Ten Steps to Operational Efficiency

Are You Leaving Money on the Table?

10 Steps to Operational Efficiency

Every so often it’s helpful to step back from the daily routine and look at facility operations and maintenance from a fresh perspective. Nearly any plant can benefit from increased efficiency, whether you have just taken over an outdated building, or whether you already run a pretty tight ship.  

The benefits of increased efficiency are many and well documented: longer equipment life, improved comfort for building residents, increased safety, compliance with regulations and reduced costs – not to mention a less stressful work environment. 

In many cases, the management know they should upgrade a facility, but they don’t feel that they can afford the expense. Management may not want to commit funding if they don’t really believe they will see a return on investment. 

The good news is that most energy waste can be remedied with reasonably low-cost measures – it can be as inexpensive as paying attention to the data that’s already available to you. Performance trending is the practice of reading the clues your equipment provides through gauge and meter readings. For example, our chillers send signals, loud and clear, when they need to be cleaned. Often we dutifully record this data, but then it gathers dust – we don’t really examine it for trends that signal maintenance needs.  

Sometimes there is an up-front cost for needed equipment. Fortunately, the savings are practically immediate. Two programs sponsored by the Department of Energy found that a well chosen operations & maintenance (O&M) project could achieve payback in 1-3 months.  

The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) offers 10 steps for improving operational efficiency:  

1. INCREASE MANAGEMENT AWARENESS OF THE OPERATIONS & MAINTENANCE DEPARTMENT. Keep them in the loop about your department’s concerns and successes. They probably agree with you on the benefits of proactive maintenance, but they may be reluctant to authorize money for projects unless they see a clear need and potential benefit. Become fluent in their language to persuade purse-string holders to authorize your maintenance projects. 

2. TRACK YOUR O&M ACTIVITIES. This tells you exactly where your maintenance time and dollars are being spent. Look at any available maintenance records. Log current repairs, scheduled maintenance, downtime and overtime. This will help you document efficiency gains and cost savings when your project is completed. 

3. IDENTIFY TROUBLED EQUIPMENT AND SYSTEMS. Use the tracking from Step 2 to help identify your facility’s weakest areas. Also consider outside clues. Do you regularly receive occupant complaints about the air conditioning? Does management complain about spiraling energy bills?

4. ADDRESS ONE OF THESE TROUBLED SYSTEMS. You’ll want highly visible success, especially if this is your first project. Pick a system with a problem history or increasing operation costs.

5. AIM FOR OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY OF THIS SYSTEM. Make sure your staff understands how to properly operate and maintain the system. Training is usually straightforward – vendors or distributors can often help. Contract for outside assistance if necessary.

6. PURCHASE DIAGNOSTIC, METERING OR MONITORING EQUIPMENT IF NEEDED. There are simple diagnostic tools that will help you pinpoint problems. For instance, a scope identifies scaling and corrosion in your tubes, while a pneumatic gun helps detect system leaks.

7. COLLECT AND TREND TRACKING AND DIAGNOSTIC DATA. This is where performance trending comes in. Your system may already record the data you want – often it is logged and then never used. For example, chillers usually have hard-mounted temperature and pressure gauges. By regularly reviewing the readings, you would notice the elevated condenser temperature and pressure that indicate tube fouling.

8. SELECT, REQUEST FUNDING FOR AND COMPLETE YOUR FIRST OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY PROJECT. Start small – pick a project that is most likely to go through the approval process. Perhaps your chiller tubes are fouled. Request the funding for a cleaning system. Then document the resulting changes in system data after performing the cleaning. What effect did the cleaning have on temperature and pressure readings? How does this translate into more efficient operation and cost savings?

9. HIGHLIGHT THIS SUCCESS. Make sure that your management team sees the results of their investment. Present success in their language – savings in energy spending, delayed capital expenditure, reduced downtime. Write up a case study for internal use. People love a success story, and management is more likely to approve future projects when they have tangible evidence of recent success.

10. CHOOSE THE NEXT PIECE OF EQUIPMENT AND REPEAT!

Bonus: Show Your ROI: You need funding, and management needs to clearly see the return on investment (ROI) for maintenance. Follow the Federal Energy Management Program’s step-by-step guide to getting management on board and transforming your plant into an efficient, well run facility.