The Non-Energy Benefits of Good O&M Practices

One of the magazines I try to at least look at every month is Maintenance Technology.  One of the articles that caught my eye in this month’s issue was an article titled Determining The Actual Financial Costs Of Machinery Vibration Levels.  The following screen shot is one of the opening figures in the article.

Screen capture of Figure 3 from the Maintenance Technology article illustrating the relationship between production cost and machine vibration levels

The graph is from data collected by a pulp plant that embarked on a program to reduce equipment vibration levels.  What the graph is saying is that there is a very direct relationship between production cost and vibration level.

That implies that there is a direct relationship between equipment down time, maintenance cost and vibration level.  My gut reaction was that it seemed like a pretty significant Non-Energy Benefit was associated with optimizing the performance of machinery, something that is near and dear to the heart of any mechanic or operator.

The term Non-Energy Benefits (NEB) is a term that seems to have evolved in the energy efficiency community to describe and account for other benefits that are accrued as a result of an improvement that was undertaken for the sole purpose of reducing energy consumption.

Examples include improved production, longer equipment life, fewer change orders in a new construction process, and less product loss and there is a growing body of research documenting these benefits including several papers presented over the years at ACEEE conferences.

The figure below is from the LBNL report I cite later in this post and will give you some perspective on the NEBs associated with commissioning processes.  Frequently, their value matches or exceeds the value of the energy savings associated with the commissioning process.

Screen shot of Figure 16 from the 2009 update of the LBNL report on the cost and benefit of building commissioning.

I’ve become pretty interested in NEBs over the years. In fact the filter field trials I have been blogging about in the past are really focused at recognizing both the energy benefits and NEBs that can be realized by taking a life cycle cost based approach to air handling system filter operation.

Maintenance Technology’s stated goal is to help plants and facilities leverage their increasingly precious time and resources and achieve best-of-class/world-class status via state-of-the-art asset management strategies, technologies and methodologies.  I think  resonates with me because it says they are about performance; about improving efficiency, minimizing down time, and making machinery perform at its peak potential and last longer.  At its core, that’s also what commissioning and best practice operations and maintenance is about.

For machines that consume power, more efficient translates to less energy used to accomplish the intended task.  That’s the reason commissioning has been embraced by the energy conservation and sustainability community; if you commission systems, a natural outfall of the process is that they use less energy.

So, its quite common to fund commissioning processes based on the projected energy that they will save and there is a growing body of data to support those projections, like the research LBNL is doing, including their recently updated report on the cost and benefit of building commissioning and their more focused report on the benefits of the University of California/California State University System’s Monitoring Based Commissioning program (MBCx).

Getting back to the vibration assessment and improvement discussion, I’m betting there is probably an energy benefit associated with the improvement.  Granted, it may not be large relative to the production cost savings, but I’m betting its there.  After all, the speakers on my sound system are rated in watts because it takes power to produce sound.  I don’t know if that benefit is reflected in the reduced cost of production numbers or would be in addition to the numbers behind the graph, but I wrote to the author to ask and I’ll let you know what I find out.

My guess is that no matter how the savings are accounted for, on their own, they may be so small that you can’t justify the cost of doing a vibration assessment and improvement program purely on energy savings, especially if you look at it only on a simple payback basis.  But it sure looks like you could justify it on over-all savings, which is where I’m headed with this.

I believe that we (the engineering community, the energy efficiency community, the sustainabiliy community, etc.) are really being short sighted when we don’t bring NEBs and their related life cycle cost perspective to the table when we discuss energy conservation opportunities.  Its also short sighted to dismiss NEBs and savings in other energy resources because “our program is only interested in electrical energy savings” or “our program is only interested in gas energy savings”.

More than once, I have seen projects that would deliver a phenomenal ROI to the bottom line passed over because they were presented to the “hard nosed” bussiness people with out including all of the savings they would bring to the bottom line.  In some cases, this occured out of ignorance;  those opportunities simply were not recognized.  But in other instances, they were removed from the table because the program that initiated the discussion was not structured to handle them.

The bottom line is I think techniques like the vibration analysis and improvement strategy discussed in the maintenance technology article and the life cycle cost based filter operating concept I have been exploring represent major, untapped opportunities for us to improve our buildings and make them more efficient and sustainable.  We just need to learn to think about how we operate and consume resources more holistically and consider all of the benefits taht a given strategy can deliver.

Here is the list of more holistic benefits I came up with when I thought about the reduced production costs discussed in the Maintenanance Technology article.

  • Energy savings frequently turn into reduced emissions, and thus a reduction in the environmental impact our civilization has.  This really is a hot (controversial) topic, as I recently proved (take a look at Sounding Board on page 9 in the April issue of Heating, Piping, and Air Conditioning and the related discussion about an article on The Greenhouse-Gas Impact of Various Chiller Technologies that led up to it).  But no matter what you think about greenhouse gasses, global warming, and climate change, I can’t help but think that doing what we do while having less of an impact on the planet that supports us is a good thing.
  • Lower maintenance costs typically mean fewer failures and fewer replacement parts purchased.  From a sustainability perspective, it seems to me that means we are making the best possible use of the resources we consume before finally discarding them.  On the supply side, it would seem logical to conclude that is a good thing, because no matter what you believe the actual reserve is for the various resources we consume, it seems likely that on a practical basis, they are finite rather than infinite.  Thus, making the best possible use of things is ultimately in society’s and the planet’s best interest.
  • On the waste stream side of things, fewer failures and replacement parts mean that fewer things are discarded.   I think that is also an important sustainability issue because of the impact our waste can have on society and the environment.  Even if we dispose of things in an environmentally and socially conscious manner (and I’m pretty sure that at some level, everyone would agree we could be doing a better job of that) it still takes energy and resources to do it.

Some might argue that if we make things last longer, then we are purchasing fewer “things” and that could create problems with our consumption driven economy.  While I suspect that is true, I think the answer might lie in shifting our focus a bit with regard to what we offer for sale and what we consume.

For instance, what if companies that sell bearings and couplings also sold the services and technologies that made bearings and couplings acheive their maximum life expectancy and deliver best performance.  They may end up selling less product, but the probalby end up keeping more people busy doing things that are both challenging professionally and worthwhile economically.

In other words, I suspect you have to know more to do a vibration assessment and make an improvement that maximizes machine life and minimizes production cost than you have to know to sell a replacement part.  But if you can learn to do that, then you grow professionally.  And that knowledge is worth something if you can convince people of the benefit of your expertise.  Most consultants, like me for instance, are really just selling our time and expertise and many of us do quite well at that.

The bottom line is that by learning (or teaching your staff)  how to provide a service that enhances what ever product it is that you sell and delivers real value to your customers,  you help bussinesses maximize their profits (theirs and yours), and when the machinery reaches the end of its useful service life, you are still there to provide the replacement.

The real trick, of course, is getting people to see the value of the service.  Given the growing interest in being “green”, I think the time might be ripe for selling services that make things more efficient and last longer.  And the key, I think, to that, is having hard data showing your customers/business owners that your service delivers value to their bottom line.

All of that probalby sounds pretty “pie in the sky” to some folks.  And I suspect people can shoot all kinds of holes in my ideas and thoughts.   But I think that’s how progress is made some times.  You put ideas out there for discussion, get feedback from others about what does and doesn’t have merit and then move forward from there.

Thus, I present these thoughts for your consideration.  Let me know what you think.  Meanwhile, I’ll pursue things from my end and let you know what I learn in future posts.

David Sellers
Senior Engineer – Facility Dynamics Engineering

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