Tag Archives: energy consumption

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

Six Ways Food Manufacturers Can Save Money on Electricity

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Energy usage has increased worldwide, especially with everyone isolated due to COVID-19. That translates to higher costs across most sectors. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) expects U.S. electricity consumption to grow by 2.1% this year.

Coupled with the rising adoption of renewable energy and green initiatives, it makes sense to cut down on electricity consumption as much as possible. Commercial operations, food manufacturers included, could stand to benefit from reduced energy usage.

The question isn’t necessarily “why,” but “how.” What can food manufacturers and similar commercial providers do to reduce electricity requirements? What are some ways to minimize consumption and achieve efficient food production processes?

1. Energy Audits

Process and energy audits are a must. How could one hope to improve a system without understanding everything there is to know about it? More specifically, how could a company reduce energy consumption if they don’t know where, when and how it’s being used? That’s why energy and resource audits are crucial to optimization. It doesn’t matter whether they are conducted in-house or by a third party. What’s important is that they are accurate and detailed.

Inspectors will examine heating, refrigeration and cooling systems, facility processes, equipment, infrastructure, and beyond. Everything that uses electricity will be part of the audit, and analysts will be able to discern how much power each component is using. The statistics then inform action, driving a reduction in energy consumption. With this information, company analysts can also create a food manufacturing cost breakdown, which can be used to improve other areas of the business.

It’s easy to draw a line between regular energy audits and improved food safety, too. The ability to continuously monitor facility equipment performance means a lower chance of failure and more consistent quality. Keeping a digital eye on optimal performance means a reduced risk of one machine negatively impacting others if it begins performing suboptimally or erratically.

2. Upgraded Equipment

Energy conservation is as much about improving efficiencies as it is about using less electricity overall. While not always true, as a general rule, newer equipment tends to be much more economical at utilizing electricity.

Over time, technology has improved considerably to use less power, utilize resources more effectively and incorporate new methods for completing various actions, sometimes with significant performance boosts. In other words, new equipment can bring energy consumption down and will also improve productivity and output. Because it’s not cost-effective to replace equipment often, that’s precisely where audit information comes in handy.

The best practice would be to replace equipment before it malfunctions or breaks down, but also after it has declined in performance and efficiency. It would mean constantly analyzing equipment through real-time metrics and statistics.

Better production, more output, and fewer costs lead to greater profit, so it’s worth the investment.

More efficient and modern equipment typically features other upgraded components that impact performance and food safety as well, including updated materials, tighter tolerances, and improved microbial and viral resistance. Next-generation food prep and packaging stations that automate sanitation using ultraviolet (UV) light are examples.

3. Retooled Infrastructure

If the operation is located in an older building, it’s likely that much of the existing infrastructure and equipment is not just dated but also less efficient.

For example, traditional lighting sources use a lot more energy than LED or smart lighting solutions. HVAC systems may be non-existent or extremely outdated. Even facilities that are just a few years old may have obsolete elements.

This stretches far beyond the basics such as lighting to include power and utility components. A well-built and quality transformer setup will save money over time, for example. Replacing aging equipment can save food processing plants cash in the long run.

Investing in a transformer that doesn’t use a liquid cooling agent gives plant owners more options as they can be placed indoors or outdoors. They also have other business benefits, like longer lifecycles, lower fire risks, a more eco-friendly operation, and higher efficiency. A lower risk of fires, smoke intrusion and other destructive events also means greater security and peace of mind for delicate and perishable foods and food components.

Upgrading these components is more cost-effective than moving to a new location or building a whole new facility. It is often these kinds of incremental hardware and operational updates that can offer the best impact.

4. Better Refrigeration and Cooling

In 2019, the EIA reported that the commercial food sector used 154 billion kilowatt-hours of energy on cooling alone. That’s nearly 4% of the entire country’s annual energy usage. It isn’t just because cooling systems are running constantly year-round. It’s also because many companies refuse to upgrade to more efficient solutions.

Refrigeration is a massive energy hog. So how can it be improved? There are several ways:

  • More efficient motors
  • Reduced and more effective use of refrigeration space for walk-ins
  • Smarter fans with variable frequency drives (VFDs)
  • Renewable energy farms
  • Intermittent absorption refrigeration

Food waste at the retail and consumer levels amounts to 30–40% of the United States’ total output and billions of tons per year. Better and more reliable refrigeration technology at every stage of the supply chain, including warehouses and vehicles, means less food wasted worldwide and greater security for products at rest and in transit.

5. Monitor, Automate and Notify

Through real-time monitoring and automated processes, managers and operations teams can take action to reduce consumption. For instance, let’s say an employee walks away from a piece of equipment and leaves it powered on. With traditional equipment, that machine would continue draining power and increasing costs.

With automated and smart equipment, a notification would be sent to the appropriate administrator, who can then send out an order to have the machine shut down. Moreover, this can all happen within an instant, and administrators can be off-site and notified remotely.

Even better, the process could be improved further by installing an IoT sensor that automatically turns off the hardware after an expiration period.

An energy dashboard, accessible via mobile platforms, would allow facility managers to keep an eye on resource consumption, general costs, and operations no matter where they are. Creating a unified and always-on system with automation is definitely possible with the help of modern technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT).

The cost of food supply chain recalls stands at 48 million illnesses and $55.5 billion per year in productivity losses, amelioration efforts and the rest of the fallout. As with the other points made here, an investment in higher-efficiency equipment with lower power requirements translates to dividends elsewhere.

More efficient and widely connected machines in the supply chain mean fewer opportunities for failure and pricey recalls. This also leads to ongoing cost savings, which begin on day one.

6. Educate Employees

A cultural response to energy reductions can also have a huge impact. By training and educating employees on the importance of energy conservation, companies can gain an edge. This could include steps as simple as turning off the lights when departing an unoccupied room, remembering to power down equipment, or discussing more effective techniques.

If and when people are armed with the correct knowledge, they can make more informed decisions. The idea is to build a culture around energy conservation, operational efficiencies, and smarter utilization. Make it a team-based practice so everyone holds themselves accountable and values the initiative.

Cultivating mindfulness in this area of the company’s culture translates elsewhere, too. Safeguarding against unsafe habits, incorrect equipment usage and improper handling techniques, and encouraging workspace sanitization, is everybody’s responsibility.

Whether it’s saving money on electricity for the company’s and planet’s sake or protecting the customer from product defects, ongoing education makes for a stronger culture and a more reliable product.

Make It Happen

The longer a manufacturer continues to operate without efficient solutions in place like the ones discussed in this column, the greater the energy consumption levels and the higher the expenses. It is beneficial to all to adopt some of these practices as soon as possible, and there’s no question that it will result in higher profits. In several ways, some less obvious than others, this efficiency transformation means safer products, employees and customers, too.

As energy prices continue to climb across all sectors and the impact on the environment mounts, it makes sense to reduce consumption, find smarter sources like renewable energy, and upgrade equipment, processes and operations accordingly.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

COVID-19 Led Many Dairy Farmers to Dump Milk

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Much of the news coverage surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic mentions infection numbers and fatalities. Those are undoubtedly important for showing parts of the overall impact. However, it’s easy to overlook the ramifications felt by some professionals. One recent example concerns the instances of dairy farmers dumping milk.

Numerous Factors Contributing to the Problem

The pandemic drastically and dramatically disrupted life. Many of the associated changes affected milk producers, but perhaps not in the ways people expect. As schools closed and restaurants operated on delivery or a takeaway-only basis, the demand for milk typically consumed in the food and educational sector went down.

Consider, too, that the pandemic forced the closure of enterprises that did not necessarily serve large quantities of milk every day but still likely placed ongoing orders with suppliers. For example, a daycare center might give toddlers boxes of dairy beverages each day during snack time. Coffee shops often add milk to their lattes or set out bottles for people who want to put some in their coffee.

When coronavirus cases emerged in the United States, many people panicked and flocked to grocery stores for essentials. Milk is often one of the staples people buy before winter storms hit, and they wanted it to prepare for the pandemic, too. One Target store in New Jersey sold out of its entire stock of milk in only five minutes. Stores responded by imposing per-person limits on the product.

If the demand exists, what caused the milk surplus? Part of it boils down to a lack of space at milk processing plants. A related issue is that processors typically serve particular markets. One might cater to retail buyers while another primarily addresses needs in the food service sector. They lack the infrastructure to pivot and begin accepting milk orders from a new type of customer, particularly if the milk-based product is substantially different, like sour cream versus ice cream.

A First-Time Phenomenon

Farmers discarding milk is not unheard of, but it’s not something many producers do regularly. Andrew Griffith, a professor at the University of Tennessee, said that some farmers had to do it recently for the first time in careers spanning decades. He explained, “It’s not that [dumping] hasn’t occurred from farm to farm.” Adverse weather conditions can delay pickups, and unexpected supply spoilages might lead to too much milk.

“But we’re talking about a level of dumping that is not common at all. There [are] a lot of farmers that are experiencing dumping milk for the first time in their 30- or 40-year careers,” Griffith said in an article published on The Counter.

The highly perishable nature of milk poses another problem contributing to the milk surplus. That aspect hit dairy harder than some other types of agricultural goods. People could put grain into silos, but storage is more complicated for dairy products.

Any exposure to higher-than-recommended temperatures causes spoilage. The subsequent risk to consumers means farmers must throw it away. Cold storage facilities are essential for the dairy industry. Statistics from 2018 indicated an average of 10.67 cents per kilowatt-hour for energy consumption at commercial facilities. However, cold storage facilities operate 24/7, so their energy needs are often higher than those of other commercial buildings.

Cows, dairy, farms
The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. Dairy consumption has been trending down for years. (Pexels image)

The delicate nature of the product is another unfortunate aspect that may lead to dumping milk. If a processor has no room to accept the raw goods, there’s nowhere for them to go. In April The Wall Street Journal reported that in one week, producers threw out as much as 7% of the milk in the United States from that period. The same story highlighted how a specialty cheese factory saw sales of its chèvre and ricotta drop by 95% in one day.

Coping With Dairy Industry Fluctuations

The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. A Statista chart profiles the progressive decline of milk consumption in the United States. The average amount of milk per person in 1975 totaled 247 pounds. It plunged to 149 pounds by 2017.

There’s also the issue of people showing a growing preference for plant-based milk alternatives. One industry analysis tracked sales of traditional and oat milk during mid-March. Purchases for the first category rose by 32%, while oat milk sales soared by 476%. A potential reason for that huge increase in the latter category is that supermarkets sell shelf-stable milk alternatives. Those often stay in date for months when unopened.

People can get them in the refrigerated section, too, but they may have preferred not to as they cut down their shopping trips due to COVID-19. Consumers also noticed the increasing number of milk-like beverages made from hemp, hazelnuts and other options. If a person tries one and doesn’t like it, they may try a different option.

Despite those challenges, some dairy farmers anticipated favorable trends—at least before the coronavirus hit. Producers get paid per 100 pounds of milk. Katie Dotterer-Pyle, owner of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, said 2013 was a particularly good year for the rates. Back then, farmers received about $30 for every 100 pounds, although the price has stayed at approximately $17 per 100 over the past two years.

When Might the Milk Surplus Ease?

This coverage emphasizes the lack of a quick fix for the dairy industry strain. As restaurants reopen, that change should help address the problem, but it won’t solve it entirely. Some enterprises refocused their efforts to better meet current demands. One Dallas-based plant that handles dairy products more than halved its output of cardboard milk cartons and increased production of whole and 2% milk for the retail sector. It is now back to normal manufacturing runs.

As mentioned earlier, though, many processors can’t make such changes. Dumping milk becomes a heart-wrenching practice for hard-working producers. Many tried to compensate by selling their least-profitable cows for slaughter or making feeding changes to reduce the animals’ production. Some private entities committed to purchasing milk from farms and getting it to food banks. Other analysts say the government should step in to help.

People in the farming community support each other with tips and reassurance, but most know they could be in for a long struggle. As supply chains recovered from the initial shock of COVID-19, most people stopped panic buying, and stores no longer set product limits. Things are moving in the right direction, but the impacts remain present.

A Complicated Issue

Many state leaders have let businesses reopen, and others are following. Any step toward a new kind of normal is a positive one that should gradually help the dairy sector. However, much of what the future holds remains unknown, mainly since this is a new type of coronavirus, and scientists still have plenty to learn about mitigating it.