Technology making food production more energy efficient

Food production is increasingly concerned with becoming more energy efficient.

Graham Bryant, national energy and environment manager at food manufacturer Simplot Australia, says setting a power reduction target is vital in trying to make energy savings.

“If you don’t have a target, how do you know where you’re heading and when you get there? Businesses have targets. Energy efficiency deserves its own target. Otherwise, what are you working towards? What are you trying to achieve?” he asks.

Simplot has been running a global energy efficiency program called “25 in 10” which aims to reduce energy intensity – gigajoules of power per tonne of product produced – by 25 per cent in a decade.

The project is in its final year and the target has been achieved, and the company is in the process of setting a new target.

Bryant says the project has changed the way the company approaches energy usage.

“Every project is an energy efficiency project because it’s the common raw material across the planet in anything we do or make,” he says.

“We make sure that, when we’re doing capital projects, there’s a critique of the energy use of that project. What’s it going to do in terms of improving our energy intensity or not improving it? Sometimes, projects may be more energy intense. If they are, let’s make sure that it’s the minimal effect that we can get in putting in a new technology.”

Simplot’s energy saving strategy covers capital projects, reliability, maintaining old assets, and making sure they are as energy efficient as possible.

Bryant says energy savings can be gained simply by making sure that equipment is running to the manufacturers’ specifications and retrofitting old equipment with more modern parts. “As better technology comes onboard, you can sometimes retrofit that into existing equipment to enhance the performance,” he says.

Company culture of energy saving

As a maker of foods and frozen foods – brands include Birds Eye, John West, Leggo’s and Edgell – Simplot incurs large refrigeration costs and Bryant says the company has installed more efficient compressors and better controllers into its refrigeration to take it from a fixed way of running to an efficient variable way of running.

“It’s newer, smarter technology that includes variable speed motors and head pressure control that’s sensing real-time where your pressures are and adjusting for that,” says Bryant.

Simplot also measures usage at 15-minute intervals to better monitor how usage is going. “We’ve put a lot of metering into our factories so that we’re measuring and managing real-time. We report at each of our production meetings each day how much energy we’ve used across the sites,” says Bryant.

“If you can’t measure, you can’t manage. It’s a health check. You’re having a look at your profiles over the week. If you can observe anything that doesn’t look right, you can react to it and you can do that on a daily basis almost.”

Simplot also periodically undertakes full assessments of its plants as part of the Federal Government’s Energy Efficiency Opportunities program and really tries to understand the “DNA” of its plants from an energy efficiency perspective.

The company is also trying to drive an organisation-wide culture of energy saving. In Australia, monthly newsletters keep staff informed of progress and there are awards – Site of the Year and an Energy Employee of the Year. Each of its six local manufacturing facilities – two each in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW – also has an “energy champion” who works with the energy committee at the site to measure and work on the strategy of how are we going to improve energy efficiency at the site.

Bryant says all employees should be energy efficiency stewards. “If you’ve got people engaged and thinking about things, they’ll bring ideas when they see things. People will come and say, ‘Why is that conveyor always running when nothing’s running down them? Why can’t we automate? Why do you have a motor spinning around moving a chain along a conveyor that’s not adding any value because there’s no product going along it?'”