Green With Efficiency

Dec. 2, 2011
Building Energy Efficiencies Into a Machine Doesn't Necessarily Add to Total Cost
By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

Many of the machine builders in the Control Design audience say they feel like they're being squeezed by customers to build a more energy-efficient machine.

Some of them scratch their heads and consider specifying super-premium motors, and some think that perhaps they can include some type of energy-consumption monitoring within the HMI.

They know that premium-efficiency motors cost about 15-20% more than standard-efficiency motors. They know the energy monitor will add some cost. And they certainly know they'll encounter big resistance from customers about those upfront costs, many of who just don't want to hear about lifecycle costs and total cost of ownership (TCO) benefits.

So, what's the action plan here?

A discussion panel about green manufacturing and energy optimization at Schneider Electric's Editor's Day in October included Rick Tkaczyk, executive vice president of sales and marketing for M-Tek ( of Elgin, Ill. He sees the dilemma, but part of M-Tek's approach makes an argument that building energy efficiencies into a machine doesn't necessarily add to total cost.

"Our vertical form, fill and seal machine isn't overly energy-taxing," he says. "Our customers want flexibility. They want speed, and this and that. But properly sizing components and capabilities to the customer need actually can reduce costs and footprints."

[pullquote]I can agree that there's a certain energy savings from a machine with better throughput and OEE.

He says there's more to do, and the next step really is to push TCO. "Everybody is getting pressed for dollars," he says. "Customers have to understand where the money is going in their facilities. They have to take a closer look at their energy costs year on year."

But we also know that many companies still account for energy as a general overhead and they can't account for an energy content savings for products made on individual machines and lines. So if you as the builder want to shrink your machine's energy consumption while running, it looks like part of the sell is to cool it with the energy-saving pitch and roll that into overall efficiency pitch.

"If you can start with a clean sheet, unencumbered by customer specs, you can build to size, build the flexibility and performance that's needed, without added cost," Tkaczyk says. "In our industry, some of the larger food companies are letting the machine builders make the automation choices."

Do you think you can build a competitively priced machine with a smart design that allows you to absorb the costs of premium motors, monitors, hibernation states and other approaches? Are you already doing it? Let's pass those best practices along to the rest of us.

Just don't be tempted to cut out those energy-saving components to reduce the cost even further. It's time to try to break that cycle.