BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — The North American facilities of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC in May gathered a employees for a “treasure hunt” at its Bowling Green, Kentucky, manufacturing operation.
The treasure? Energy — but more so, sources of wasted energy in the plant.
The three-day, in-plant training, officially dubbed an Energy Treasure Hunt, was held in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge.
A pair of DOE energy experts facilitated the hunt, training employees to conduct assessments using DOE tools, developing energy management systems, and implementing and replicating energy projects. The DOE aims to empower plant personnel to discover energy-saving opportunities with a goal of building a culture of continuous improvement.
Luis Quiñones, Bendix’s corporate sustainability engineer, helped secure the opportunity by leading the DOE application process. Bendix is among the few select companies to be awarded the training.
“Our core sustainability goals at Bendix include reducing energy use and improving energy efficiency,” said Bill Schubert, director of environmental and sustainability for Bendix. “The Energy Treasure Hunt gave us a unique opportunity to make further progress toward those goals – in this case, by rolling up our sleeves and tackling issues at the plant level. This investment in time, people, and resources was made all the more successful by the participation of team members from all Bendix locations, and it helps position us for even more success in the future.”
They’re on the hunt!
Activities unfolded Sunday, May 21, through Tuesday, May 23. Throughout the three days, the 19 participants chosen for the training were given a tour of the facility, where they gathered the necessary data; identified, evaluated, and quantified energy-saving opportunities; and interviewed the plant personnel. On the last day, they reported key findings to Bowling Green plant management.
“By design, the hunt started on a Sunday, when plants typically are not operating,” Quiñones said. “You can start questioning things you hear: Does this piece of equipment need to run? Should that unit have air going to it? The hunt revealed a large air leak up in the ceiling — during any other time, you wouldn’t know that was a problem, because the sounds of a plant under production mask the noise of the leak.”
Two rooftop units were discovered to have no working compressors, but the blower fans were still running and compressed air was being directed to inactive machines were also among the findings.
“We didn’t expect to find zero air leaks or other issues,” Schubert said. “As well-maintained as this plant is, we knew we’d find problems, just like all industrial facilities. But one of the most powerful takeaways for me was that, when we’re done making repairs and taking care of the major air leaks, we’ll be able to take an entire air compressor offline. The demand of the equipment was a small percentage of the overall air demand. A big chunk of the demand was tied to leaks or unnecessary usage.”
As part of the presentation, plant management received included a summary of all annual utility use and cost savings that could be realized if problems found in the hunt were addressed. This summary included a combined electricity and natural gas cost savings of $263,224.09 — a 21% yearly reduction. Implementation costs would be made up in less than nine months, according to the DOE. Carbon emission savings would total 1,519.36 tons, also a 21% reduction.
What happens next?
“Now that we have this list of opportunities, the idea is for the Bowling Green plant to redigest them, prioritize them, figure out which ones can be implemented and which ones go on a to-do list, and start taking care of them,” Schubert said. “The consensus was that a very large percentage of these were short-term implementable — to the point that some of them were started on the day after the hunt ended. And the items identified — except for one or two — are issues that can be corrected at minimal cost but with long-term impact.”
This treasure hunt was only the start for Bendix.
“We are taking what we learned from the DOE facilitators and from our experiences to schedule treasure hunts at other Bendix facilities, which we will lead,” Schubert continued. “We’ll go from site to site, starting with our Huntington, Indiana, location in June.”
Reg Mabey, facilities manager at the Bowling Green plant, participated in the hunt. He says he was taken by the camaraderie he experienced among the people from different Bendix sites who, in many cases, hadn’t worked with each other before.
“On Sunday, when we all came together, everybody was kind of apart from each other,” Mabey said. “But by Tuesday morning, everybody was elbow to elbow in tight groups, collaborating even beyond the scope of the treasure hunt — sharing strategies and best practices from each of their facilities. It’s the bonding that occurred as part of the process. From that, as we conduct this training at other sites, it becomes a team effect for Bendix — not just Bendix Bowling Green but Bendix as a whole.”
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