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The Savings are their Reward

Nov. 3, 2010
In addition to earnings, there are rewards for saving, and metalcasters have many opportunities for saving energy.

Growth is the “prime directive” for manufacturers, but there are rewards for reducing, too. There are also awards, specifically awards for reducing energy consumption. Metalcasters, as much or more than any manufacturing sector, have lots of opportunities for saving energy, and winning awards.

Recently General Motors’ Saginaw Metal Casting Operations was honored by a local utility, Consumers Energy, for its successful natural gas-saving efforts. The honor came with a $25,000 refund on utility costs for the Michigan aluminum foundry.

SMCO reportedly has invested $6.5 million on a series of projects over five years, cut its natural-gas consumption by 4%, and reduced its gas-purchasing costs by $300,000 annually. The main factor in the foundry’s achievement was a project to update insulation surrounding a melting furnace, reline it, and adjust its dampers for better heat containment.

GM’s Saginaw investments have involved other energy-saving and environmental improvement projects too, including a new powerhouse, water-treatment plant, and air-filtration and treatment systems, which reportedly have helped to cut the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 54,000 metric tons. The new water- and air-treatment facilities also include a centralized compressed-air system that makes it possible to save energy by optimizing compressed-air usage according to need.

The environmental impact is a significant aspect of the various energy-saving initiatives that the U.S. Dept. of Energy oversees. Earlier this year, Jencast, a ferrous foundry in South Coffeyville, OK, earned DOE’s Save Energy Now Energy Champion Plant award for having achieved annual energy reductions of more than 250,000 million BTUs, or over 15% total energy savings in plant operations. The foundry produces gray and ductile iron and CGI castings weighing from 25 to 3,000 lb. from two coreless induction furnaces that are capable of pouring more than 100 tons of iron per day.

The DOE’s Industrial Technologies Program administers the Save Energy Now program, to encourage manufacturers to participate in energy-assessment studies to identify areas for potential savings. The program aims to reduce industrial-energy intensity by 25% over 10 years. Participating companies are offered free energy assessments and available ITP resources to reduce energy usage — efforts that are intended also to increase profits. The Save Energy Now assessments focus on energy-intensive systems, including process heating, steam, pumps, fans, and compressed air.

ITP provides guidelines for manufacturers to reduce industrial energy intensity 25% or more in 10 years. The awards recognize the operations that have made significant progress toward prescribed goals.

Another foundry, US Aluminum Castings in Entiat, WA, took the award in 2008 for having achieved more than 75,000 MMBtu in total energy savings (or, more than 7.5% total energy savings), and for reporting the progress on schedule.

Jencast’s energy savings resulted from transitioning its two, 3.5-ton/hour furnaces from single-phase to three-phase melting. Plant managers there indicate they expect to save more than 32% in energy costs, ultimately, and to nearly triple the foundry’s melting capacity.

“The upgrade involved installing a new cooling tower, new water piping, a new transformer and electric power lines, and other modifications,” explained metalcasting engineer Gerald Robertson. “We essentially tore the old furnaces down to their metal shells and built everything up from there.”

Jencast financed the changes on its own, with help from a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture grant and a loan guarantee.

“Our enhanced furnaces will enable us to save on energy and maintenance and to produce twice the number of castings we have in the past,” Jencast president Eric Jensen said earlier this year. “The extensive upgrade we have undertaken complements our ongoing efforts to provide our customers with quality products and services at competitive prices and in a timely manner.”

Not every foundry working for energy savings is in it for the awards; for many the financial rewards are enough, and various commercially available services and technologies make them achievable. Notable among these for the metalcasting sector is Powerit Solutions, which supplies monitoring and demand-control technology that foundries use to optimize their electrical energy consumption.

Powerit’s Spara energy management system is an integrated package of hardware and software, with many foundries subscribers. It rotates electicity demand reductions through a collection of loads, to achieve a targeted reduction in kilowatts consumed, without foregoing production objectives.

Recently, four more foundries enrolled in the Powerit program: Atlas Foundry in Marion, IN; Grede Holdings LLC in New Castle, IN; Griffin Wheel in Kansas City, KS; and Prospect Foundry in Minneapolis. All of them will be adopting demand control for their melting systems, and Griffin Wheel plans eventually to include other equipment (dust and fume collectors, air compressors, A/C units), too. The reward for these four foundries, Powerit Solutions estimates, will be a combined annual savings of $400,000 in electrical costs.