Top 5 Things to Know about No-Cost Plant Assessments

The US Department of Energy, through its Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs), offers no-cost expert assessments to small- and medium-sized manufacturers. The assessments are conducted by teams at 31 universities around the US and result in reports with detailed recommendations. Here are the top five things to know about this valuable US DOE program.

The offer

Since 1976, the DOE has offered no-cost, site-specific expert assessments and analyses to manufacturers. The program is aimed at improving energy efficiency, reducing waste and increasing productivity by making recommended changes to processes and equipment. More than 18,000 assessments have been completed.

Manufacturers may contact an industrial assessment center (formerly called Energy Analysis and Diagnostic Centers) at a participating university in their region to explore the assessments, analyses and resulting reports. IACs at these universities train the next generation of energy-savvy engineers, more than 60 percent of whom pursue energy-related careers upon graduation. IAC assessments are conducted by engineering faculty along with upper class and graduate students.

For qualified manufacturers, a remote survey of the plant will take place, after which an IAC team will arrive for a one- to two-day on-site visit. Later, the team will perform detailed analyses of the site’s specifics and make recommendations in a confidential report with estimates of costs, performance and payback times. The IAC team will follow up to learn which recommendations have been implemented.

The criteria

Manufacturers can contact the closest IAC location to explore or initiate an assessment if they meet these criteria:

  • Within Standard Industrial Codes (SIC) 20-39
  • A US manufacturer located less than 150 miles from a participating university
  • Gross annual sales below $100 million
  • Fewer than 500 employees at the plant site
  • Annual energy bills more than $100,000 and less than $2.5 million
  • No professional in-house staff to perform the assessment

IAC locations are spread across the continental US. IAC locations in the West are located in Colorado, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho and Utah. In the South, IACs are found in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. IACs in the Midwest are in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska. In the Southeast, IACs are in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. For the Northeast region, IACs are located in Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.

The nitty gritty

Assessments for a printer, a tool maker, a plastics manufacturer and a rubber products producer

An assessment conducted by the IAC Center at the University of Utah in 2020 for a Utah-based commercial printer with a plant size of 525,000 sq. ft. resulted in recommendations that would result in an estimated $44,400 in yearly energy and other savings. The recommendations included modifying the facility to avoid excess maintenance costs, utilizing higher efficiency lamps and/or ballasts, using a cooling tower or economizer to replace chiller cooling, rescheduling plant operations or reducing load to avoid peaks, eliminating leaks in inert gas and compress air lines/valves, eliminating or reducing compressed air usage, and rescheduling and rearranging multiple-source heating systems.

The 2020 assessment conducted by the IAC Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a Missouri-based plastic bottle manufacturer with a 144,400 sq. ft. footprint presented the plant with a roadmap to recommended actions worth $113,000 in annual savings. The list of recommendations included utilizing a less expensive cooling method, using higher efficiency lamps and/or ballasts, improving air circulation with destratification fans or other methods, eliminating leaks in inert gas and compressed air lines/valves, installing compressor air intakes in the coolest locations, and using or replacing hardware with energy-efficient substitutes.

For a 155,000-sq.-ft. Georgia-based plant in SIC 3052 (Rubber & Plastics Hose & Belting), the Georgia Institute of Technology’s IAC recommended actions in 2020 that would yield $155,000 in savings for a year. The recommendations included installing timers and/or thermostats, chilling water to the highest temperature possible, eliminating leaks in inert gas and compressed air lines/valves, utilizing higher efficiency lamps and/or ballasts, utilizing energy-efficient belts and other improved mechanisms, optimizing plant power factor, using solar heat to make electricity and replacing the existing HVAC unit with a high efficiency model.

Case Western Reserve University’s IAC conducted an assessment in 2020 for a 23,000-sq.-ft. Michigan company involved in mold design, tooling construction and plastic injection molding. The recommendations totaled nearly $10,000 for yearly savings actions, including installing compressor air intakes in the coolest locations, upgrading controls on compressors, recovering and reusing cooling water and utilizing daylight whenever possible in lieu of artificial light.

The top five recommendations

In 2020, for SIC codes 2752 (commercial printing, lithographic), 3085 (plastics bottles), 3052 (rubber & plastics hose & belting) and 3544 (special dies, tools, jigs and fixtures), these recommendations were made most frequently:

  • Eliminate leaks in inert gas and compressed air lines/valves (This is a biggie; it appears in the top 5 recommendations for 2020 for all SIC codes.).
  • Utilize higher efficiency lamps and/or ballasts
  • Use most efficient type of electric motors
  • Analyze flue gas for proper air/fuel ratio
  • Reschedule plant operations or reduce load to avoid peaks, which tied with
  • Insulate bare equipment

The database

The IAC database is available for exploration by anyone interested in seeing the contours of assessments and recommendations. As of June 2021, the database contained 19,427 assessments and 146,971 recommendations.

The database can be searched by assessment particulars (industry type, size, year, energy costs, products), by recommendations (type, savings, cost, implementation status) and by industry type (SIC or NAICS code).

For more information about the DOE Industrial Assessment Centers and their no-cost assessments, visit