When managers at a Dalton, Ga.-based carpet manufacturer agreed to host a group of Georgia Tech students as part of a mechanical engineering course, they had no idea they’d also be learning some important lessons themselves. Students visited two plants at Beaulieu of America to evaluate energy-saving opportunities.
“We had a group of students at two of Beaulieu’s plants in Dalton, and they really helped us. It’s good to get the students out of the classroom to see real things,” said Bob Hitch, a project manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. “And then we talked about multiplying those opportunities throughout all of the company’s plants and getting everybody up to speed.”
With funding from the Georgia Environmental Partnership (GEP), Beaulieu was able to have water, energy efficiency and conservation assessments conducted at five of its facilities. GEP includes the Sustainability Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the University of Georgia’s Engineering Outreach Service and Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. The Sustainability Division helped Beaulieu address its water conservation issues and Georgia Tech provided assistance on the energy efficiency assessments.
“We conducted one-day site visits at each plant. During the mornings, we held overview meetings on energy issues that were important to specific plants, like energy management, boilers and steam systems, large motors and drives or compressed air systems,” Hitch recalled. “Then we walked through the facility and observed where we could conserve energy.”
The objectives of each site visit were to understand how management systems apply to energy conservation, recognize significant cost saving opportunities and typical paybacks, and identify specific opportunities at each facility. After determining the major energy uses at each facility, the team determined what additional data and metering devices were needed for conservation calculations. After the data were collected, Hitch and other energy specialists at Georgia Tech guided the energy conservation analysis and made energy conservation recommendations for each facility.
“This project highlighted some good opportunities,” recalled Troy Slatton, mechanical engineer with Beaulieu. “Saving energy is really a continuous process – there are a lot of little things you need to do to capture the savings. You don’t go through just one time and fix things; it’s a recurring event that has to be monitored.”
According to the findings of the study, Beaulieu could reduce its utility usage by almost 15 percent with an estimated annual savings of $2 million. Georgia Tech engineers trained Beaulieu staff so well that the corporate engineering staff recently led the training and baseline assessment for the company’s sixth facility themselves. According to Slatton, plant personnel awareness has increased through participation in the projects, and management is enthusiastic about the corporate culture change.
“We have a project on one of our coater ovens that is attempting to reduce our natural gas usage by reducing the oven’s exhaust rate,” noted Slatton. “We’ve had good results over the past eight months and are continuing to implement and track the results.”
In addition to the energy conservation projects, Beaulieu enlisted the help of DNR to assist with its water conservation efforts. DNR engineers examined water and sewer bills, toured each facility and focused on common water users and maintenance issues. The recommended savings totaled more than 25 million gallons per year, or $81,600. Six months into the implementation, the team had already documented $60,000 in savings.
“There’s a great value for what Georgia Tech and the Department of Natural Resources do,” Slatton said. “But it’s up to us to implement these recommendations and make energy and utility savings a priority.”
Photo caption: Troy Slatton, a mechanical engineer at Beaulieu, measures the major energy users in the company’s Dalton facility.
About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright