Companies usually pay workers to keep facilities running. But some firms are learning that making teams of their employees stop, listen and look around for waste can pay dividends toward the bottom line.
A growing list of companies are turning their employees into sleuths tasked with a single purpose: to identify and quantify opportunities to save energy. The process is called a Treasure Hunt, and over the last decade, more than 200 of the events at GE have uncovered $150 million in energy savings.
As a way to differentiate itself from other lenders, GE Capital, Americas, GE's commercial lending and leasing arm, offers its best customers many services through its Access GE program, including training and assistance in conducting Treasure Hunts, which were originally developed by Toyota. Just last month, GE Capital announced the results of a Treasure Hunt it conducted at one of its customers' facilities. The exercise, at Exopack's facility in Griffin, Ga., ended with a road map of energy efficiency projects that, if implemented, could slash the plant's energy costs by 30 percent.
"We uncovered well over $400,000 of quantified opportunities to reduce energy spend at that plant," said Paul Kearns, vice president of marketing for Exopack's performance packaging business. "The energy spend at that facility is probably a combined $1.5 million on the year, so that's a significant number of reduction opportunities that have been defined and quantified."
When I spoke with Kearns after the Exopack Treasure Hunt, he shared with me how he pitched the event to participants during its kick-off.
"Today if we don’t do anything and energy prices keep going up, our costs are just going to go up at the same rate as energy prices, because even the raw materials derive from oil," he said.
"What we wanted to do is try to reset that slope, so at least in terms of the energy we buy, we could make more and consume less," he added. "That was our objective and thereby hopefully create a competitive advantage, or a cost advantage, for that location."
Nearly two dozen people were involved in the Exopack Treasure Hunt, a mix of workers from the Griffin facility, a few from other facilities, external vendors and representatives from the Access GE team.
Over the course of 2.5 days, three groups (motors, electrical/lighting and compressed air/HVAC) scoured the facility looking for waste and ways to save energy while the plant went through three production modes: shut down, start up and full production. Kearns told me that out of 70 different projects identified, only 16 had payback periods exceeding one year.
Among projects discovered during the Treasure Hunt:
• Like many industrial facilities, ceiling-mounted space heaters keep air near the roof warm, while floor level air remains cold. Installing a slow-moving 30-foot fan from a company called Big Ass Fans will help to drive warmer air downward to mix with colder air.
• Lighting sensors will be installed in low-occupancy areas where lights are now on around the clock.
• Replacing older motors with more efficient models, as well as other motors-related efficiency projects, will produce energy savings of nearly $196,000 annually.
On some level, all of these projects had been discussed at different Exopack locations, Kearns said, but having all projects quantified on one list gave the company a powerful tool for its energy management program.
Next page: How to Make Treasure Hunts Possible and Profitable