Industrial Assessment Center finds $6.5 million of savings

UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science is home to one of 24 Department of Energy-funded Industrial Assessment Centers in the United States that help small and mid-size manufacturers save millions of dollars each year. In four years, UWM’s Industrial Assessment Center has audited more than 70 facilities and recommended $6.5 million in energy and operational savings – the kilowatt-hour equivalent of heating 1,000 single-family homes for one year. Manufacturing clients aren’t the only ones who benefit: Fourteen of the IAC’s 30 engineering students now have a certificate from the Department of Energy that documents their skills and number of assessments completed.

The center embeds a team of engineering professors and students in manufacturing plants for one-day energy audits. The team uses current research to analyze plant operations. Within 60 days, a detailed report provides energy-saving recommendations the plant can implement for a reasonable cost and short payback period.

Midwestern utilities provider We Energies refers small and mid-size manufacturing plants to the IAC to reduce demand on the electrical grid. Earlier this year, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone presented an award to We Energies Chairman and CEO Gale Kappa, ’72 in recognition of stimulating business for the IAC at UWM.

This corporate referral is key, but the IAC’s access to research, technical skills and energy-saving expertise are accumulating an impressive, cost-effective track record that stands on its own. Last year, the audited plants implemented more than half of the IAC’s recommendations – a measure of progress that is closely tracked by the Department of Energy.

On average, the savings recommended can reduce a plant’s total utility bill by 15 percent. For some companies, it can be as high as 30 percent or as low as 5 percent, depending on the improvements they’ve made in the past.

Satisfied clients include GKN Sinter Metals’ Bob Harry, manufacturing and facility engineering manager, who received 13 cost-saving recommendations from the center. The Germantown-based plant he manages is saving about $22,000 a year after implementing just four recommendations.

“It is an extremely useful tool to have an objective evaluation of our processes and savings opportunities evaluated by an outside resource, as it opens our eyes to areas we may potentially overlook,” said Harry. The company saved thousands implementing IAC recommendations. “We have shared these opportunities with all Wisconsin plants, and will share the savings opportunities with all other North American plants.”

Junling Xie, a mechanical engineering doctoral candidate and the center’s lead student, has already conducted nearly three-dozen manufacturing plant assessments. “These audits have been very helpful in my training as a well-rounded project engineer,” he said. “I am primarily focused on heating and cooling systems, always looking for new ways to make them more energy efficient.”

Allcast, a custom aluminum-dye casting and tooling company in Allenton, Wisconsin, implemented a few recommendations from its IAC audit. Its management team is now exploring other IAC recommendations, such as a heat recovery system, variable frequency drives and hydraulic system improvements. “They’ve opened our eyes and challenged us to keep trying to become more energy efficient and save money,” said Allcast Plant Manager John Cleary.

Future plans for the center include continuing to bring advanced research to manufacturers to promote ongoing energy savings and sustainability.