A pair of energy detectives is hunting down waste and saving money at two big U.S. manufacturing companies. Hear their story, and learn how our Better Plants program is helping partners across the nation find similar success.
United States


00:00:00About energy thie jewels that these national labs ofthe terms of science scientific capabilities big dreams can't have keeping our nation's clean energy is way of the future america's economic engine it's science for the people this is a direct current you're listening to the sound of american manufacturing at
00:00:37work charters plant in sock bill wisconsin just outside of milwaukee magnetic crane scoop up giant fistfuls of scrap metal and dumped them into massive copper thief scrap this stuff like shredded automobiles and railroad wheels alarms blare as its carted along tracks to the plants electric arc furnace furnace
00:01:24is basically a giant welding torch it can reach temperatures over three thousand degrees fahrenheit and it roars and gives off showers of sparks as it reduces one hundred tons of metal at a time to molten steel liquid metal is shaped into a long square beings called billets then
00:01:52rolled into wire as thin as seven thirty seconds of an inch The rolling machine spews red hot steel wire like an enormous glowing slink when that cools it shipped out in forty five hundred pound coils for use in everything from nuts and bolts two car parts steel plant
00:02:17florist hot it's loud and constantly in motion i think it's exciting and certainly from an engineering perspective it really really interesting because everything is done on a big scale you know you have these enormous cranes and you've got so many different moving parts tio the whole process that's
00:02:38terry emerson energy manager for charter steel terry something of an energy detective always on the hunt for clues that could lead the company to energy savings it's a big job because making steel takes a lot of energy in fact the us industrial sector accounts for thirty percent of
00:02:53all the energy consumed in america we're looking at energy whether that electricity or natural gas or carbon units and how can we save that energy and reduce our costs Terry is not the only person in her family with a knack for cutting energy waste now i'm kurt emerson
00:03:12i work it harley davidsons powertrain operations plant and i'm a senior engineer kurt works in the division that assembles and test the engines for harley davidson motorcycles except they don't have that signature sound quite yet theo we're a little bit different than that in that power train operations
00:03:51we manufacture the engine and transmission we like the heartbeat of the motorcycle a z might have guessed terry and kurt are married their high school sweethearts as well as industry peers Our first date was was prom in high school and at that time neither one of us had
00:04:15really decided what we wanted to go into some of our friends our mutual friends were going into engineering and think for both of us it sort of sounded like a good idea the're career past converged after college almost by accident we dated all through college got married and
00:04:34graduated in started into the work force we actually worked at the same company for a while she and in one power plant by in another power plant that's where we really get into our energy fundamentals their employers charter steel and harley davidson have been in business a long
00:04:53time and over the years both companies have fine tuned their manufacturing processes to improve product quality and keep prices competitive Energy efficiency is a more recent focus but one with a lot of promise the steel industry is very competitive and certainly you know this is a company where
00:05:12there are you know good paying manufacturing jobs here in the united states and we certainly want to be a part of that and so making sure we stay competitive and reducing our energy costs is a big initiative but opportunities to save energy can be challenging to spot and
00:05:29even harder to convince management that they're worth the time and effort to address that's one reason both terry and kurt have turned to the department of energy for a boost to their efforts their respective companies air participants in the department's better plants program we're talking manufacturing plants here
00:05:44not the kind you grow in your garden we're really encouraged the charter steel in harley davidson have been wonderful partners and have really taken advantage of much of what the program can offer that's eli levine i lead the better plan program here in the advanced manufacturing office of
00:06:03the department of energy better plants is a nationwide effort led by the energy department that helps us manufacturers slash their energy usage reduce costs and become more competitive it's part of our better buildings initiative a broader umbrella of programs working to drive energy innovation in american homes businesses
00:06:21and schools generally how it works is cos that partner with better plants commit to a target for reducing their energy consumption over a set period of time The gold was just typically around twenty five percent over a ten year period Challenges partners to set a long term strategic
00:06:36energy intent city reduction goal and allows them to set a long term vision for how they can lower their energy footprint How do they do that Well there's a variety of tools that better plants offers to help partners identify places where they could cut down on energy use
00:06:53One tool in their tool kit is the energy treasure hunt which challenges staff and outside experts to scour a plant for buried chests of pirate doubloons I'm kidding Of course they're looking for energy waste it gives you an opportunity to see what things are being run when you're
00:07:09not producing anything and maybe it's sort of a waste to have you know pump running when you don't need them you know lights on in areas where not occupied cooling water running when nothing needs to be cooled that type of thing they start with the easy opportunities stuff
00:07:26that can be fixed relatively quickly and with immediate results That's the beauty of energy efficiency is that oftentimes there's a very short payback and you know some really great opportunities and some low hanging fruit right off the bat often that low hanging fruit can turn out to be
00:07:40pretty juicy Terry said one early treasure hunt at charter steals plant in cleveland had some pretty astounding results We have about twenty people attend that people from kind of all over our company and outside of our company and we were able to find close to nine hundred thousand
00:07:56dollars worth of saving from that energy treasure hunt So that was you know that was pretty sick Michael yeah that's some pretty serious savings Yeah Yep exactly on a lot of it was you know it's not looking at large capital investments a lot of it is operational changes
00:08:13and doing things a little bit differently now It's important to remember that energy doesn't necessarily mean electricity and in fact some of the biggest energy savings can come from things you might not realize like compressed air But the compressed air is probably the most expensive utility that the
00:08:32plant is by the time you take that air and compress it and deliver to the end i think that it is seven times more expensive to use compressed air than it would be to use electricity compressed air gets used at a lot of different points in harley davidsons
00:08:48manufacturing process we have some pneumatic pumps picturing devices were holding components there's also blow off getting to the chips or the cutting fluids offer the component there's a whole range of fuses kind of like one of those cans that used to spray out your computer keyboard get all
00:09:07the crowd off it right kurt said his company took advantage of another service better plants provides a visit from specialized experts who helped train staff on how to use compressed air more efficiently We had a in coast training for compressed air and part of that we received not
00:09:26only a list of opportunities which i think ended up to around two hundred thousand dollars but also identified the areas where we're best in class so you know it's kind of the good things and where is it you can improve better plants offers these training sessions on a
00:09:47wide range of topics The idea is that companies can take the knowledge they gained from one plant and apply it throughout their entire operation Sometimes businesses will go one step further and open up a training or treasure hunt toe other partners in the spirit of collaboration shin and
00:10:02sharing ideas it's a lot about showing them what's possible on allowing them to learn from each other celebrating success amplifying what they're doing You can go out there and learn you know what was an innovative strategy that this company took and you it's been really encouraging to see
00:10:16a lot of these techniques and practices be replicated and having partners share successful strategies with each other Now we've only touched on a couple of the tools that the better plants program offers There are way too many to list here but companies don't have to figure it out
00:10:30on their own Each new partner gets paired with an engineer through the energy department's oak ridge national laboratory in tennessee and that person is going to help them set their energy baseline set up a regression analysis to allow them to track their energy You can't save what you
00:10:46can't measure from their advanced manufacturing office staff help partners figure out what solutions are the best fit for them from industrial energy assessments and certification tool kits to technologies developed by our national labs like three d printing and advanced sensors we want partners who participate in the better
00:11:02plants program to feel like they can leverage everything that the department of energy and our national labs can offer the better plants program began in twenty eleven today it's partners represent roughly twelve percent of u s manufacturing energy usage with nearly three thousand facilities across all fifty states
00:11:20puerto rico and washington d c they include some of the biggest names in manufacturing from general mills to general motors as well a smaller companies like pennsylvania's family owned martin guitar it's grown significantly since it first started in the last year and a half we've had roughly forty
00:11:37partners join but more important than that i feel like we've really tried to grow the program in terms of what we're offering our partners as well and while the program is often collaborative eli said it's also competitive Oh no doubt you know these companies are competitive and if
00:11:52they see their rivals you know getting a competitive advantage through energy savings they're going to want to take advantage of the same thing and all that work with the department of energy has paid big david dent's for participants better plans partners have saved over four billion dollars over
00:12:06the last seven years through these energy savings technologies which is really important in this global environment You know all of these energy savings really go a long way towards improving our manufacturing competitiveness and that only have they saved a lot of money but many early partners have already
00:12:22hit their initial targets and forged ahead with new commitments We're really encouraged that we've seen forty three partners out of our two hundred roughly two hundred already achieved their goals all of these folks are ahead of schedule and we've seen a good number of them come back to
00:12:37us and say all right we achieved our goal we want to double down and said a new ten year goal because they see what's possible and they want to keep moving forward terry and kurt have seen the benefits of better plants partnership firsthand in the energy efficiency work
00:12:54at their companies i think that it helped to accelerate the program so i like it so we started this about two and a half years ago and i feel like without the better plant program we would not be you know nearly it's carl on this path as we
00:13:09would without their assistance in fact both charter steel and harley davidson one better practice awards in twenty seventeen for they're out standing energy saving accomplishments i asked the two of them if being up for the same award led to any friendly competition at home i think for kurt
00:13:27night you know we look at how can we collaborate way don't necessarily compete on who gets what award or things like that and you know probably share information more than anything tio you know help kind of build up both of our careers and our abilities teo find savings
00:13:45within the workplace were there ever dinner conversations when the kids were at home about energy use and your work And i guess did did your daughter's ever get tired of it I think they think we're pretty nerdy but i don't know that they got tired of it or
00:14:01not but there's definitely work on gradations at home and we still teo sunday family dinners in a lot of time at least part of that conversation or topics will be energy or work related in the end The energy savings that better plants helps these companies find have a
00:14:17really impact on the lives of the people who work there Cost competitiveness is the biggest reason that that i'm interested in how do we reduce the cost of our manufactured goods so that we're competitive and weaken maintain good family supporting jobs here in the u s the manufacturing
00:14:39sector accounts for a huge number of jobs here in the u s and according to better plants in twenty sixteen more manufacturing jobs return to the us than left for the first time in decades manufacturing is really critical to the u s economy into of the strength and
00:14:54economic security of the united states More than twelve million americans work in manufacturing in two thousand seventeen for every dollar that's spent in manufacturing a dollar eighty nine is added to the economy So for companies like charter steel on harley davidson the stakes are high Kurt and terry
00:15:11said they're proud of their work to make the plants more efficient and welcome the challenge to find new savings before implementing a number of projects that we've got on the docket you know there's no real magic bullet to this is just doing the blocking and tackling of everyday
00:15:29activities to slowly but surely reduce the amount of energy that you use it's easy at first but after several years of it it becomes more and more difficult to find the silver bullet opportunities right Yeah i'm sure the first couple of lines or easy we'll look like we
00:15:47can save here and we can save her but more of those you you find and solved harder is tio improve i suppose there's only so many available but even as the search gets tougher they know they'll have plenty of support between the better plants program and the people
00:16:04they see every day hard at work on the factory floor walking around and looking at it and looking at what's going on and talking to the operators and that you know you're the expert in the plant you know people have a lot of good ideas and so that's
00:16:19that's part of the excitement who is talking to people and getting some some new ideas and kind of a fresh way of looking at things for eli and his colleagues in the advanced manufacturing office the mission is clear i think we want to always keep pushing we want
00:16:34to set new high bars for folks to challenge themselves we want to recognize the leadership we want to you know keep coming up with new ways to help partners achieved their goals and attracts more partners i'm sure exactly keep growing the program keep getting more folks involved in
00:16:48this and helping them save energy and save money As for terry and kurt they're considering a new personal brand do the two of you ever refer to yourselves as a power couple you never know and ask if they could see that being a good friend wait going forward
00:17:13way ah and that's a wrap for this episode and this season of direct current thanks to everyone who listened to season two we'll be taking a break to work on a bunch of new stories for season three so stay tuned for details in the meantime If you have
00:17:45questions about this episode or any other episode you can email us at directorate at h q dot gov dhaka for tweet at energy you've enjoyed listening to the show why not share it with a friend or leave a review on itunes many thanks to terry and kurt emerson
00:18:02levine charter steel harley davidson and all the folks in our advanced manufacturing office for their help on this story thanks A swell to the folks that transition music Bob house and the energy department public affairs team Direct current is produced by matt dozer and me alison land tero
00:18:19art and design by court career with support from paul esther ernie ambrose g frias and a teak worried We're a production of the u s department of energy and published from our nation's capitol in washington d c we'll see you next season Thanks for listening

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