Molders, toolmakers and other plastics companies have invested in lean manufacturing to cut their costs. They've hunted down the best resin prices and fine-tuned every step in their processing day.
Now a new company wants to help them find ways to cut their energy bill as well.
Energy is a real issue here in the real world, said Tim Stojka, CEO of Agentis Energy, which showed its Acuity Solution sensors and energy-tracking system with partner Fast Heat Inc. at NPE2009 in Chicago. Both firms are based in Elmhurst, Ill.
Energy use usually accounts for the second- or third-biggest expense for plastics companies, behind resin costs, Stojka said. Agentis and its wireless Acuity sensors make it possible to see exactly where that energy is being used, which is the first step toward controlling that cost, he said.
People have been treating electricity as a fixed cost, and it's not, Stojka said. If they have visibility, it can become a variable cost.
The Acuity sensors can be attached to anything that uses electricity: presses, dryers, conveyors, air conditioning units, even light bulbs, Stojka said. Information from those sensors is then accessed through an Internet-based data stream, so companies can find out exactly where and when they are using the most electricity.
Being able to see the energy usage and track real dollars is an awakening for them, he said.
Molders can see the cost of keeping a piece of equipment operating when it is not needed and compare that to the cost of shutting it down and starting it up, Stojka said. Or, they could see a reduction in their electric bill by shifting some work to off-peak hours, when energy companies charge less per kilowatt-hour.
In a lot of large facilities, a lot of equipment continues to run, and they don't shut them off, he said.
Having a real-time feedback to electric use gives firms the first clues they need to begin cutting energy costs. The next step involves using that information to shape a manufacturing plan that emphasizes wasted power, much as lean-production rules focus on workers' wasted steps, he said.
In the future, the sensors and technology could fine-tune energy use further by giving companies greater control over when they use their biggest electricity-consuming equipment.
Energy is high on everybody's priority list, Stojka said. They're looking for the right tools to help them. It's a cost that has to be managed.