Increasing efficiencies can have long-term positive effects on both bakeries and the environment.
After last year's rocky recession, companies are looking for ways to bolster their earnings and reduce expenses. At the same time, environmental experts are urging companies to think about the economic impact of their actions and to address inefficient areas of their production. Although these two trends are seemingly in opposition, they can actually go hand in hand; and a growing number of companies are catching on.
According to professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, nearly half of leading private companies are working on improving energy efficiency and waste reduction. More than a third expect to place a greater emphasis on sustainability in the near future.
Paul Stiller, principal engineer for Summit Energy, Louisville, Ky., says the issue of efficiency is a no-brainer.
“If you could easily decrease the cost of each bread loaf by x cents, would you? Of course you would; that's how you derive profit. Approach energy efficiency with that same frame of mind. Utilities can account for 5 to 50 percent of conversion cost, so it pays to improve efficiency.”
Calculate current efficiencies
When FullBloom Baking Co., Newark, Calif., moved to a new production space four years ago, it saw the move as an opportunity to revisit and revamp its efficiencies. Karen Trilevsky, FullBloom's founder, said the company had its eye on the issue from the beginning.
“In our old facility, our production was dictated by the space,” she explains. “In 2006, we purchased our current facility, which increased our size five-fold, and we had the opportunity to design our dream plant. Our production is much more efficient now as a result.”
Before starting to fix things, a bakery has to learn what actually is broken. Auditing a facility will reveal current production costs and efficiencies, and will enable companies to see the lay of the land.
“Inexpensive, portable meters, utility bills and equipment specifications can be used to construct a profile of energy usage,” Stiller says. “Review energy use and production data to establish the magnitude of fixed usage. Fixed usage results in a constant cost not correlated to production. It drives up unit cost, particularly at low production volume. A good target for fixed cost is less than 20 percent of total usage. Bakeries with storage freezers and refrigeration should target 35 percent or less.”
For companies unsure of how to conduct an audit, the U.S. Department of Energy offers assistance to qualified plants. Its Industrial Technologies Program provides options for small, medium and large industrial facilities. For companies going it alone, free self-assessment guides are available from the Industrial Assessment Center at Rutgers University and the Resource Efficiency Management program at Washington State University.
Companies looking to network with and learn from efficiency-minded operators can join the ENERGY STAR Food Processing Focus, a partnership between the EPA and food processing companies. Any food processor can get involved, and organizations currently participating include Cargill, ConAgra and General Mills, among others.
Tackle common plant systems
The Department of Energy estimates that common plant systems use about 80 percent of all industrial energy and that energy use in these systems can be reduced by about 10 to 20 percent. It advises that areas to address early on include motors and pumps, heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting.
Guttenplan's Frozen Dough, Middletown, N.J., implemented a Green Guidelines Program to address conservation in its plant. It addressed every aspect of operation, rigorously overhauling its production in order to reduce waste. Guttenplan's president, Abe Littenberg, suggests starting with the easy improvements and working up.
“First you pick the low-hanging fruit, “ he advises. “The energy companies will help you pay for more efficient lighting. That's easy, and has a fast return on your investment [which is] nil. Once you begin the process, others in your organization start making suggestions, and you go after more difficult and larger projects.”
Trilevsky says her company knew exactly where to focus its energies first.
“Labor, yield and throughput—these are our largest expenses, so it was likely the greatest savings would be found in these categories,” she explains. “Tunnel ovens and conveyors had a major positive impact.”
Analyze potential changes and costs
Some improvements will immediately garner noticeable differences, while others may take a while to appreciate. Even if changes are slow in appearing, companies should not assume their work has been for naught.
“Some results are immediate, such as control adjustments to ovens, boilers and compressors,” Stiller explains. “Awareness training and real-time usage displays have enabled employees to make a difference within days. Seeing the result in financial reports is a different story. Differences in weather and production schedules can mask or overstate the impact. You do not get an accurate picture in the short term from cost accounting reports.”
Additionally, making upfront expenditures, such as upgrading or replacing inefficient equipment, may prompt hesitation on the part of companies, but the energy savings eventually gained can easily outweigh the costs.
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“The numbers don't lie,” says Stephan Wechsler, president of Empire Bakery Equipment, Hicksville, N.J. “In some cases, all we need to do is show the customer that they can save more in energy costs than the lease payment itself, allowing them to actually return money to their bottom line. It's easy to see that ultimately, it's more expensive not to upgrade.”
Even when changes do require additional dollars, efficiency-minded companies, such as FullBloom, believe the payoff is worth the price.
“We have always been a values-driven company,” Trilevsky says. “I have often made decisions that cost more because of this. I believe we have an obligation as business owners to lead and to make the right decision, even if it costs money, because it is for the greater good. If businesses do not set the precedent who will?”
Work with like-minded suppliers
When redesigning a production space, it's crucial to connect with suppliers that share your mindset. When Guttenplan set out to install solar panels on its roof, it took its time finding the right partner.
“It was neither easy nor hard, but it takes a sustained effort,” Littenberg says.
With a greener sensibility starting to pervade the baking industry, it's becoming easier to find suppliers who are in sync with forward-thinking bakeries.
“Equipment suppliers and their sales representatives are at the ready to offer solutions,” Trilevsky says. “High-quality brands especially value relationships and building a customer for life. They have a great deal of expertise, offer a different perspective and can suggest numerous options, many of which may not even be something they sell.”
Although finding the right suppliers and solutions for your company may take time and effort, the measures you take today will pay off tomorrow, the next day and well into the future.
“All of this energy efficiency is more than just good for your wallet, it's good for the environment,” Wechsler says. “By reducing your fuel, electric and water consumption, you're reducing your carbon footprint—and that benefits everyone.”
Top 10 ways to improve efficiencies
Paul Stiller, principal engineer, Summit Energy, Louisville, Ky.
- Energy usage and cost awareness
Employees can make a significant impact when they know the financial impact of their actions.
- Refrigeration, freezer controls
Head pressure should generally not be constant, and suction pressure can usually be increased part of the time, at least.
- Air compressor controls
Fixing air leaks is a waste of time if the compressor controls do not respond properly.
- Oven draft control
Negative pressure impacts combustion and increases operating cost, and it also may impact product quality.
- Electric demand management
Know when a peak occurs and be sure only essential equipment is running at that time.
- Work hard to make energy usage correlate to production
Fixed loads are not easy to spot in 24/7 bakeries. Track and analyze your usage versus production; quantify, track and work to reduce the fixed load.
- Fan and pump control
Fully open output valves and dampers; use speed control or resize the impellers to reduce flow.
- Demand ventilation
Introduce enough outside air to maintain required interior conditions, no more and no less.
- Boiler controls
Burner modulation, optimum excess air and oxygen trim are essential for large steam supplies.
- Utility interlocks
Compressed air, ventilation, product transport systems, process cooling and lighting should automatically adjust to requirements (and be reduced when not necessary).