Now that they have a few years of solid growth behind them and can feel the wind of a strengthening economy in their sails, many area small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) are beginning to invest in expansion projects; more and more of these projects are benefiting through the incorporation of energy-related aspects, either directly or indirectly.
The energy-saving element of many projects presents itself as an ancillary benefit, but it is a benefit nonetheless. MRC’s Senior Strategy Manager, Tony Maslowski, recently shared some of his insights into the ways that MRC and its clients are reaping the benefits of energy-efficiency improvements.
Although few of these improvement projects begin as energy-improvement efforts, Maslowski says, the energy savings frequently become an important aspect of the work.
“It’s a very small percentage that are specifically designed as energy-related projects,” he says. What’s happened, though, is that companies are seeing a benefit from energy and/or time savings because of the better technology that’s available now versus what was out there seven years ago.”
That could mean new, more energy-efficient equipment, or enhanced software that lets workers perform tasks more efficiently. Either way, he says, the overall benefits often include energy and cost savings.
Maslowski goes on to say that some of the general trends he has seen involve a concerted effort to improve performance through technology—even for those aspects of the business that are not equipment-centric.
“In general, MRC has seen an increase in MRP/ERP projects and upgrades. We’ve also seen a resurgence in companies using their websites more efficiently, either through redesigns or Search Engine Optimization (SEO),” he says. There are many companies that have gone for equipment upgrades—things like new CNC machinery, new air handling systems, etc.—and these are inherently more energy-efficient than the equipment they are bought to replace or supplement.
He adds that although clients are not specifically looking at energy savings as a growth strategy, the focus has changed since the Great Recession.
“A few years ago there were many grants available for implementation of Photovoltaics and solar projects, but many of those grants have been reduced,” he says. “The end goal for most companies now is serving their customers and growing sales. If the energy portion fits into that strategic part of the business improvement, they go with it.”
As in many cases, government-funded research drives a large portion of the developments that find their way into factories and wider use. Through its ARPA-E program, the Department of Energy is now soliciting applications for a significant funding opportunity.
“The new ARPA-E grant funding cycle is open through February 20, and they will be distributing $125 million after they make the program selections,” Maslowski says. “The program categories are actually fairly comprehensive within the energy sector: reducing emissions, power delivery, storage, materials for carbon capture, conversion and utilization of sunlight…the list is quite long.”
As for the role that Technology Scouting and Market Intelligence play in the energy- related mix for SMEs, Maslowski says they are important because they enable these enterprises to stay competitive.
“It allows them to bring the latest technology and operate in the realm where the larger companies play while improving their ability to be competitive,” he says. “While it may be true that not many projects start as energy initiatives, a number of them do see energy benefits, because you have better equipment and better use of resources.”
If your business seeks to better understand the ways that an energy-efficiency project can help drive business growth and competitiveness, contact the MRC team today to learn more.