The green movement continues to have an increasing impact on end-users of material handling equipment. As companies look to reduce costs, energy consumption is one area where distributors can help their customer realize savings.
One trend becoming more and more common in engineered systems installations is the use of energy-saving conveyors. The motors that drive an automated material handling system are one of the largest sources of the energy consumed by a distribution center. The easiest and most direct way to reduce the energy waste of a traditional conveyor system is to run it at the most efficient speed.
In the days when energy consumption was not a significant expense, a typical distribution center simply turned its conveyor system on at the start of a shift and ran it until the shift ended, whether the continuous operation of the system was needed or not. With high energy costs, distribution centers can implement a smarter system that recognizes when throughput demand is low and, with some minor modifications that are likely to be tax deductible, slow down the conveyor proportionally or even turn it off until a minimum throughput demand is generated.
Depending on the system throughput rates, this type of “on demand” controls modification to the conveyor system can produce significant energy savings without incurring major disruptive and expensive rework. In fact, an “on-demand” system can reduce energy costs by 30 percent to 80 percent of a typical AC-driven conveyor system operating 100 percent of the time, when other variables are considered. As a practical example, we were able to demonstrate an estimated annual per-shift savings of about $67,000 for one customer.
Other Areas to Save
It’s not only conveyors that can reduce a customer’s energy footprint. Fuel expenses also impact the costs to support forklift operations, warehouse lighting, and temperature and humidity control. There is, of course, the obvious added expense of higher-priced diesel and gasoline to fill internal combustion forklifts. More difficult to quantify, however, is the impact of rising energy costs where electric forklifts are used. Their batteries must be recharged daily. The cost of a kilowatt has gone up, and since electric bills don’t typically segregate where each kilowatt is consumed, the cost of electricity needed to charge forklift batteries is not as apparent. Helping customers limit their idle times, locate bulk storage closer to the replenishment area and shortening distances between product pick-up and drop-off points can help them reduce unnecessary forklift energy costs.
Another source of rising energy costs is warehouse lighting, which can be responsible for as much as half of a warehouse’s electric bill. Many customers find that fully lit areas remain idle up to 60 percent of the time. Therefore, an effective way to attack this issue is to use motion-sensing technology to turn on lights only when a worker approaches one of these areas. Also, many distribution centers utilize old metal halide lights, which consume far more energy compared to such newer technology as high-output high-bay lighting fixtures that are 20 percent and 60 percent more efficient.
If your customer’s warehouse or distribution center stores and distributes products that must be kept at certain temperatures or that cannot be exposed to high levels of humidity, then they have seen increased energy costs. An easy way to cut such increases is by reducing the amount of travel between the cold storage environment and ambient dock conditions. Use of smaller doors, air curtains and other products may help dramatically reduce lost energy.
Don’t miss out on these opportunities. Customers are willing to spend the money, but they need to be properly convinced.
|Meet the Author
Jack Phelan is president/CEO of TriFactor Distribution Solutions, located in Lakeland, Florida, and on the Web at www.trifactor.com.