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Energy management Fuels mill success
An award-winning systematic energy management approach at B.C.’s Gorman Bros. Lumber is engaging employees and driving down costs—and there is more savings to come.
By Nina Winham
When a forest company identifies potential energy savings at a sawmill, the next question is usually, “How do we get there?”
For an answer, the industry can look to Gorman Bros. Lumber in British Columbia, which was recently recognized by provincial power utility BC Hydro as a leader in industrial energy efficiency. The company is well on its way to realizing more than $500,000 in energy savings, through a systematic approach that has everyone in the company involved.
Key to the savings is Gorman Bros.’ Strategic Energy Management Plan, which was developed with support from BC Hydro.
“We’ve taken it seriously,” says Doug Tracey, operations manager for Gorman Bros. “Right from the leadership and ownership of the company all the way through to our employees, we endorse the plan—we put 100 per cent behind it.”
That focus, over just two years, has yielded more than 4.6 GWh in annual energy savings (that’s about $276,000 based on B.C. electricity costs), with more to come.
Launched in the 1950’s as a fruit-box manufacturer, Gorman Bros. Lumber is a 60-year old family-owned company, with four facilities in B.C. and one in Washington State. Its Westbank, B.C. operation is considered to be one of the largest board mills in the world, producing 150 million board feet of 1” spruce and pine board per year, for shipment to 28 different countries.
A quest for continuous improvement is one of the company’s keys to success—and one of the reasons it launched its energy efficiency program.
“Whenever there’s an opportunity of cost savings or of doing something better, we take a look at it,” says Tracey. “We’ve always put in premium high-efficiency motors and we put in VFDs (variable frequency drives) when we do a capital project. Because we always bought the Cadillac when it comes to energy-efficient options, we thought we were running a pretty tight ship.
“Then we started to explore some of the opportunities with BC Hydro, and realized there’s always room for improvement.”
Gorman Bros.’ efforts began with an Energy Management Assessment to identify energy-saving opportunities. From there, they hired a full-time energy manager, and developed their Strategic Energy Management Plan (SEMP), which identified 8.8 GWh of potential energy savings (worth about $500,000 per year).
The company followed its historic practice of investing in capital projects during market downturns when implementation costs are lower, launching its energy efficiency work during 2010.
Projects have included equipment upgrades and added controls, tagging and fixing 75 compressed air leaks, energy efficient lighting, fine-tuning the loads on fans and installing a new energy efficient dryer. Impressively, more than 1.2 GWh of the savings were captured with zero capital cost, simply through educating employees about energy-saving behaviour changes.
“I think what shocked the employees was how much energy is required not just to run the sawmill overall, but the details of what it takes to run air compressors and what leaks cost you,” says Tracey.
The company has held several employee awareness events to inspire and engage staff towards energy efficiency. “You can see it in the expressions on their faces when you start throwing out some numbers—for example, when they’re using an air hose to blow off a scanner or when there’s a leak in an air hose and it doesn’t get repaired.”
To keep all staff focused on energy saving opportunities, management uses a continuous improvement approach. Tracey says the SEMP is broken into quarterly installments, with each quarter given a theme that will be its focus. “So when the supervisor for a particular shift holds a crew meeting, the energy manager is there. We go through the theme of the quarter, such as compressed air leaks, or propane and natural gas usage. Where we identify opportunities, we put a procedure in place, prioritize them and put together an action plan. That’s where we’ve seen some of the big, significant changes in people’s attitudes regarding energy management.”
Gorman Bros.’ comprehensive employee engagement program includes newsletters, a suggestion box, incentives, monthly scorecards and air leak tag stations, ensuring staff are fully on board with energy reduction efforts. Tracey says the comprehensive, staff-involvement approach allows the company to find energy savings that would be hard to capture without employee buy-in.
“For example, an anti-idling campaign. If you’re running a 400 horsepower machine centre, what do you do when you go for a coffee break? Should people walk away, or do we have another fellow take over that machine centre, or do you shut it down? When a forklift operator goes into the office for a moment, does he shut his forklift off, or does he keep it idling? Those are just small things, but they all add up.”
While it’s understood that investing in energy efficiency cuts costs, the impact on customer relations—especially in commodity markets—is less often considered. However, Tracey says Gorman Bros. is building value here as well.
“Globally, people are looking for companies that have certification. They want to see a company that is well run, that’s going to be there for the long term,” he says.
“You can’t afford to waste anything these days. Customers are looking at the quality of your wood fibre but also at what do you do with your byproducts and how well you’re managing the resource that you have. We get plenty of those questions. And they’re impressed when we show them our scanning technologies or when we describe to them how much electrical savings we get with VFDs.
“Obviously customers buy on price, but there is a shift,” Tracey adds. “They’re environmentally conscious. I think it’s something we can take to our customers: that we’re good stewards of the land. A lot has been given to us and there’s a lot of responsibility. I think running a business today means being responsible in all sectors.”
Tracey says the company’s energy-saving ethic has also opened dialogue with suppliers. “When you start engaging companies like Caterpillar and Hyster, and asking about the issues related to letting a machine idle, or shutting it off, they realize that the industry is looking at things like this, and they start talking about how their equipment is designed to handle short startups and shutdowns. It’s interesting to see how this goes down the ladder.”
Due to the company’s consistent and effective focus on energy efficiency, Gorman Bros. was recognized in October by BC Hydro as a “Power Smart Leader”—the coveted highest level in the utility’s “Power Smart Excellence Awards” program. Tracey says it’s powerful recognition.
“I think it sends a message. We compete in a global economy. Our customers are concerned about environmental footprint and the sustainability of energy going forward,” he says.
“We sell into 28 different countries in the world. What a good news story we have when we go into those markets, not only sustainable forestry practices, but also sustainable energy management practices. I think the two just piggyback
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