Canadian Plastics

Quick fixes, BIG results

By Mark Stephen, Editor   

Remember the old adage that says you have to spend money to make money? It's good advice, to be sure, but is it always true?

Remember the old adage that says you have to spend money to make money? It’s good advice, to be sure, but is it always true?

Maybe not.

Fact is, there are ways to improve your bottom line that don’t cost anything more than a few dollars and a few minutes of your time. Take energy costs. Rising energy prices are a concern for any plastics processor, especially–do we have to say it?–in today’s economic climate.

“Energy typically represents four to six per cent of a plastic processor’s total operating costs, and 12 to 15 per cent of its controllable costs,” said Graham Knowles, the consultant managing a recent Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) energy conservation outreach program (see sidebar below). “Electricity usually accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the total energy cost, so there’s no doubt it has a significant effect on the bottom line.”


“Controllable costs” are the key words here. Unlike, say, the price of resins, a processor has the power to determine a large part of its energy expenses. Investing in new energy-efficient processing equipment is one way to do it, of course–but implementing a replacement strat-egy for your old energy hogs can take time and money. There are plenty of ways, though, to save energy and trim utility bills simply by zeroing in on the equipment you already have.


As with so much else in life, knowledge is key in the quest to eliminate energy waste. Before anything else, understand how your company is billed for electrical cal power. The answer usually isn’t pretty. “Many commercial facilities are billed on a rate schedule typically set around the highest 15 minute power demand during a billing period,” said Mike Orto Ortolano, lano, head of renewable energy systems with con consulting sulting company Absolute Green Energy.

Armed with this bit of information, the smart strategy isn’t hard to figure out. “Changes with respect to startups of machines and facilities are an obvious low cost energy saving method,” Ortolano continued. “A facility’s billing charge can be reduced significantly by staggering the machine startup sequence after a shutdown instead of powering up all the machines in the same period.”


So far, so good, but a complete strategy goes beyond staggering your startups. What about reactive load compensation? Since the reactive load of a processing machine puts an extra load on the overhead lines, transformers, and power stations of the energy supplier’s power grid, compensation equipment is available for installation in the main distribution centre of a manufacturing facility. The goal is to ensure that the reactive power on the production floor is taken into account when planning the capacity of a company’s internal energy transfer network. Problem is, low energy periods and performance peaks tend to alternate in a quick succession with injection molding machines, making conventional reactive load compensation systems less than ideal. Wittmann Battenfeld’s EcoPower option for injection molding machines uses low maintenance semiconductor switches to activate a varying number of compensation levels, depending on the size of the drive unit. The compensation units are available for voltages from 230 to 480 V and frequencies of 50 or 60 Hz. Bottom line: The dimension of the power supply installation required on the shop floor can be downsized.

Fitting fixed-speed conventional AC motors with a variable-speed drive to deliver only the required energy load on auxiliary equipment is another good, inexpensive move. Motor control manufacturer Power Efficiency Corporation recently unveiled its E-Save technology, which uses a microprocessor and circuitry to sense the energy requirements of a motor. The voltage and current being fed to the motor are monitored and the motor is provided with the exact amount of energy that it needs, allowing the motor to maintain its rated speed and torque under variable loads.

According to Power Efficiency’s chairman and CEO Steve Strasser, after motor efficiency controls were installed on 25 granulators in flexible packager Berry Plastics’ Anaheim, Calif. facility, an independent audit determined the company reduced the kilowatts required by almost 45 per cent and racked up an annual saving of US$600 per granulator unit. “Power Efficiency is currently in the process of testing the E-Save technology on injection, blow molding and extrusion machines,” Strasser added.


We’ve still only scratched the surface. Low cost technologies such as adding barrel insulation, insulating cooling water lines and repairing compressed air leaks can all have a quick payback and should be considered as part of any low cost energy reduction program.

“Heat escaping from a processing machine is energy the processor is paying for that’s simply being lost, but there are inexpensive ways of directing it back into the machine,” said Harry Kitz, president of Process Heaters Inc. “Ceramic band heaters, which have built-in ceramic fibre insulation, can be ordered beyond the standard one-quarter inch thick layer of insulation to provide double insulation.”

Kitz also suggested draping a simple insulating blanket over a processing unit. “Insulating blankets, like those available from Tempco Electric Heater Corporation, are ideal for water-cooled extrud ers and for most injection molding applications. They’re almost always a good idea for a machine startup, when heat is required very quickly.”

And while polymer processing makes up the bulk of energy costs, the lighting, heating and cooling energy required to operate a manufacturing facility are nothing to sneeze at, either. The good news? These costs are flexible, and can be trimmed with the right approach.


As part of the recent energy conservation outreach program undertaken by the CPIA, engineering consulting firm Hatch compiled a list of quick and inexpensive energy fixes. “Based on a series of mini-assessments carried out on 41 Ontario plastics processors, we found energy savings were reached by switching to smaller air compressors, using energy efficient lighting, fixing compressed air leaks, and turning off idling equipment and unloaded but running compressors,” said Emily Thorn Corthay, a senior energy management consultant with Hatch.

A mini-assessment of blown film extruder Tempo Plastics, of Barrie, Ont., came back with some particularly striking findings. The Hatch consultants used an ultrasonic detector to identify numerous inaudible compressed air leaks, and estimated that Tempo Plastics could save approximately $9,000 annually in this area alone. “We determined that Tempo Plastics could also save approximately $7,500 per year just by switching to smaller air compressors from Friday night to Sunday,” Thorn Corthay noted. Other recommendations included reducing the compressed air pressure by 10 psi for a savings of approximately $4,500 a year, using outside air as intake for the compressors in the cooler weather for a savings of $4,400 a year, and shifting loads to reduce peak demand costs.

In the end, trimming energy costs without splurging on new equipment is possible, and is definitely smart business. What’s necessary above all else, experts say, is the simple willingness to do it. “Changing the energy conservation culture in a processing plant ultimately requires commitments from senior management on down,” said Thorn Corthay. “With the right mindset, energy doesn’t have to be a fixed cost–it can be a variable that the processor can control.”


Absolute Green Energy (Worcester, Mass.);; 508-459-5410

Hatch (Mississauga, Ont.);; 905-855-7600

Power Efficiency Corporation (Las Vegas, Nev.);;

Rotalec (Saint-Laurent, Que.);

514-341-3685 (Brantford, Ont.); 519-753-5100

Tempco Electric Heater Corporation (Wood Dale, Ill.);; 1-888-268-6396

Process Heaters Inc. (Toronto); 416-747-8250

RC2 Technologies Inc. (Blainville, Que.); 450-433-1309

Wittmann Canada Inc. (Richmond Hill, Ont.);; 1-866-466-8266


CPIA energy outreach program generates savings

Last winter, the CPIA initiated an energy conservation outreach program sponsored and funded by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA).

The program, which wrapped up in December 2009, resulted in 41 Ontario plastics processors interested in saving energy being given free mini-assessments by the Hatch engineering research consulting firm. The jury is now in: As of press time, 19 shops have had detailed follow-up dialogue, and the results are impressive. “The average quantified potential saving for each of the companies that we followed up with was $58,000 per year, which represented approximately 10 per cent of the electricity spent by those companies,” said Hatch’s Emily Thorn Corthay. In total, Hatch quantified more than $1.8 million in possible annual savings for all 41 assessments, she said, and identified several times that amount in non-quantified savings that would need more resources to quantify. Of the $1.1 million of quantified savings potential identified for the 19 follow-up shops, an impressive $800,000 in savings will be, or have already been, implemented.

What’s the broader lesson? “As Canadian plastics processors become aware of the savings that can be realized through these mini-assessments, they’ll hopefully shed whatever concerns they might have about investing in energy assessments of their own,” Thorn Corthay said.


Get with the program!

There’s no shortage of energy conservation programs aimed at helping Canadian manufacturers cut their utility bills. Here’s a few of them.


WHAT: Offers financial assistance to large-power customers for retrofit projects aimed at reducing overall energy consumption.

HOW: The program doesn’t prescribe any particular electricity management measures, but leaves that initiative to the customer. To qualify for financial assistance, participants must agree to demonstrate electricity savings by measuring their consumption before and after the plant retrofit project. The program is open to any company that has at least one service contract at large-power rates. Manufacturers can receive up to $30 million in financial assistance for their retrofit, but must assume 50 per cent of the eligible project costs.



WHAT: Offers rebates to help manufacturers adopt more energy-efficient upgrades.

HOW: Incentives are available for pre-approved projects that result in measurable reductions in electrical peak demand. These projects may be completed using energy-efficient, leading-edge technologies or may be based on custom solutions. Applicants must be owners or tenants of business premises served by Hydro One. Applications must be received by Hydro One no later than December 31, 2010.

Visit,or call 1-866-650-4709.


WHAT: Provides up to $1,000 in free energy-efficient lighting and equipment upgrades to help small businesses conserve energy and save money.

HOW: The 2010 program is offered to Hydro One business customers that have an annual electricity demand of approximately 50 kW or less.

Visit,or call 1-866-932-8283.


WHAT: Offered by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), this program provides financial incentive to help small-and medium-sized manufacturers implement energy-saving projects.

HOW: To be eligible, the facility must have fewer than 500 employees, be in operation for 12 months or more, and be registered with NRCan’s leadership network. Applications can cover more than one retrofit program. NRCan will provide up to 25 per cent of project costs to a maximum of $50,000 per application and $250,000 per company.



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