Avert the energy crisis - energy savings

Noli Dinkovski
Friday, May 14, 2010

Running leaner is better for your bottom line and for the environment. Everybody wins. So what's holding you back? Noli Dinkovski takes a look at some of the options

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While the state of the economy has, understandably, been the main concern of most businesses in recent times, it seems that energy prices aren't far behind.

In a recent survey by the Carbon Trust, 53% of UK manufacturers claimed energy price hikes were a worry, second only to the economy. And given the scare stories that the UK is on the verge of an energy crisis and faces a £200bn bill to replace obsolete power plants in the next decade, it's easy to see why there's so much alarm.

It's probably shocking to hear, then, that according to the Carbon Trust, 15% of the £67m the print industry spends on energy bills every year (equivalent to 2m tonnes of CO2 emissions) could be cut through basic energy-saving measures. That's a whopping £22m missing from the balance sheets of printers up and down the land.

Thankfully, such wastefulness doesn't apply to everyone in the industry - there are plenty of printers and manufacturers working hard to be as energy efficient as possible. From measures as complex as optimising voltage use to those as simple as turning off lights, these companies are leading the way in making the industry leaner and greener.

One such printer is Reading-based Lamport Gilbert. Already ISO 14001 accredited, the company - part of the TH Brickell Group - approached the Carbon Trust in 2008 to help further reduce its energy use. The survey identified a number of areas for improvement. As a result, passive infrared sensors have been installed to control heating and lighting throughout the factory. Similarly, new software controls were brought in to power down PCs when not in use.

A further measure has been to encourage soft proofing with customers, replacing the traditional hard proofs that were usually couriered, or delivered by sales reps. "We are now set up so that 80-90% of the time we are able to send soft proofs to customers," says commercial director Andy Robbins.

The result of all these changes has been profound - energy bills are around 12% down, a saving of about £10,000 every year. "Is difficult to be precise, but I'd say it's taken us 18 months to recoup our initial investment," says Robbins. "It's an ongoing process too - we are now looking at working towards the EMAS standard."

Payback promises
Any investment requires a pre-determined payback period, and energy-saving initiatives are no different. A return on investment of no more than 24 months is one of three key rules Stralfors, PrintWeek Environmental Company of the Year 2009, has in place whenever it considers energy-saving measures. "It must also be measurable and verifiable, and it must be approved by our internal environment and energy team - a group of staff volunteers that assesses all projects," says environmental and compliance manager Rob Norwell.

Like Lamport Gilbert, Stralfors has installed intelligent lighting and motion sensors. It has also invested in powerPerfector - a voltage optimisation device that effectively reduces voltage to the optimum operating level for equipment (typically, 240V to 220V). As well as saving energy, the device can help presses run more reliably as motors run cooler.

"On average, voltage optimisation saves us around £6,000 per month," says Norwell. "The device requires no maintenance, has had no detrimental impact to our IT software or servers, and has paid for itself well within 24 months."
Stralfors has also reduced the number of its physical servers from 48 to 31, saving on air conditioning power as well as server power. On its main paper shredder, meanwhile, it has installed Powerboss, an automatic device that powers down the machine if it has been left idle for a few minutes.

Not all measures have required investment. Simple ‘traffic-light' labels are stuck to all of its machines throughout the offices and factory: if the label is green, turn the machine off when idle; amber, ask a manager; and red, leave it on.
"All our projects have culminated in the business saving no less than £140,000 per year," says Norwell. "That's upwards of 700 tonnes of CO2 per year."

Norwell says that Stralfors was lucky enough to have the funds available to invest in the projects, but stresses that interest-free loans are available from the Carbon Trust.

There are other organisations that can help. Energy-saving consultant Enigin offers leasing schemes, meaning the cost of a firm's energy-saving programme can be paid for from the savings made. Its flagship product is Eniscope, which monitors the energy output of single machines. The company has trialled and installed Eniscopes at a number of UK printers.

"At one print plant, readings were taken on two presses and it was discovered that one press was around £6,000 more expensive to run per year than the other," says Enigin commercial director Tim McMahon. "Consequently they now prioritise all jobs on the less energy demanding press first."

Enigin offers advice and product recommendations when anomalies in energy consumption are spotted. "By making energy consumption transparent, you can start controlling these costs and start eating into those unnecessary expenses," says McMahon.

Cashflow healthcheck
Energy use should also be monitored in your monthly and quarterly bills, suggests Tim Taylor, environmental and compliance manager at Ricoh UK. "You'd be surprised at the number of firms that are happy to pay bills on estimate readings," he adds. "Apart from missing fluctuations in energy use, you could be doing unnecessary harm to your cashflow."

It's probably what you would expect to hear from a digital press manufacturer, but Taylor claims presses are
becoming more energy efficient all the time. He cites Ricoh's Pro C900 colour production machine, with a maximum power consumption of less than 5,500W, as an example.

Offset press manufacturers, however, also have something to say on the subject. Apex Digital Graphics claims its Ryobi presses are second to none in terms of energy efficiency. In fact, the UK distributer went so far as to issue a ‘power challenge' to other press makers at its Leeds open day last year, hooking up the Ryobi 750, 784, 525 and 525GX presses to a PC with sensing equipment.

"It was very well received," says Apex sales and marketing director Neil Handforth. "The reason why the presses are so efficient is that Ryobi is forever updating its drive and inverter technology. Added to that, the mechanical drives offer less friction so the presses run more economically."

Apex will have the Ryobi 920 on display at Ipex. An SRA1 press with a B2 footprint, the 920 is able to produce 8-up A4s. "With its unique footprint, the 920 has a much lower power requirement than a typical B1 press," claims Handforth. "We'll also be showing the latest LED UV technology, which is approximately 75% more energy efficient than conventional UV."

Of course, it's not just presses that have become more energy efficient. Greater automation in the bindery has reduced equipment running times, saving on power consumption. Progress has been made in the pre-press environment, too, fuelled by the rise of processless plates. But what of the other plate process types?

Difficult definitions
In his 2009 report Environmental Impact of a Printing Plate, US print consultant John Zarwan discovers there are very few differences in power consumption between the leading Fujifilm, Agfa and Kodak conventional CTP, reduced chemistry and chemistry-free plates. He finds that violet processors tend to use slightly more energy to accommodate the pre-heating requirement of violet plate processing. Consequently, and somewhat surprisingly, the finishing unit needed by Fuji's Pro-V chemistry-free violet plate consumes as much energy in use as the processor needed for Agfa's silver-based processed violet plate LAP-V.

Zarwan's report, however, doesn't include platesetter energy requirements as part of the platemaking process, a fact not lost on Sean Lane, product manager for offset solutions at Fujifilm Graphic Systems UK.

"It's notoriously difficult to define the ultimate energy consumption of one plate as you need to first ascertain where the parameters lie," he says. "Do you take into account the energy used to manufacture the plates themselves? The energy required transporting the raw materials to the manufacturing facility? Or the energy required mining the raw materials?"

It's a point that highlights the difficulties faced when measuring just how green some print processes are. Something that may be energy efficient to run may not necessarily have been that energy efficient to produce.

But one thing is clear, when it comes to measuring power output, printers have little excuse to delay. It's proven that a number of small, simple steps can go a long way to helping an organisation save a fortune on energy bills. And, perhaps, go some way towards saving the planet as well.

TOP TIPS - Energy Advice
The Carbon Trust has a three-stage guide to help you become more energy efficient:

Stage 1
Carry out an energy walkabout to see where you can save energy across all existing systems. Regular walks will form the basis of an action plan to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint

Stage 2
Focus on simple improvements in three areas:

  • Motors – make sure motors are switched off when they aren’t in active use. Don’t, for example, leave them running during lunch breaks
  • Dryers - check air filters regularly. This will help maintain the energy-efficiency of your dryers. At the same time as checking your filters, also look out for steam leaks
  • Process controls – If any time is being lost in your manufacturing process, investigate what the problem is and what can be done to the make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also try and think how to improve set-up times

Stage 3
Involve staff with energy management and monitor your energy use and savings. For plans to be successful, all employees have to take responsibility for implementing day-to-day energy saving actions

Visit www.carbontrust.co.uk for more info

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