Molder Harbec places true value on energy efficiency
Energy efficiency is a core value for custom injection molder Harbec.
The company has achieved platinum certification from the Department of Energy’s Superior Energy Performance (SEP) program, the government’s top recognition of an organization’s energy performance. To receive that certification, companies must implement an energy-management system that complies with the ISO 50001 standard, and reach an improvement in energy performance of at least 15 percent in a three-year period. Harbec realized overall savings of 16.5 percent, reducing Btu consumption by 6 million and annual energy costs by $52,000.
By purchasing credits to offset its carbon dioxide creation and water consumption, the company, which has a 50,000-square-foot headquarters facility in Ontario, N.Y., accomplished carbon neutrality in 2013 and water neutrality in 2015. The company also captures heat energy from its equipment to heat and cool the facility, originally built in the 1960s.
The company made a philosophical change in purchasing when electric machines were developed, said Bob Bechtold, president and CEO of Harbec.
“When we switched from hydraulic molding machines to electric, that was a beginning phase for us,” he said. “It was happening at the same time that we were exploring things like renewable energy and energy efficiency through combined heat and power, and they all kind of came together around the same period of time.”
Initially, those electric machines cost 20 percent to 30 percent more than hydraulic versions. But the key point in the Harbec philosophy is that the electric machine might use as much as 50 percent less energy. “It’s not uncommon that we’ll pay a premium for a piece of equipment if the energy-saving capabilities or potential of it will pay [us] back in three to five or six years,” Bechtold said.
And the payoff continues long after the payback. The company’s maintenance staff can keep injection presses running an average of 15 to 20 years.
Harbec bought its first all-electric injection molding machines around the turn of the century from Cincinnati Milacron, now Milacron LLC. “We probably bought one of the first all-electric machines that they made,” he said. “For at least the last 10 or 15 years, we have had no hydraulic machines, only electric.”
Harbec also buys injection molding machines from Arburg. Not only does Bechtold like its equipment, he also favors the business philosophy of Arburg, which, like Harbec, emphasizes sustainability. “It gave us a chance to practice what we preach,” he said.
Although the first electric injection molding machines came at a premium, the company needed only 18 months to pay off the extra cost. “Today I don’t even know if there is a premium, because we don’t even look at hydraulic. Because right now they’re such an energy waster.”
Bechtold compared the energy inefficiency of hydraulic machines to an automobile. A hydraulic pump maintains 100 percent potential energy level all the time. “The car analogy would be, turn on your engine, put your foot all the way on the floor, and do not let up on that foot.” An electric car, by contrast, uses energy depending on the task required — accelerating or idling, for example.
There is another component to the energy savings for electric presses: Hydraulic machinery generates a great deal of wasted heat. “By not having all that resulting ambient heat in the room, we reduce our air-conditioning demand,” Bechtold said.
Harbec also saves energy by using air compressors from Kaeser Compressors. Bechtold said that about 15 years ago the company learned that Kaeser developed a compressor with an inverter drive that ramps down and shuts off when not needed. But the machine cost 50 percent more than what Harbec had been spending on compressors.
Still, Bechtold asked for the energy specifications on the machine and calculated his energy costs and savings. He determined that Harbec would recover the premium in three years.
Fifteen years later, the compressor is going strong, and the company bought a second machine four or five years ago. This time the premium was only 20 to 25 percent.
Harbec also has extended its emphasis on energy efficiency to its CNC machines. The Robodrills, from Fanuc, employ regenerative braking, which allows kinetic energy to be converted to electrical energy and stored in capacitors. The power then can be used in place of line power.
Jeff Eisenhauer, energy manager for Harbec, added that the company’s energy-efficiency efforts on equipment also apply to its cooling-tower fans, exhaust fans, process-water systems and other areas.
“Here’s the rule in our company: If it’s 10 horsepower or more, it at least has a soft start if not an inverter drive,” Bechtold said.
The company’s emphasis on energy efficiency is no passing fancy. “We commit, for the rest of the life of the business, that we will use less energy per widget manufactured, forever,” Bechtold said. Harbec makes decisions based on the economic impact on the company, but also how they affect the community and the planet.
Bechtold often hears other companies argue that the wait is too long for a return on investment. “The problem with that is you are missing huge opportunities with that short-term vision,” he said. “I paid the differential just by not paying my utility bill. And whatever that energy savings is, several thousand dollars a year probably, is still coming to my bottom line.”
But hydraulic injection molding machines remain popular, because so many companies buy on price. “You win at the moment of purchase, and from that day forward, you lose,” he said. “Because every day after that, we’re gaining on you. And two or three years from now, we pass you by.”
The company has had two SEP audits and is working on its third, Eisenhauer said. The audits quantify information such as a company’s electricity and natural gas consumption, carbon usage and the amount of fuel it uses in vehicles.
“So, at the end of the year, we have a third-party validated audit that says exactly how much carbon we are responsible for,” he said. “So, then we go to the market and buy carbon offsets. That’s how we’re able to accomplish being a carbon-neutral manufacturing company since 2013. So, they’ve actually provided a second level of benefit to us by being our third-party auditor.”
A big focus for the SEP certification was the company’s combined heat and power program. Bechtold points out that in molding, a lot of energy can go to waste in the form of heat.
“We think it’s waste heat only if you’re stupid enough to waste it,” he said. “We try real hard to make ourselves call it thermal opportunity.”
Harbec now captures machine exhaust and delivers it to heat exchangers. The exhaust gas is too hot to do much with at 550 degrees Fahrenheit. “So, to make it a more usable form, we take the energy out of the exhaust and put it into water,” Bechtold said. “Plus, we’ve got a system of pumps and valves and controls and regulators and monitors and meters that deliver this 200-to-220-degree hot water.” The company now is heating and air conditioning its entire facility through conversion of the heat captured.
One example is in the plant’s latest addition, in which 17,000 feet of pipe was buried in the concrete floor. “So, to heat that whole part of the plant, all we do is have a simple pump that pumps the hot water through the pipes,” he said.
Harbec also uses absorption chillers to take that heat and convert it to cold water for air conditioning.
Bechtold is convinced energy efficiency is the wave of the future for equipment. Astute machinery and equipment suppliers are realizing they have to make energy-efficient products. “That, to me, is why it’s very possible to imagine having the manufacturing world constantly reducing the amount of energy per widget forever,” he said.
Allan Gerlat, correspondent
Ontario, N.Y., 585-265-0010, www.harbec.com