How the Steel Industry Can Reduce Energy Consumption and Improve Efficiency

The steel industry remains one of the pillars of the American economy, and as concerns about the environment and carbon footprints are growing, it has to confront its energy consumption issues. At the same time, efficiency allows companies to do more with less and expand less energy while increasing their throughput. Both concepts go hand in hand, and reducing energy consumption doesn’t only have to be done by adopting sounder practices and alternatives to energy inefficient equipment; it should also focus on improving processes. Let’s take a look at how steel manufacturers can improve both their efficiency and energy consumption.

Work with Lean Experts, or Form Them

More steel manufacturing companies could benefit from having one or a few lean experts on board. Applying lean manufacturing principles will not only allow you to see where energy is wasted and could be better allocated, but identifying exactly which processes are consuming the most and how they could be corrected.

One thing you could do is either hire someone with a lean manufacturing degree or encourage your management to pursue it. Many universities offer online lean manufacturing programs, which will allow them to get their education much faster while maintaining their position. Those with this degree will learn all the principles of lean management and will be able to implement Six Sigma principles into your organization that will allow you to maximize efficiency while minimizing waste at all levels.

Review Your Workflow

You can’t work on improving if you don’t monitor and review your workflow. First, you have to see how your people are used. Are the people most skilled for the job assigned at the right positions? Do you have the project managers needed to make sure critical pathways are clear at all times? Are your objectives not only clear, but actually attainable and safe?

You’ll also have to review your processes as well. Things like value stream mapping will have to be used to assess the state of process improvement projects. Bottlenecks and pain points will have to be identified as well.

Finally, you’ll have to take inventory of your current equipment and see how efficient it is. How much energy does it consume, and are there any less energy hungry alternatives out there? Is the equipment outdated? Older equipment not only tends to be less energy efficient, but it puts employees at risk too. These are all things you’ll have to assess if you want to make a change and be able to monitor your progress.

Lower Part Rejection Rates

Rejected parts means more energy, time, and resources wasted. While it’s all nice and good to have high throughputs, all of this will go to waste if you have too high of a rejected parts ratio.

For instance, if you can manage to produce 1000 parts per hour with a 12% rejection rate, that means that you’re losing about 120 parts every single hour. This is almost 1000 parts for an entire shift. So, that means you’ll have to expand the same amount of energy consumed in one hour of production just to make up for this difference.

If in this case, the company was able to cut its rejection rates in half, it could effectively increase its throughput by more than 450 parts per shift, which is a significant difference. This would not only allow them to meet quotas faster, but they can make tons of savings at the same time.

Improve Formation

Employees that are formed well commit less mistakes, and the less mistakes they make, the less energy and time you have to expand in order to fix them. Make sure that they are chaperoned from the minute they get there and that they’re made to feel comfortable about asking any questions. Make sure that you make a knowledge base available to them at all times so that they can look for answers to their questions on their own.

Also, employees that are properly trained to understand the full production process will be able to play a more active role in process improvement. They’ll not only be able to make suggestions, but they’ll be less likely to make mistakes that could actually make matters worse. One employee may have found a shortcut that saves him a minute, only to find out that this little shortcut added 5 minutes to the whole process, so this will prevent this from happening.

Get More Information

The price of the raw materials needed to make steel is always fluctuating, and energy costs do as well. This makes monitoring energy consumption and working on more energy conservation the order of the day. But in order to do this, manufacturers will need to use instrumentation and different types of sensors in order to use their resources in a more responsible way, and analyze where and how energy is being consumed. This in return will end up reducing final prices and manufacturing costs.

Double Check Your Compressed Air Systems

A lot of manufacturers still don’t realize how much energy is potentially wasted through leaks in their compressed air systems. Did you know that almost 3.2 million dollars’ worth of wasted energy is the result of leaked compressed air systems in the United States every year?

Thankfully, this is an issue that can be easily fixed. Sometimes, all it takes is tightening a seal or fitting. Or you might have to replace one or a few parts. Either way, this is an issue that should be addressed immediately since it affects you in many ways. In addition to using more energy, you are left with equipment that is now less performing. So, make sure that you perform audits on your compressed air system often and survey for leaks. Ultrasonic detection equipment can also be used to find smaller and harder to find leaks.

The steel manufacturing industry has a long way to go when it comes to energy efficiency, but is moving in the right direction. As continual process improvement becomes the norm, and as new technology is being unveiled, we can expect steel manufacturing to greatly reduce its energy consumption while still maintaining the same efficiency.

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