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June 17, 2016 4:04 PM, EDT

Energy Efficiency at Facilities Brings Sizable Savings to Fleets, OEMs

Left: Dock at USF Holland with old high-intensity discharge lights. Right: Dock at USF Holland with LED lights. (Adam Rowe/USF Holland)

This story appears in the June 13 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Efficiency improvements and energy-reduction strategies at trucking facilities are saving fleets and original equipment manufacturers money and time. Even minor changes — such as conversion from older, high-intensity-discharge (HID) lights to skylights or to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting in offices and break rooms — result in lower electric bills, increased visibility and greater employee satisfaction, facility managers said.

“When I joined Holland, I saw opportunity in our facilities for a great return on investment, not only saving money but ensuring the safety of our employees and doing our part for the environment,” said Adam Rowe, properties manager at USF Holland Inc., a Holland, Michigan-based regional carrier. “Lighting is a major factor in operations since many terminals operate during nighttime, and that means terminal-building and yard-traffic lighting is critical for efficiency and safety.”

By November 2015, Rowe had worked with Orion Energy Systems Inc. to complete lighting upgrades at 12 USF Holland terminals, reducing total energy consumption at the terminals by 34% and saving an estimated $330,000 annually. Rowe would not disclose the cost of the project, but said, “We expect payback in a couple to a few years. And we plan to implement additional lighting solutions with our forecasted capital improvements, such as renovations and expansions.”

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Before the upgrades, most of the 12 terminals had metal halide bulbs and high-pressure sodium fixtures that Rowe said “made everything look dingy and yellow.” Improvement of overall illumination on docks and in offices “really brightened up the place,” he said. “Our people say it feels like we’re bringing more natural light into our warehouses.”

Installation of new lighting controls with motion detectors also has produced major savings. “In the future, we’re looking at energy management systems that not only manage lighting, but all of our energy-consuming equipment,” Rowe said.

A. Duie Pyle, a regional carrier based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, installed LED lighting and skylights in three new terminals built over the past two years. The carrier also ordered the use of both improvements in a renovation of the company’s Buffalo, New York, terminal.

“As we’ve built new facilities, we’ve gone to as many LED and efficient light sources as possible,” said Randy Swart, A. Duie Pyle’s chief operating officer. “But we’ve also found that we can go to modern skylights using prismed and reflective glass to supply enough light that in some cases, we don’t need other lighting at all.”

The company installed LED motion lights in work areas and break rooms on lower floors where skylights wouldn’t be effective.

“And on the docks, the LED lights are sequenced,” Swart said. “As you walk down a dock, 20-foot banks of lights come on and light the way as you go.”

Because billing rates for electricity fluctuate, it’s hard to know just how much money the carrier is saving with its new lighting, Swart said. However, one LED fixture reduces wattage consumption by about 48% compared with non-LED fixtures, “and light output is similar or usually better than what we had before,” he said.

Savings from another energy efficiency built into the carrier’s new terminals — radiant heating — is measured not so much in kilowatt hours, but in employee satisfaction and injury prevention.

“The heated shop floors allow heat to be where the mechanics are,” Swart said. “Shops are often 18 feet tall, and forced air just travels upward. Heating the floor makes it much more comfortable for employees, and it’s less expensive.”

Four-foot-long ramps leading from each dock to ground level at these shops also feature radiant heat. “We did this for safety,” said Swart. “True, the heat melts ice, so there’s no need to scrape or apply salt. These ramps are wide enough for two forklifts to transfer freight and probably cost $35,000 to $40,000, and we have them at every new terminal. But we’ll never know how many injuries we prevent by using them.”

Schneider, a national truckload carrier based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, doesn’t have terminals because its loads are transported from customer to customer. The carrier’s largest facility is its 269,000-square-foot headquarters. Steve Parent, vice president of facilities, said efficiency enhancements at this facility save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Particularly effective is the building’s ice-storage cooling system. Installed in 1993 when the building was constructed, the system works during nonpeak hours to create an ice slurry in large containers. “Then, during the day when energy is expensive, instead of running condensing units, we circulate through the containers a glycol liquid that cools the building,” Parent said.

Other energy-saving steps include high-efficiency pumps and newer fluorescent lighting systems. “We haven’t yet moved to LED lighting, because we went through all our shops and warehouses eight years ago and switched from HID lights to high-efficiency fluorescent and saved significant dollars,” Parent said.

Specifically, the company saved enough energy from the new lights to pay for them “in about a year,” he added. So while LED lights have been shown to be more efficient, “It may be a while we before we get them because we’re already most of the way there with our high-efficiency fluorescent systems.” Over time, energy efficiencies at the Green Bay facility have saved Schneider about $4.5 million, or “just shy of $200,000 per year,” Parent said.

Fleets aren’t the only industry segment reporting big savings from efficiency boosts and energy-reduction techniques. Equipment manufacturers are seeing major reductions in utility bills and in “energy intensity” — the amount of energy required to build a single truck.

Bert Hill, manager of health, safety and Environment at Volvo Group, said the manufacturer’s New River Valley plant in Dublin, Virginia, improved its energy intensity by 39.7% from 2009 through 2014 as part of the “Better Buildings, Better Plants” initiative established by the U.S. Department of Energy. Program participants commit to continually identifying and implementing new energy-efficiency projects, in part, by encouraging employees to suggest improvements and by reinvesting savings from the projects into future efficiency efforts, thereby generating more savings.

“Investments [at the Virginia plant] include enhanced ventilation through changes to our central air house; addition of skylights in the main assembly, paint, warehouse and cab-manufacturing areas; and a passive solar wall designed to capture hot air between the exterior and interior walls and distribute it through the building,” Hill said.

Hill declined to list the cost of improvements, but said, “Return on investment in terms of dollars has appreciated, and we’ve also improved the working environment for our employees by providing abundant natural light and more comfortable temperatures.”

Also paring back energy usage through efficiency upgrades is Detroit Diesel, at its Redford, Michigan, plant.

Jeff Allen, vice president for operations, said that over the next two years, the engine manufacturer will complete conversion of the 3.2 million-square-foot facility to 100% LED lighting, employ new variable-frequency air compressors and continue its zero-landfill practices, producing a net energy savings of 32% over 10 years by 2018.

Built 78 years ago, the Redford facility underwent a $500 million renovation starting in 2005, shortly after Daimler Trucks North America purchased Detroit Diesel. Renovations continued with the addition of a heavy-duty transmission assembly last year and still are progressing to accommodate the launch of a medium-duty turbo engine slated for 2018.

“The plant has always been very large,” Allen said. “The real challenge has been making that space and capacity useful.”

Allen would not discuss specific cost savings credited to efficiency enhancements. He did say that new variable-frequency air compressors work on demand, modulating output based on the need of the plant.

“In the past, the air compressors we had would run almost continuously and send excess pressure out through relief valves,” he said. “We’re still validating the results of anticipated savings with the new air compressors, [and] the information we’ve seen so far is very promising.”

Daimler has pushed for energy conservation on all fronts at the Redford plant, upgrading HVAC, installing new roofing with upgraded insulating factors and programming machinery to limit power needs when not in use, Allen said.

“These are just a few of the measures we’ve taken to push energy efficiency within our plant, and together, these measures have gained us recognition,” Allen said. “We are ISO 50001-certified for energy management, and late last year, we won the Global Award from Daimler for Environmental Excellence.”

In common among managers at all the facilities reporting energy efficiencies and savings is a plan to continue identifying ways to reduce waste.

“I think it says a lot about a company when it builds a new facility or retrofits an old one, and the facility is fuel-efficient and lighting-efficient,” A. Duie Pyle’s Swart said. “We ask our employees to be efficient all the time, so when they see their company doing things to save energy and resources and reduce its environmental footprint, they tell their friends. It’s a feel-good kind of thing for all of us.”

“The more efficient we become, the more we can invest into our products and plants,” Allen said. “Efficiency is truly the path to sustain long-term job growth.”