CORVALLIS - A free service for private industry offered by Oregon State University is now saving manufacturing plants an average of about $160,000 a year.

The Industrial Assessment Center, which is operated under the Extension Energy Program in the OSU College of Engineering, is entering its 13th year of operation with about 330 success stories under its belt, an estimated $22 million in savings and an increasingly broad array of statewide services to offer industry - not only energy savings, but also waste minimization and productivity assessments.

That increase in services has tripled the average annual amount saved per company since the center's inception, said program leader David Philbrick, while enhancing student education and increasing the competitiveness of Pacific Northwest industries.

"We're now working with about 25 manufacturing plants a year in the Northwest, about five fewer than in the past, but the increased scope of our services is saving them more money than ever," Philbrick said. "What started as some basic recommendations for saving energy has now expanded to include productivity, waste handling, integration of new technologies, suggestions for improved management practices and other services."

The program is supported by about $175,000 a year in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, managed through the University City Science Center. The only burden on private industry is a little time from their plant managers and engineers. At the same time, the companies gain free access to OSU engineers who are often world leaders in their fields, and the efforts of OSU engineering students who gain real world experience.

"This isn't a situation where we come into someone's plant and start telling them how to run their business," Philbrick said. "What we offer is a fresh set of eyes, a look at their operations with a new perspective, suggestions for some common improvements that we've found work from past experience, engineering costs and benefits for several possible process improvements to help determine which are most effective, and in some cases expertise that may not be available to some smaller manufacturers."

The service is targeted to small and medium size manufacturers in the Northwest, since the largest companies often have professional experts in a wider range of fields working for them on a regular or consulting basis. Many recommended changes pay for themselves within a year or two.

"For instance, we examine the efficiency of motors that many industries use, and take advantage of OSU's motor and drive testing facility, which is one of the most advanced in the world," Philbrick said. "And from past experience we've found that many compressed air systems leak or are poorly matched to the loads they need, and there are things we can suggest to save money."

Site visits to companies include OSU faculty members and engineering student members.

"We worked this year with a Portland company that makes polyurethane foam for cushions, carpet pads and other uses," said Lorne Gust, an OSU junior in chemical engineering. "Our analysis suggested that the addition of more equipment to increase carpet pad output could save $300,000 a year for the company and pay for itself in the first sixth months if market demand was adequate. And we told them about the potential to convert their forklifts to compressed natural gas, which is a cheaper fuel, and save more than $6,000 a year."

In a different project in Albany, Ore., Gust and his team partner Andrew Hill, a junior in mechanical engineering, suggested some cost-saving changes another company could make.

"This Albany company makes laminated panels for things like table tops," Hill said. "They use oil heaters in their laminate production, and we found a way they could put heat exchangers on a stack outlet, re-use some of the heat and save about $16,000 every year in energy costs. The equipment to do this would cost only about $6,000 and pay for itself in a few months."

Experiences such as these are a valuable part of their education and exposure to private industry, the OSU students said, showing them how some of the basic knowledge they learn in the classroom becomes valuable when applied to real-world problems.

Other continuing Energy Extension programs, Philbrick said, are implemented through Energy Extension agents based in five locations around Oregon. These include the Master Recycler Program to educate people in the Portland area about waste prevention and recycling; an initiative to increase irrigation efficiency and water management for farmers in central and eastern Oregon; a program to train boiler operators in boiler safety; and an initiative to reduce heat loss in forced air systems installed by Oregon contractors.

Extensive free assistance and numerous publications are also available to private homeowners, Philbrick said. One of the simplest ways to obtain assistance is by calling the Oregon Energy Line, a 24-hour, toll free number to obtain publications. The phone is (800) 457-9394.

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David Philbrick, 541-737-5030