We live in an awfully smart world.
Our pockets today are laden with smartphones and smart devices; we drive smart cars and work in smart buildings that draw power from a smart grid. We even send our children off to smart classrooms to learn from smartboards.
This has been the decade of smart -- part buzzword, part apt descriptor, the ubiquitous prefix defines the technology of the day: adaptive, anticipatory and networked.
It does not, however, necessarily describe the users of that technology.
As these tools expand their reach and autonomy, they are quickly exceeding the technical expertise of the users, putting us in the uncomfortable position of being consistently outsmarted by our own devices.
In most cases, this is probably fine. In fact, it's an essential part of the time-saving convenience these technologies are supposed to provide.
In an industrial setting, however, when investment in smart technology doesn't equal that of training for the workforce, the potential efficiency and productivity gains of the former will always be crippled.
And so as U.S. manufacturers navigate the slippery incline of recovery, they are beginning to look beyond "smart" and toward "intelligent" solutions that advance user understanding of their tools and how those tools work together in order to realize the full benefit of the technologies.
With manufacturers claiming 30% of the total energy consumed in this country -- a greater share than any other sector, including transportation, commercial and residential use -- nowhere is this movement more relevant than with energy efficiency.
There is a growing conversation about this in the industry today, moving us from a focus on device-level smart energy solutions to systemwide, integrated intelligent efficiency.
Smart vs. Intelligent
Smart energy has dominated the industrial energy efficiency conversation for years, highlighting standalone technologies—and those that aren't as standalone as they seem—employed to bring down usage costs. These include investments in such technologies as low-energy lighting systems or HVAC projects designed to smooth out peaks in usage.
Though isolated, the benefit of these technologies is by no means small. According to OEO Energy Solutions President Larry Butz, simply switching from traditional light bulbs to metal halide lights can rack up as much as $250 in yearly savings per lamp. For midsize facilities, he says, this could mean up to $40,000 in savings just by switching out some light bulbs, exactly the kind of boost companies today are looking for to find an advantage in the market.
"Manufacturing in the U.S. is on a comeback, but it is a very, very competitive market, no matter what business you're in," notes Butz. "Reducing operating costs, keeping cost at a minimum means maintaining the competitive edge. Everyone is watching the bottom line and every dollar you can save without sacrificing quality is something that gets your attention."
Where solutions like this fall short, however, is when the workforce culture fails to recognize the importance of energy efficiency. Without that, manufacturers will never see the maximum gains from such investments. A burning bulb no one bothers to shut off, even an efficient one, is still an energy waste.
This is where intelligent efficiency comes in.
According to a defining report on the subject published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in June, intelligent efficiency is a more holistic approach to energy savings that employs a performance-based, system efficiency approach to energy management that optimizes all of the components involved, how they interact and most importantly how their human operators interact with them.
Perhaps no one exemplifies this better than 3M Co. (IW 500/44).
Intelligent Efficiency at 3M
This year 3M earned Energy Star's sustained excellence award for energy efficiency for the eighth year in a row -- the only company ever to do so. That news comes on the heels of the announcement that the company's Brockville, Ontario, plant became the first Canadian facility to become ISO 50001 certified and also Superior Energy Performance certified -- an additional requirement above and beyond the ISO standard for energy efficiency.
According to Steve Schultz, corporate energy manager at 3M, that news shouldn't come as a surprise to those familiar with 3M's policies.
"The company has had an interest in managing its energy for quite a long time," he explains, tracing the origins of its energy program back to the 1973 oil embargo.
Since then, he says, energy efficiency has become an indispensable part of the company culture.
"If you don't keep the focus on improving energy efficiency, it will always revert to the previous state," he insists." That's why we work to keep people aware that managing energy at 3M is important and that they have a lot to do with it."
The focus of this work, he says, amounts to the "holistic approach" of intelligent efficiency that goes far beyond simply investing in smart tools for energy savings.
"It's not just that 3M needs to spend more money on new equipment that is energy efficient, but that the people who operate the equipment need to know how to operate it to its highest capabilities," he says. "To do that, they need energy information showing them how they are using energy and when they are using it."
According to the ACEEE, this is the hallmark of intelligent efficiency—using advanced technology to provide users with greater access to information about their energy consumption as well as the tools they need to reduce it.
At 3M, this comes in the form of company-wide energy reports breaking down consumption at every plant.
"We track the energy use at each of our manufacturing plants and from that information, we create an energy dashboard once each quarter that reports how the facility is doing in terms of energy efficiency compared to its previous performance," Schultz explains.
Once collected, those dashboards are sent out to the plant managers and company executives all the way up to the CEO, reporting how each facility is meeting their improvement goals, how much energy they are using and how many projects they are working on to save energy.
"This level of attention creates a strong interest at the plant. They want to produce good results because this information is being shown at the highest levels in the company," Schultz says. "Everybody likes to show off a good report card."
Indeed, this focus on energy efficiency has improved energy efficiency at 3M by 80% since it began its program and brings degrees of improvement every year.
Setting the Tone from the Top
To Ralf-Michael Franke, CEO of the Drive Technologies division of Siemens AG (IW 1000/34), connecting the energy efficiency efforts from top management down is vital for this kind of improvement.
"Success is dependent on the tone from the top," he insists. "The more the CEO shows in his decisions that he is committed to energy savings, the better he can convince his team to find more opportunities. The more hesitant he is, the less."
Helmuth Ludwig, CEO of Siemens Industry, U.S., agrees.
"It's not just going into a plant, changing a motor," he explains. "It's a full concept -- a full concept for identifying opportunities and for motivating the team."
A good system like this, says Franke, can see a 10% to 15% reduction in energy consumption for discrete factories and over 30% for process-oriented factories.
Siemens specializes in technologies that help do just this. Its Sinumerik controls and Control+E software, for example, help optimize machine tools and motor functions -- which can claim as much as 70% of the power consumed by some facilities -- to cut down on waste during both active and idle periods.
This is a great start on energy efficiency, Franke says, but it is really only just the beginning. "There is an enormous opportunity for production gain," adds Ludwig." But to really get the full potential, it's not purely a question of equipment, it's an integrated approach. It's the right approach at the beginning; it's a mind-set, the right system plus the education."
Training, he says, is the most critical point.
"If you want to reach higher efficiency and productivity, you need the right people," he says.
Creating an Energy-Aware Culture
These "right people" are the secret behind 3M's relentless energy-efficiency gains. 3M has developed a culture of workers in its plants that are energy aware and committed to continuous improvement in that regard, just as they are for quality and safety. And just like Six Sigma black belts who spearhead those efforts, energy efficiency has its own plant-floor-level advocates at 3M.
"We have an energy team and an energy champion at each of the plant sites," 3M's Steve Schultz explains. "Part of their role is to communicate with people at the plants that managing energy is important to 3M, and that it is important to that facility."
The job of these energy champions is similar to that of a black belt, he explains, in that they encourage and enable workers to keep energy and energy conservation in the forefront during operation. To Paul Hamilton, chairman for the Industrial Energy Efficiency Coalition, an alliance of industrial controls and automation providers, comparison to lean efforts with quality and safety is an apt one.
"Most companies think they have done everything possible to save energy," he says. "But when we go in for an audit on these companies, 80% of them, regardless of what they think they've done, we can find another 15 to 20% in savings."
This discrepancy exists because the companies aren't managing energy as they manage quality, he says. They simply don't have a sustained, managed, measured process that drives continuous improvement in that area.
"At Toyota, for example, anybody can shut down the plant for a quality problem. But on the energy side, people don't always take that same diligence," he insists. "That diligence must be instilled in people. Workers must be trained to be energy aware and sustainability aware. That is critical."