in ample light. The company also reduced "heat islands" on the site by using light-colored roof material that reflects sunlight and stays up to 70 degrees cooler than dark roofs.

In 2006 General Motors Corp. opened a LEED-certified automotive plant in Lansing, Mich. Not only does the company expect to save money from sustainable features at the Lansing Delta Township facility (approximately $1 million annually), but the design has resulted in lower construction costs.

"The good environmental decisions made regarding Lansing Delta Township were also good business decisions," noted David Skiven, executive director of GM's Worldwide Facilities Group, when the facility opened in August 2006. "The cost to construct the plant was less than a traditional assembly plant, and its operating costs also are significantly lower."

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