Friday, November 8, 2013


Logging of a large induction motor. Measurement
is a vital aspect of the assessment process.
Realigning an industrial site onto a more sustainable trajectory is a long-term process. It should begin with a strategy or plan, and be supported with the development of scorecard comprising the various measures considered to be indicators of sustainability performance. If the strategy is the GPS determining your direction, the scorecard can be considered to be the dashboard for your efforts as you drive your site towards a more sustainable level of operation.

Your strategy will outline the broad philosophies and focus areas management believes will drive sustainability, while the scorecard will reflect the desired outcomes of the process. However, neither gets into the detail of the precise actions you are going to take to achieve the performance improvements you are after. This is where the rubber hits the road, and where a lot of organisations tend to fall short. Without this detail, there can be no meaningful implementation, and without implementation there can of course be no improvement. The way to get to this detail is through the assessment process. I believe that the ability to conduct assessments is something that industrial companies need to develop internally if they are to integrate sustainability into their operations successfully ,and will explain why in this post.

Assessment is the process through which the various sustainability opportunities on an industrial site are identified and developed into projects that can be implemented to improve performance. While I am often requested to carry out “one-off” assessments at sites I have never seen before, I often find myself thinking of a number of opportunities on these sites long after I have left. The thing is, industrial sites are complex systems, and it is only on deep reflection that all potential opportunities can be unearthed, particularly those that are system-related. So I much prefer longer-term engagements where I get to fully understand the system, since these can lead to richer and more profound sustainability opportunities than those one would find in a typical audit.

The point I am making here is that assessments should not be activities that are only carried out at the outset of a sustainability programme. They should be a routine part of the programme, carried out continuously, open to being updated and revised on an ongoing basis. In this way you can use assessments to feed into a live portfolio of sustainability projects, all at different phases of their life cycles, and all contributing towards the achievement of the targets you have set for your site as defined in your scorecard.

Typical steps in the assessment process would be:
Qualitative identification of an opportunity e.g. the furnace is not insulated and is losing a lot of heat energy
Identification of required data for development of the opportunity e.g. dimensions of the furnace, surface temperatures, atmospheric conditions such as typical temperatures and wind speeds, supporting information e.g. the furnaces typical annual operating hours, its temperature profile, seasonality of operation etc.
Carrying out of measurements and specification of assumptions e.g. use of an infra-red thermometer to measure surface temperature,  using an assumption of 0 m/s for wind speed in order to be conservative with respect to convective heat loss effects etc.
Quantification of the resource efficiency potential of solutions. In this example this will mean quantification of the heat losses with and without insulation (with the difference being the potential saving), and then translating those losses into a gas usage value, based on the calorific value of the gas used.
Technical evaluation of the solution e.g. what will the surface temperature of the insulated furnace be, what are the emission reductions associated with this solution etc.
Financial evaluation of the solution, which would mean translating the gas usage into a financial value, determining the costs of insulating the furnace and then assessing the financial impact, using approaches such as the calculation of payback, NPV or ROI.
Identification of any risks associated with the chosen solution e.g. the correct insulation material should be chosen to avoid potential fire risks, critical materials (e.g. asbestos) should be avoided etc.
Insulation is clearly not the only solution when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of a gas-fired furnace. For example, since it important to deal with root causes rather than symptoms, an important question to ask would be: are surface temperatures too high due to poor maintenance of the refractory lining of the furnace? There could be more leverage in approaches such as improved control of air-to-fuel ratio, ensuring that the furnace is not idle at full-flame conditions, limiting the temperature to the minimum required and minimising rework, among others.   Each of these solutions would require an evaluation of their potential, both individually and when considered in an integrated way. Lower operating temperatures would reduce the potential of a solution involving insulation, for example - so one would need to assess how individual approaches may interact with each other.

Carrying out the analyses outlined above requires skills and capabilities that are typically not in evidence on industrial sites, where the focus tends to be more on addressing deviations in process performance rather than ongoing structural change in order to raise performance levels. How then can such capabilities be developed? The answer is – through concerted investments, on the understanding that such investments will have a favourable financial return. Investments would need to be made in:

1.      Skills development – the diversity and quality of training solutions available is growing in areas such as energy efficiency, water conservation and industrial sustainability in general

2.     Measurement equipment – opportunities cannot be developed from assumptions alone, and it is important to build a comprehensive toolbox of specialist measurement equipment that can be used to carry out the required investigations. These measurement tools would require maintenance and calibration, and of course training for users

3.     Software tools – once data has been downloaded or captured it needs to be analysed, and the use of software can make this process faster and easier to do. There are a number of free tools available, as well as very powerful proprietary software for specialist applications. Be sure to use tools from a reputable source

4.     Relationships – it is important to stay close to experts and solutions providers, as well as others in your industry, in order to be aware of the latest trends

5.     People – sustainability is an important enough issue to require dedicated focus. While it needs to be integrated into existing job roles as far as possible, a champion is needed to focus and consolidate efforts and lead the change process. This would probably be someone already in a technical role and senior enough to be able to influence staff from various disciplines in support of the sustainability effort. Project management is a vital skill for anyone in this role

In essence, achieving superior performance in areas such as energy and water use efficiency and waste minimisation is not achievable on a sustainable basis unless assessment capabilities are developed inside your organisation. While you can buy in expertise (this is after all how I make my living) building capacity internally is the only real way to ensure the necessary integration between operational excellence and sustainability. Assessments need to be taking place all the time, with constant revision of the portfolio of potential projects, and must incorporate the learning that comes out of implementation.

 Copyright © 2013, Craig van Wyk, all rights reserved