The University Record, October 22, 1996

U-M engineers provide on-site inspections for area manufacturing plants

Brenda Birkmeier observes boiler stoichiometry to ensure proper combustion is occurring.

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services


Attention all plant managers and owners of small to mid-sized manufacturing firms in Michigan and northern Ohio: Are you interested in lower utility bills, less waste and higher profits? Want to learn how to improve your plant's energy efficiency and productivity without paying high-priced consulting fees? The College of Engineering has a deal for you.

Mechanical engineering faculty and students affiliated with the U-M Industrial Assessment Center will conduct a one-day, on-site inspection of your manufacturing plant and suggest ways to reduce your utility bills and eliminate waste in the manufacturing process. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the service is provided at no charge and is completely confidential.

"There are no costs for the company and there are no hidden strings attached," says Arvind Atreya, director of the center and professor of mechanical engineering. The U-M is one of 30 Industrial Assessment Centers nationwide, and has conducted 75 audits of Michigan manufacturing firms in the past three years.

"The program has been very popular with Congress, because the tax dollars are offset by cost savings to participating companies," says Michael M. Chen, IAC co-director and professor of mechanical engineering.

Because of its Michigan location, U-M faculty-student IAC audit teams frequently visit manufacturing firms affiliated with the automotive industry, according to Atreya. But they also have conducted audits for firms in the printing, plastics, stamping, heat-treating and food processing industries.

"About the only thing these companies have in common is their relatively small size and their rapid growth," Atreya says. "People at these firms work under enormous time pressure. They don't have the time and often lack the expertise to look into energy conservation issues themselves."

According to statistics compiled by the Department of Energy, the average potential cost savings per firm receiving an IAC audit is $40,000 per year. The average payback time for the cost of recommended renovations or new equipment is 18 months.

According to David Everest, IAC assistant director, some of the most common sources of wasted energy or resources identified by U-M audit teams include:


Inefficient use of compressed-air driven equipment.


Improper calibration of furnaces used for heat-treatment.


Using alcohol or chemical solvents to clean parts when water cleaning would be just as effective.


Failure to capture waste heat from furnace exhausts and use it for hot water heating or other purposes.

Companies participating in an IAC audit first complete a detailed questionnaire providing basic information on their plant, monthly utility costs and manufacturing process. After reviewing this information, an audit team made up of one faculty member with several graduate and undergraduate students spends a day in the plant to take measurements and make observations.

"At the end of the day, we meet with plant management and give them a preliminary overview of what we found," Atreya says. "We discuss costs of implementing our recommendations and the average pay-back time. We try to stress improvements with a pay-back time of less than two years, because those are the ones most likely to be implemented."

Participating firms receive a written report documenting their audit results and the energy-saving or waste-reduction measures recommended by the IAC team. Six to nine months later, a team member checks back with the firm to see whether the recommendations were implemented. "The nationwide implementation rate is about 50 percent," Atreya says.

The audits are a wonderful learning experience for the students who participate as well, although Atreya stresses that all students are thoroughly trained before they begin conducting audits and work under the direct supervision of a faculty member on the team.

"Students learn how to apply what they have learned in mechanical or chemical engineering classes," Chen says. "Plus, they gain a great deal of maturity and improve their communication skills."

Later this spring, Michigan will sponsor a series of training seminars for plant managers and corporate managers. Atreya, Chen and Everest will teach them how to conduct their own internal energy audits.

"The state is always looking for ways to help industry reduce energy costs and become more competitive," says John Sarver, energy resources division supervisor for Michigan's Consumer and Industry Services Department. "Voluntary educational programs like these seminars are more important today than ever before."

For more information or to schedule an audit, call Arvind Atreya or David Everest at 763-7471.