Back to School for Energy Savings

February 1, 2005

Operating a business naturally requires finding ways to cut costs and save money. Industries are certainly no different, and case studies and assessments have demonstrated repeatedly that one of the best ways to save money is to save energy, not to mention the benefit it has on the environment.

For many industries, identifying energy-saving methods may seem a daunting, expensive and lengthy process. The good news is that the Department of Energy (DOE) has a long-standing, proven and quick method for helping such industries assess where energy, and therefore money, can be saved. They are called Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs). Within just 60 days, eligible small- to medium-sized manufacturers can be handed a free-of-cost, confidential, no-obligation report of how they can be saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on their bottom-line expenses.

Since starting the IAC program in 1976, the DOE has saved American companies more than $700 million through such energy improvements. And because saving money means saving jobs, the DOE program has also helped to create and maintain more than 1.5 million U.S. industry jobs.

How an IAC Works

An IAC is a DOE-funded program run by a host university where teams of engineering faculty and senior undergraduate and graduate-level students are available to provide detailed energy audits of industrial plants. The purpose of the IACs is twofold: to train engineering students, and to improve energy security and decrease energy and resource consumption in the United States. There are currently 26 such universities around the country involved in the program. See the sidebar on page 20 for a complete list and more details about how they are chosen.

An energy assessment is simply a quick, in-depth evaluation of an industrial plant site, including its facilities, services and manufacturing operations. It must be clarified, however, that the energy assessments provided by the IACs are not as in-depth as plant-wide assessments, also provided by the DOE.

University faculty and students begin their energy audit with a short meeting and interview of eligible plant personnel. The meeting is followed by a one- or two-day visit of the plant site, where university students take engineering measurements as a basis for assessment recommendations. With the help of engineering faculty, the students can then spend time analyzing the measurements to produce specific recommendations with related estimates of costs, performance and payback times. Then, they make cost-saving recommendations for energy efficiency, waste minimization and pollution prevention, and productivity improvement.

Within 60 days following the audit, the university team creates a confidential report with details about their analysis, findings and recommendations. Anywhere from two and six months later, the team will follow up with a phone call to the plant manager to verify any recommendations that will be implemented.

Overall recommendations from IACs average about $55,000 in potential annual savings for each manufacturer, but well exceed that average regularly above $100,000. And changes implemented by a plant as a result of an assessment generally improve energy costs at the plant for as long as seven years. It should not be surprising to Insulation Outlook readers that one of the top recommended changes for energy and cost savings given by IAC centers is insulating bare equipment to reduce heat loss.

The Polymetallurgical Corporation, a metals manufacturer in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, was one such plant that benefited from an IAC energy assessment. In February 2002, the IAC located at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was able to recommend eight changes to this manufacturer of wire, conductive springs, and bonded and inlayed metal products. Recommendations included changes in scheduling, compressed air systems, administrative costs and machine changes, which combined to reduce energy usage and productivity costs by a total of more than $70,000 annually. The plant was able to implement all eight of the recommendations immediately following the assessment, and has since been able to complete six.

Thomas Leverett, facility safety manager at Polymetallurgical Corporation, relays the company’s satisfaction with the IAC program, saying, "It is of great value to save energy costs in today’s market. The information helped us also in uncovering additional ways to conserve energy and minimize waste."

Leverett confirms that he would recommend an IAC assessment to other plants and that his plant has used the experience to locate further cost savings through similar types of assessments, including the proper insulation of the facility’s expanded building space.

More drastically affected by an IAC assessment, the Precision Castparts Corporation, a manufacturer of high-quality precision metal castings in Portland, Oregon, was able to exceed IAC recommendations for total implemented energy, waste and productivity-related savings of more than $240,000 per year. Simply implementing the IAC recommendation of disposing of wax and ceramic waste helped the company realize actual annual savings of more than $116,000.

Who is Eligible for an IAC Assessment?

To be eligible for an IAC assessment, a manufacturing plant must be within Standard Industrial Codes 20-39; generally be within 150 miles of a host campus; have gross annual sales of less than $100 million; have fewer than 500 employees at the plant site; have annual energy bills between $100,000 and $2.5 million; and have no professional staff available to perform the assessment.

Currently, the DOE provides enough funding through the IAC program to conduct approximately 625 audits per year. Plants that are interested in participating only need to contact the nearest IAC center to set up an assessment. Waiting lists are short or nonexistent.

Once an assessment is scheduled, an IAC may request some preliminary data, such as the plant’s energy costs, energy-consuming equipment already in the plant, and information about the plant’s operational procedures.

Continuing Education From NIA

Because the proper use and installation of insulation is a top energy-conservation method for industries, the National Insulation Association (NIA) saw the IAC program as a way to further educate university participants and, as a result, energy assessments beneficiaries about insulation. The NIA Foundation for Education, Training and Industry Advancement initiated a Joint Task Force Program with the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) in early 2003 in order to maximize efforts and results of insulation education to end-users. With combined manpower and funds, NIA and NAIMA are offering and conducting these free, one-day Mechanical Insulation Specification, Selection and Maintenance workshops to any university program that is interested in extending its education on benefits of properly installed insulation.

The one-day workshop includes segments of NIA’s Insulation Energy Appraisal Program (IEAP) and National Insulation Training Program (NITP). The information presented includes basic insulation science, system designs and materials, a review of the NAIMA 3E Plus® insulation thickness computer program, and what to look for on insulation systems during a facility "walk-through." The course also provides students with tools and techniques on how to identify and classify insulation system damage so that ultimately the facility owner can make an informed decision on maintenance or replacement based on fuel dollars lost or saved. See the sidebar on page 21 to learn more about the IEAP and NITP programs.

The first IAC to participate in the task force education program is West Virginia University (WVU), which received its training in October 2003. The IAC assistant director at WVU, professor Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering, comments that the training was very beneficial and met the school’s expectations.

He says, "We actually got to see some sample material and that was helpful. We find that in many cases, repairing or upgrading the insulation systems offers the quickest, most cost-effective return on a company’s investment. Our students can certainly benefit from knowledge about the components of an insulation system and what they could suggest as system repair or upgrade."

NIA and NAIMA plan to provide the task force training at as many as 10 additional IACs during 2005. For more information, please visit NIA’s website at

Other Free Energy-Saving Resources

If your manufacturing plant does not meet the requirements for participating in a DOE IAC assessment or simply wishes to conduct its own assessment, you can take advantage of several free tools provided by the DOE for identifying energy savings. Through the DOE’s Industrial Technologies Program BestPractices activity, plants can become familiar with system level energy-saving tools and software for steam, pumps, motors, process heating and compressed air, to name a few. Additionally, the IAC program has developed resources that allow manufacturers to do their own assessments through the following methods:

  • The Self-Assessment Workbook for Small Manufacturers-a guide for identifying energy-savings, waste-reducing and productivity improvement opportunities, and on implementing selected projects. The workbook was developed by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, to provide plant managers with the resources they need to perform an assessment on their own.

  • The IAC database includes the results of more than 11,000 assessments and allows users to search for the most frequent recommendations based upon plant type and size. It also provides actual implementation costs and payback periods for selected measures. The database is maintained for the DOE by the Center for Advanced Energy Systems at Rutgers and currently contains detailed data, available by Standard Industrial Classification, fuel type, base plant energy consumption and recommended energy efficiency improvements. The data allows an interested plant to identify a similar type of plant and know what types of improvements were most frequently recommended.

For more information on any of these resources, visit, or