Thinking Holistically: 4 Ways to Improve Sustainability on Industrial Manufacturing Facilities

Maxter Healthcare Manufacturing Campus Rooftop Solar Array
Maxter Healthcare Manufacturing Campus, built in collaboration with AMPS Power Solutions, is a 215-acre campus in Brazoria County, Texas that houses a state-of-the-art 3MW rooftop solar array.

The world is constantly evolving and there is increasing economic and political pressure to operate businesses with sustainability in mind. Typically, industrial manufacturers are some of the heaviest power users and this comes with a hefty operational price tag. In addition to the financial factor, companies may have additional drivers pushing them to think sustainably as they operate and expand. These drivers include initiatives such as: 

  • Evolving Corporate Identity
  • Local Environmental 
  • National Environmental  

Regardless of what is influencing a manufacturer to think, operate, and build sustainably, here are some interesting ideas that Mohammad Najjar, Vice President at AMPS Power Solutions, suggests to achieve a more sustainable operation.  

Starting with the Envelope

It’s no secret that very large industrial manufacturing facilities take a lot of energy to maintain a moderate and workable temperature. The amount of energy fluctuates based on the climate of your location and the extreme temperatures of the seasons. A simple way to improve the energy efficiency of an industrial manufacturing facility is to regulate the flow of heat.  

This happens by improving the insulation of the facility envelope, including the roof, walls, and windows. Using materials with higher R-values will lead to better insulation performance and ideally, will reduce the load on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Higher R-value materials typically cost more to obtain and install, therefore it is important to run a cost-benefit analysis to fully understand the upfront costs and long-term savings.  

Decreasing Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon is the total carbon emissions associated with the production, transportation, and installation of building materials and components. Before an industrial manufacturing facility is even operating, some steps can be taken to ensure that the building itself is constructed with sustainability in mind. These steps include using low-carbon materials, hiring sustainably minded vendors, sourcing local vendors and materials, optimizing design, and recycling during the construction process.  

The materials used can be more sustainable if they are recycled or created using lower-energy processes. If they are locally sourced, that is a double win since they use less transportation-related emissions. Purchasing products from suppliers and/or hiring vendors with sustainable programs in place like carbon offset programs is another method to lower embodied carbon.  
Lastly, optimizing the design to use materials efficiently and reduce material waste. This coupled with recycling and reusing any excess materials can also lower embodied carbon.

Optimizing the Operation

Beyond the envelope, there are other methods to make an industrial manufacturing facility more sustainable including installing high-efficiency lighting, designing and installing a mechanical operation, including thermal zones, and enhancing electrical metering and monitoring. Installing high-efficiency lighting with lighting controls that can improve efficiency by detecting movement or deactivating during times when they are not needed is one method for optimizing the operation.  
Depending on what the company manufactures, installing the most proficient machines and optimizing the route of the operation to reduce logistical waste can help improve energy efficiency. Additionally, using heat pumps to power mechanical equipment as opposed to electricity can be more efficient in some cases.  
Thermal zones can contribute to the organization’s sustainable initiatives by controlling the temperatures independently in different areas. Heating and cooling smaller areas rather than the entire facility reduces energy waste and this can be accomplished by installing advanced systems to detect, monitor, and control temperature and humidity.  

Another great system to improve efficiency is an advanced electrical metering and monitoring system. This allows the building operators to accurately understand the energy use patterns of the facility and then make informed operational decisions.  

Accessing Alternative Energy

Industrial manufacturing facilities are typically thousands of square feet and are ideal for a large roof-mounted solar system. It is important to run a cost-benefit analysis here as well. The initial price tag of a large solar system may seem out of budget, but the long-term savings can be impressive. If solar doesn’t seem realistic in the present, it can be beneficial to design your facility with the option of installing solar at a later date. The cost of a solar project on an existing facility can be much higher if the building isn’t designed with the possibility of a future solar roof system in mind due to structural and electrical concerns. Heating a facility with electricity rather than natural gas and offsetting the additional electricity usage with solar power is a great way to use solar energy to be more sustainable.  

Using energy storage systems or batteries is another significant way to improve sustainability. The stored energy can be released for use during peak operation times or when electricity prices are increasing. In the case of solar power, energy storage systems can integrate with the solar system and store excess energy generated on those bright, sunny days and use it on days when solar generation is slow. Depending on where a facility is located, there may be local or national incentives for using energy storage systems in a certain manner. 
Installing Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers can improve sustainability for employees working at the manufacturing facility and any fleets of vehicles transporting goods. Typically, EVs produce less emissions than traditional vehicles and this is especially true if the electricity to power the vehicles comes from renewable sources. Integrating solar power with EV chargers is a great way to reduce a facility’s holistic carbon footprint. The installation of EV chargers can encourage employees to use EVs to commute to work and there may be incentives at a local and/or national level depending on your facilities location.

Thinking Holistically for Building and Operating a Manufacturing Facility

There are numerous ways to build and operate a manufacturing facility with sustainability in mind. It is important to think holistically, and it is never too early to start incorporating sustainability into a project or portfolio of projects. Extensive research and/or partnering with organizations that understand the landscape of sustainability including financial impact, sustainable vendors, building methods, alternative energy options, sustainable design, and more is a great starting point. 

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