Volvo's initial effort was modest by comparison, centering on its New River Valley truck plant in Dublin, Va. Producing all Volvo trucks sold in North America, the complex spans 1.6 million square feet over 300 acres.
At New River Valley, Volvo turned to the Department of Energy and the agency’s Save Energy Now Leaders program. It offers technical assistance and other resources to companies promising “significant improvements” in energy efficiency. The effort morphed into DOE’s broader Better Plants program, available to companies that pledge to reduce energy “intensity” by 25 percent over 10 years. Ultimately, Volvo extended its participation to seven other U.S. manufacturing plants, according to Bert Hill, manager of health, safety and environment with Volvo Group North America.
To figure out where it might achieve energy savings in the plants, Volvo benchmarked against industry leaders. Guidance came from the Motor Vehicle Focus group of Energy Star, a voluntary program spearheaded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In particular, Volvo drew on the experience of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. in launching the first of a series of “treasure hunts” under the aegis of Energy Star. These are two- to three-day events that send employees in search of multiple opportunities for cutting energy usage in the plant.
The treasure hunt begins on a Sunday, with participants examining machines, lighting, heating, air conditioning and other plant controls that are not currently in use. On Monday, they do another walk through, comparing energy levels while operations are up and running. Then they break into teams and develop recommendations for management.
All efforts are aimed at hitting a specific target: certification under DOE’s Superior Energy Performance (SEP) program, which provides guidance, tools and protocols in tandem with the ISO 50001 energy-management standard.
As if that weren’t enough, Volvo relied on resources from DOE’s Better Plants program. It assigned the automaker a technical account manager – in this case, from Oak Ridge National Laboratory – who helped Volvo to examine the raw data and train plant workers in more efficient operations.
Under Better Plants, Volvo zeroed in on facilities in Hagerstown, MD, and Shippensburg, Penn., which make powertrains and construction equipment, respectively. At the latter site, an expert scrutinized compressed air systems, which are notorious for leaking, according to Hill. In addition, the compressors might be too large or too small for the associated activity. Volvo installed meters that showed exactly how much pressure was being generated, and the amount of current they were pulling.
Meanwhile, at New River Valley, Volvo called in the DOE to examine the exhaust fans in its paint shop, which traditionally draws large amounts of power. It found that, with a small amount of redesign, one of the fans could be removed entirely. In addition, Volvo switched out old metal halide lights with LED lighting, and installed skylights as well as occupancy sensors in key parts of the plant. Such efforts have helped New River Valley to become the first manufacturing facility in the U.S. to obtain the dual SEP and ISO 50001 certification, Hill says.
At its Lehigh Valley, Pa. plant, where Volvo manufactures Mack Trucks, the company brought in interns from the Climate Corps initiative of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Among the projects they undertook was the removal of an old steam-heat system, in favor of reliance on radiant heat. Their efforts were combined with assistance from DOE industrial assessment centers under the Better Plants program, under which visiting students are accompanied by a professor in conducting on-site energy evaluations. Volvo ended up giving some of the students permanent jobs, says Hill.
With the help of DOE and EDF, Volvo has now brought three plants – New River Valley, Lehigh Valley and Hagerstown – up to the SEP/ISO 50001 certification. Together they account for around 80 percent of the company’s manufacturing energy consumption in the U.S. They are the fruits of Volvo’s “learning by doing” model, a five-step framework which enables the automaker to work with a myriad of partners to achieve a variety of energy-saving goals.
Results to date have exceeded Volvo’s initial expectations. It achieved a 25-percent improvement in energy performance at the plants in just five years – half the planned time. At one point, Volvo boasted the nation’s top-three performing facilities in the U.S. under DOE’s SEP effort. A 10-year, 25-percent savings goal under Better Plants has already yielded a 7-percent improvement in the first year of the program alone.
From here on out, Hill expects things to get tougher. Having addressed the biggest drains on energy, Volvo will now have to shift its focus away from systems to operational and behavioral aspects of the plants and its workers.
This time around, the treasure hunters will have to dig deeper. Hill expects to conduct one or two such efforts at each facility annually, as a means of continually identifying new opportunities for savings. And while they might not mirror the big capital-intensive projects of the past, “we still have to compete for investment dollars,” he says.