Multifilm Packaging Corp. is getting hot under the collar about energy costs.
The manufacturer and converter of flexible food packaging films on Sept. 3 revealed its new geothermal heating and cooling system at an event at its Elgin, Ill. headquarters.
Officials said the two-year project that led to the conversion to geothermal will significantly lower the company's energy consumption.
Manufacturing is, in my eyes, the backbone of our country, and the key to success is simply to do things better, smarter and cheaper than your competitors, Olle Mannertorp, Multifilm's president, said in a Sept. 3 news release. Lowering of cost and energy conservation is and will be an important tool for American manufacturing to stay ahead of the game.
Multifilm extrudes polypropylene and polyethylene films, and prints, metalizes, laminates and ships rolls to candy and snack foods manufacturers in North and South America.
Founded in 1982, the company was owned by Austrian packaging conglomerate Constantia Packaging AG of Vienna. A 2008 management buyout resulted in aggressive investment in equipment upgrades, officials said.
The newer machinery put a strain on Multifilm's cooling capacity, officials said: Multifilm's 340-ton Freon chiller in particular was past its prime. The building's air-conditioning system also needed to be replaced.
In a Sept. 9 telephone interview, Mannertorp said that inside Multifilm's 83,000-square-foot building, 70,000-square-feet of manufacturing space now is being heated and cooled by the geothermal system.
We had to get rid of the old chiller anyway, Mannertorp said. This was the perfect opportunity to try something different and to make a substantial impact on our energy consumption and carbon footprint.
The process of converting to geothermal energy started in 2008, with the hiring of European energy efficiency consultant Clive Maidment.
The result of many brainstorming sessions was a closed-loop system: pump water out of the ground, where it stays at about 52° F; use the groundwater to cool the plant and machinery; and, in winter, use heat generated by machinery to warm the plant.
In May 2009, drilling on an experimental well confirmed that Multifilm had water flow from an underground aquifer of about 400 gallons per minute, enough to proceed with the system. More wells were drilled over the next few months; in all, the company ended up with three production wells that supply the water, and four rejection wells to pump it back into the ground.
During a four-month period in late 2009 and early 2010, heat exchangers, pump motors, filters, valves, and air handlers were connected by thousands of feet of copper piping throughout the plant, and wiring and computer programming completed.
The loops were completed in April, and tested and tweaked to ensure that water flow and temperatures were adequate. One by one, production machines were disconnected from the old chiller and connected to the geothermal system, starting with the extrusion equipment and finishing with printing presses in mid-June.
According to Multifilm officials, the energy savings look impressive so far. Initial estimates indicated a savings of up to 40-50 percent of total energy consumption as much as 80-90 percent on the chiller process alone.
Preliminary numbers from July indicate that those estimates are being exceeded, Mannertorp said.
The initial cost for the system was about 50 percent more than simply replacing the old chiller, he said, but those up-front costs were outweighed by reduced maintenance and significantly lower energy bills.
Dave Rohrschneider, Multifilm's chief operating officer, said in the release that anything that will eventually fail, such as pumps, valves, and heat exchangers, can be easily replaced in the geothermal loop. Unlike a traditional chiller system, with geothermal power there are no big-ticket items that can break and cause the company to abandon the system, he said.
Close to 25 percent of the cost of the geothermal project will be given back to Multifilm in federal rebates, as well as grants from local utility Commonwealth Edison, Mannertorp said. In sum, the firm is looking at a five-year return on investment.
We are not secretive about the project, he said. Our doors are open to anyone who wants to come in. In the long run, everybody benefits from a system like ours.
Multifilm operates two extrusion lines. According to Mannertorp, its annual sales are about $20 million. The company employs 55.