Fluid Power’s Role in Our Nation’s Energy Efficient Future Part 5: Facing the Challenge of Assessing the Inefficient Industrial Use of Fluid Power

Fifth in a series of articles describing NFPA’s actions focused on the development of a program within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that can fund and focus on energy efficiency improvements using fluid power technology. The envisioned program would be partly research-focused, helping to develop new energy efficient fluid power technologies, and partly education-focused, helping to improve the design and maintenance of existing fluid power systems with current technologies and techniques. To read the full series, go here.

scranton_ammunitions_energy_performance_up_12_percentIf you’ve been following this series you know that we have been successful in establishing that fluid power research and education represent significant opportunities to reduce the amount of energy consumed in the United States, especially in the industrial sector. Several interactions with what is now the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) of the U.S. Department of Energy have resulted in two areas of possible cooperation—getting fluid power engaged on the U.S. Council of Competitiveness, where future structures and private/public partnerships were being discussed to address energy efficiency, and seeing if fluid power could be better incorporated into the AMO’s existing industrial energy assessment programs. In this article, I’m going to start discussing our pursuit of that second opportunity, and come back to the first one in future articles.

Photo for IAC Landing - Syracuse IAC 4_DOEThe AMO has several programs that assess energy usage in the industrial sector and make recommendations to plant managers for improvement. One such activity is the Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) Program. IAC is a program that provides no-cost energy assessments to small and medium-sized manufacturers. Teams located at 24 universities around the country conduct the energy audits to identify opportunities to improve productivity, reduce waste, and save energy. Shortly after our May 2013 meeting with the AMO, we were invited to attend the annual gathering of the directors of each of those university centers, where they typically talk about how to improve and expand the reach of the program.

But we weren’t just invited to attend. We were also invited to give a presentation on the energy efficient use of fluid power. Seems that for all the focus the IAC has on reducing the energy consumption in industrial plants, little of its energy and expertise is focused on the hydraulic and pneumatic systems that are so prevalent in the plants they assess. As we were to discover, that is partly due to their unfamiliarity with how much energy there is to be saved. We had just released the results of the first-ever DOE-funded study to estimate the energy impact of the U.S. fluid power industry. Those results—that somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of all the energy consumed in the United States is consumed by a fluid power system in either a mobile, industrial or aerospace application—were surprising to the many of the IAC directors we spoke to. Knowing that 1% of our nation’s energy costs $20 billion to produce, I think they immediately saw the energy saving potential.

International Fluid Power Society logoFor the technical portion of our presentation, I recruited two industry energy experts from our sister association, the International Fluid Power Society. They provided practical details on things energy assessors should be looking for and specific recommendations of improvement that could be made. Among many other things, the pneumatics expert talked about automatic leak detection systems and how sophisticated they’re getting, and the hydraulics expert stressed the need for system design that allows energy storage and redeployment in the dwell time between actuations.

At the end of the presentation there was a lively Q&A session, where the IAC directors really put their cards on the table. Help us, they seemed to say. Help us, so that when we’re walking through a plant on one of our inspections, we can spot the fluid power system that is needlessly wasting energy. We need a quick diagnostic tool or mechanism for knowing where to focus and what to suggest in the energy efficient use of industrial pneumatics and hydraulics.

We took that request to heart and started working on a guidance document for exactly that purpose. I’ll provide more details on what it contains next time.

The intent of this series is to keep NFPA members better informed about our efforts in this regard, and also to seek their help in advocating for the envisioned program. Please watch this space for more background on this issue as well as regular updates on our progress. If you would like to become more involved, please contact Eric Lanke directly at (414) 778-3351 or elanke@nfpa.com. Getting industry leaders engaged in this effort will be critical to its ultimate success.

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