Payback Time

by Dan Malovany
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When Shearer’s Foods broke ground last year for the first phase of its new snack plant in Massillon, OH, the company’s goal was to build the state’s first LEED Gold food manufacturing plant.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the green building rating system developed and administered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Initially, the system was used to determine energy savings in libraries, doctors’ offices and other commercial buildings, but more recently, it’s being use to guide and rate industrial manufacturers, which can use more energy and where savings can be significantly greater.

To obtain gold certification, Shearer’s Foods needed to achieve a prerequisite of 14% in energy reduction from a suitable industry baseline. The company used its existing operations in nearby Brewster, OH, to model this baseline, noted Scott Weyandt, sustainability manager, Shearer’s Foods.

After firing up tortilla chip production in April, however, the 47,000-sq-ft Massillon operation achieved more than a 30% reduction in total energy use. In mid-June, the snack food producer then learned that it actually had achieved LEED Platinum certification from USGBC.

Certainly, the building’s design with its skylights, daylight harvesting sensors, reflective white roof, efficient heating and air conditioning systems and increased levels of roof and wall insulation contributed to the decrease in electrical, natural gas, water and material usage, but these environmentally friendly features contributed less than 10% in total energy savings.

The bulk of reduction, rather, came from its operations, and specifically, its tortilla chip line with an innovative tortilla oven that reduced gas usage by 47% during its most recent month in production, according to Mr. Weyandt.

Instead of using ribbon burners, the oven, which currently cranks out 3,500 lb of tortilla chips per hour but has a capacity of up to 5,000 lb per hour, relies on infrared technology to bake the chips. Built by Plano, TX-based IET Combustion, the patentpending oven is outfitted with 24 infrared burners but only uses 12 of them to bake tortillas because the system’s side-to-side heat distribution is so even and efficient.
Additionally, the oven features an enclosed cavity to prevent unwanted drafting.

“It’s a common flaw in a lot of oven designs that allow air to infiltrate and cause drafting,” Mr. Weyandt explained. “Ovens, because they are so much warmer inside, will draw air like a vacuum, heat it and discharge it without having any impact on the product. As such, you waste a tremendous amount of natural gas and energy in doing so.”

Shearer’s also can turn the oven’s burners on and off to customize the baking process, to produce specific product varieties and to maintain product consistency. Going green provides other benefits. “We’re always hitting the gold standard on our product as far as product quality,” he noted. “There are certain things you can do on paper, others you can model, and then there are a lot of unexpected variables that you don’t really see until something is in full production.”

UNPREDICTABLE PAYBACKS. On the tortilla chip line, the unexpected variables included predicting the manufacturing moisture content of the masa dough for chips. Shearer’s cooks, soaks and grinds corn in-house to make masa, but as with most commodities, producing consistent, high-quality tortilla chips with a new crop is anything but a science.

This year, because the corn crops were harvested early due to weather conditions, moisture was adjusted to bring the masa within processing specifications. That process, Mr. Weyandt said, resulted in some damage to the corn’s cellular structure. The new oven, he added, can adjust more easily to different factors to provide additional quality assurance to the process.

“Given the nature of the oven and how it was designed with the infrared burners, it is so much more flexible,” Mr. Weyandt said. “It has allowed us to make the best of a lot of things that we couldn’t have planned for.”

Overall, instituting a companywide sustainability program, he added, requires an extensive, ongoing process that initially establishes baselines that identify all sources of energy usage and subsequent scorecarding for determining how energy is used in each facility.

“Sustainability is a journey and not a destination,” Mr. Weyandt noted. “We are just scratching the surface here at Shearer’s.”

For some companies, starting up a sustainability program is as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet. For others, getting started also requires partnering with groups. Both Shearer’s and Rudolph Foods, Lima, OH, are part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. In setting up its sustainability program, Rudolph Foods also joined the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) audit program, which is open to all companies. However, DOE provides funding that allows mid-sized companies such as Rudolph Foods to participate for free, said Bruce Roberts, vice-president of operations for the world’s largest pork rind producer.

The IAC audit program first requires a top-down commitment from participating members with top executives establishing a companywide energy saving policy for the business. Then, the company works with state universities to conduct an audit of each of its facilities.

For Rudolph Foods’ Lawrenceville, GA, plant, students and a professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) started by documenting energy usage points, ranking each area based on the energy consumed, and as a part of the class project, they created a list of suggestions to reduce the amount of natural gas, electricity and water used, said Mike Merillat, engineering and maintenance manager for Rudolph Foods.

Afterward, the energy team at the Lawrenceville facility evaluated the recommendations and decided to add dozens of flow restrictors to create the biggest bang for the buck. The restrictors slashed the amount of water used by 45%, or from 42,000 to 19,000 gal a week.

“Flow restrictors fit on the sides of pipes or where the pressure is greatest with water transfer,” Mr. Roberts said. “Basically, they restrict the pressure and flow of water on a line. You still get the water you need to get the job done, but you don’t get an overabundance of it.”

The Georgia Tech students then took it upon themselves to calculate the water savings and the lesser amounts of electricity and gas being used, and they submitted the audit data to DOE. Because the total energy saved was greater than 7.5%, DOE named the plant as one of its 2010 Energy Savers.

PARTNERING FOR PAYBACKS. Rudolph Foods also partnered with PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, one of its biggest customers, as a part of the Energy Star program. Rudolph Foods identified energy savings at its other facilities. In Lima, for instance, Rudolph Foods purchased a 7.5-hp compressor to satisfy the need for compressed air on weekends instead of using its large 75-hp compressor seven days a week. The simple investment saves about 450,000 kwh per year.

“When you have that big compressor sitting there on weekends, it runs rather inefficiently because there is so little demand,” Mr. Roberts said. The snack producer also installed ultra-thin, energyefficient fluorescent lighting that lowered the amount of electricity used for lighting by 50%, he added.

Advances in technology such as replacing metal halide light fixtures with new fluorescent lighting provide simple but significant opportunities for energy savings.

“Today, fluorescent tubes with high-efficiency electronic ballasts can do the job for one-half of the energy and can be turned off and on in response to occupancy or available daylight,” said Dave Laybourn, director of marketing and sales, Lime Energy, Elk Grove Village, IL.

The most innovative ideas, he added, are often the most obvious. They may include installing motion sensors that turn off warehouse lighting after 10 minutes if they are not used or until a forklift operator enters the aisle again, Mr. Laybourn said. Companies can easily reduce energy consumption by consolidating batches to maximize off time between runs or running one pump with a variable-speed drive instead of two pumps in parallel at low loading.

Today, bakers and snack producers need to identify where energy leaks are located, and design systems that focus on the bottom line, much in the way companies did decades ago during the energy crisis of the 1970s, said Dan Parke, president of Lime Energy.

“In those days, there were no rebates; there was no being green; there was no sustainability; there was nothing,” Mr. Parke said. “It was strictly a return on investment for the end-user. The challenge of our industry is to take BTUs, kilowatts and demand charges on the electric bill and put that into an equation that a financial decision-maker can understand.”

Those decision-makers now include major retailers and food service operators who are relying on sustainability reports as a new variable that can determine which suppliers get their business, Mr. Weyandt said. “A lot of companies are just coming across sustainability, and what you have to understand is that a lot of it is no less important than personal safety, food quality, service and cost,” he explained. “You look at these variables, and they have been around for years. They have become fundamental to being successful in business. Sustainability is now catching up and viewed, in a lot of cases, as equally, if not more important, than those other fields.” •
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