Upkeep and Maintenance: Critical to Overall Efficiency

The day-to-day realities of keeping your facility functional are many. Maintenance projects range in complexity, but the bottom line is the same: Downtime must be minimized in order to keep your business moving forward and operating as efficiently as it should.


Doing what you can to minimize that downtime is directly tied to bringing value to the organization. Scheduling routine maintenance checks is imperative, as is continuous monitoring of all of your facility’s systems for potential issues. It’s also crucial to consider where items can be upgraded or replaced. Outdated infrastructure can mean big headaches, with breakdowns, outages and more, keeping your business from flourishing when and where it needs to.


Put simply, industrial downtime is the enemy of efficiency—and of your bottom line. Maintenance means in-house personnel are working to fix a problem, rather than production or business goals. Maintenance means potential safety hazards if something’s broken. Unscheduled maintenance means that you’re less in control of your operations than you should be.


“Downtime” frequently brings to mind a system’s failure—a manufacturing line breaks down for one reason or another, halting production. But there’s much more that can slow down your facilities, and much of it has to do with the everyday systems that are only thought of when they fail.


Think about it: There’s a good chance your facility runs multiple shifts per day, if not 24/7. That means a critical need for reliability in everything that makes your operations flow smoothly.


Take, for instance, your lighting system and how essential it is to keep your facility running smoothly. Flipping on a light switch at home to find an expired bulb might be a minor annoyance, but for an industrial facility, the implications are greater: High ceilings often make lighting a less than a simple fix, requiring specialized equipment.


Situations like a failed bulb highlight the importance of selecting and maintaining reliable equipment. And in recent years, it’s one of the reasons that LED lighting systems have come to greater prominence in industrial facilities. LED systems offer a long-lasting solution for this very problem. Rather than burning out, LEDs simply become dimmer over time, and many have an expected lifespan of more than 100,000 hours. Incandescent bulbs last a fraction of that at 1,000 hours while comparable fluorescents top out near 10,000 hours.


This kind of thinking—what works for your facility in the long term—can begin to lead to systems and solutions that can bring a serious impact to your bottom line.


Going Deep to Improve Efficiency

There are plenty of simple, practical measures one can take to improve a facility’s energy use, but enacting significant change takes time and effort—not to mention intuition and ingenuity. Smart controls and sensors can have a huge impact on energy use. If a room can sense whether or not a human is currently occupying it, the room can know whether to lower the heat, dim the lights or otherwise alter some kind of operation based on a predetermined system.


And the granularity with which sensing technology can be able to accomplish these goals might surprise you. Take, for instance, a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that found how commercial facilities could save up to 18 percent of overall annual energy bills by combining sophisticated new sensing technology with ventilation systems.


It worked like this: Ever walk into a room and the light above you turned on in recognition? Well, many systems can’t distinguish if it was just you who walked into the room or you and 20, 50 or 100 additional people. The implications for large spaces then, are significant: If an HVAC system can’t determine the number of bodies in a room, it may be providing enough airflow for 100 people even if it’s just you in there.


This study, then, was based on extensive simulations using a device that was able to customize ventilation by sensing the number of people in a given area or zone.


Per lead author of the report Guopeng Liu

“This is the reason you often feel cold when you’re in a big space like a conference room or cafeteria without a lot of people. The technology doesn’t detect how many people are in a room, and so airflow is at maximum capacity nearly constantly. That creates a big demand to reheat the air before it enters the rooms. It takes a lot of energy to keep you comfortable under those circumstances.”


The study’s results were profound: PNNL estimated that in most U.S. climate regions, these types of sophisticated controls could help save buildings at least $40,000 per year and up to $100,000. Much of that 18 percent figure comes from HVAC, and a portion comes from linking the new sensors with lighting.


And while the focus is on commercial office buildings specifically, the implications are there for all manner of facility types—industrial areas especially, in some cases. Many industrial facilities contain large spaces, and the imminent ability to sense and control systems based upon the specific occupancy.


Elsewhere, the challenge of establishing a “zero net energy” (ZNE) facility is gaining traction—a facility that uses the annual energy equivalent of that provided by on-site renewable energy sources, according to the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy. These types of facilities aren’t “off the grid,” as they can use energy from outside sources as needed—or conversely, sell off additionally generated energy if possible. It’s a big idea, and it’s the kind of thinking that is driving a new generation of energy-efficient buildings and facilities across the United States.


So where does that leave us? Now that you’ve considered the possibilities, it’s time to investigate potential action and which specific solutions can have a big impact on your facility.


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