Going Green OEM Takes Lead in Energy Efficiency Without Sacrifices

Running a large manufacturing facility is expensive and high in energy consumption. Ask Hexagon Metrology Inc., the North American division of The Hexagon Metrology Group, a world-leading manufacturer of high precision coordinate measuring systems. Its headquarters in North Kingstown,Rhode Island includes high-technology manufacturing and assembly, as well as office and warehouse space—with more than 250 employees working around-the-clock.

The balancing act of being a good corporate citizen and running a profitable business can often present competing goals. On one hand, there is social and environmental accountability. On the other hand, there are both cost and quality issues associated with managing energy consumption. Hexagon was searching for the best of both worlds as the nation’s drive toward energy efficiency is fueled by rising costs and public pressure. This company’s move to “go green” comes full circle from their optimized facility operations to the manufacture of precision metrology systems used to inspect complex wind turbine and energy systems.

A Precision Approach to Energy

Hexagon has received all of the major quality, environmental, and workplace certifications—such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 18001. In 2008, it began exploring the potential of EnerNOC demand response (DR) to reduce energy consumption. This powerful program combines lighting and HVAC reductions and backup generation to reduce energy consumption by 120 kW during potential grid emergencies.

In 2006, Hexagon moved to its current facility inNorth Kingstown,Rhode Island, a 112,000-square-foot industrial space that was custom-designed for its needs. This move saved the company more than $500,000 in annual energy-related costs. Once its facilities personnel were on-site, they began looking for additional opportunities to reduce energy use and save money. “Even after our move to a new facility, our electrical bill was still more than $375,000 a year,” says Jennifer Anderson, Hexagon’s facilities, environmental, health and safety manager. “So we were very open to EnerNOC’s demand response solution. Everyone here, from the manufacturing staff to our executives, was behind the idea of reducing energy, getting paid for it, enhancing the environment, and protecting our community. It seemed like an obvious win-win for us.”

Yet, the company needed to protect a key area of its manufacturing facility, a 10,000 square-foot temperature-controlled calibration room where its highly accurate measurement devices are calibrated under exact temperatures and conditions. The temperature in this area is held to a tolerance of +/- one-half degree Celsius. No environmental program—no matter how attractive—could jeopardize the precision control over this room. “It’s the backbone of our business,” says Anderson. “Our customers expect us to calibrate our machines under precise tolerances. And we’re committed to ensuring maximum quality and precision.”

How Demand Response Strategy Works

Hexagon Metrology receives email and phone notification of impending DR events and tests. Once the notification is accepted, EnerNOC then automatically makes adjustments via the company’s Building Management System (BMS). During an event or test procedure, approximately 50% of the company’s lighting is turned off and temperature set points in office areas are raised automatically from 72 degrees to 76 degrees. Five of 10 rooftop HVAC units are shut off. Hexagon personnel also manually shut off other lights in office areas wherever possible.

EnerNOC automatically starts up back-up generation, which is used to provide the sensitive calibration area with a seamless, uninterrupted energy supply.

This strategy creates more than 120 kW of energy reduction—50% from the heating/lighting adjustments and 50% from use of back-up generation. “Most of our employees don’t even see the changes, they’re almost invisible,” says Anderson. “The transfer to backup generation is seamless, and the lighting changes are virtually unnoticeable. 99% of the process is automated—which makes it incredibly easy for us to participate.”

At the end of an event, EnerNOC returns the BMS settings to their previous levels, switches the back-up generation off, and operations goes back to normal.EnerNOC DRenables Hexagon Metrology to ensure the integrity of its temperature-controlled calibration room—and the quality of its products. This part of the company’s facilities is protected from any changes, since it moves seamlessly to backup generation. Other areas, which are not as critical, can accommodate lighting and HVAC adjustments. With demand response, Hexagon Metrology gets the flexibility to control what areas of its company are affected.

For its participation in the emergency DR program, Hexagon Metrology receives approximately $15,000 a year in payments from EnerNOC, and these funds are used to pay for new projects that reduce energy use. “In addition to these payments, we also use EnerNOC’s free PowerTrak energy monitoring to help reduce our energy use by another $100,000 a year,” says Anderson. “We now make better-informed decisions about our facility’s energy use, which leads to energy reductions and money savings. Every manufacturer should be a part of demand response,” concludes Anderson. “Now that companies have such a strong interest in going green, it really makes sense—economically and environmentally.”

Where “Green” Hits the Road for Hexagon

Increased demand and a renewed focus on renewable energy have the Wind Power industry hitting a new stride. In 2008, the U.S.wind industry passed Germany to become the world leader in wind generation, producing over 21,000 MW of wind capacity. As of December 2009, 34,863 MW of wind power has been installed across theUnited States producing enough electricity on a typical day to power more than 9.7 million homes.

With wind turbine manufacturers striving for better quality and faster throughput, Hexagon Metrology is an active participant in providing a breadth of metrology options that are helping OEM’s to attain their quality goals. Wind turbine components such as blades, towers, flanges, nacelle, cast and forged parts are inspected with laser trackers. High tech components like gears, gearboxes and generators require higher accuracy articulating arms, laser trackers and coordinate measuring machines. 

Wind power manufacturers have a daunting job from production to assembly. There are 8,000 parts in a typical wind turbine, ranging from large-scale gearboxes and blades to electronics, bolts and fasteners. Nearly 50% of those components are made domestically. While other components being produced in Europe, withIndia andChina gearing up their capacity for high precision manufacturing as well. So the race is on for American manufacturers with their network of satellite suppliers scattered throughout theUS.

The “cost of poor quality” takes on a whole new meaning for the wind power industry. To repair a major wind component in the field is extremely expensive. The price for major repairs for rotor blades, a gearbox, or a generator in the field for a typical 2 MW wind turbine is usually in the order of 15-20 per cent of the price of the turbine ($3.0 -$3.5 mil) or in the range of $350,000 to $450,000. Given the staggering cost of a field repair, wind turbine manufacturers are very reluctant to change their manufacturing process or embrace a new supplier or technology unless there is clear evidence of its impact on maintaining quality.

Product quality and precision alignment of components is an area where Hexagon has a track record. Hansen Transmission, a gearbox supplier to Gamesa, Siemens, Suzlon and Vestas, utilized high accuracy metrology equipment Leitz PMM-F’s and PMM-G’s that improved the quality and the throughput for critical gearbox components. Additionally, both Leica Laser trackers and ROMER articulating arms are used successfully in the wind turbine component manufacturing market in Europe and China.

There are also new component developments underway that will significantly change the manufacturing-to-metrology landscape. Overall, there are trends toward lighter weight materials, and longer life-cycle for wind power parts. As the rotor size increases on larger turbines, the trend will be toward lighter, high strength, fatigue resistant materials. The step-up (geared) gearbox used on large turbines today is expected to be replaced in future turbines. The trend is to use direct shaft to generator technology eliminating the gearbox. The nacelle contains an array of complex machinery including, yaw drives, blade pitch change mechanisms, drive brakes, shafts, bearings, oil pumps and coolers, controllers and more. These are areas where simplification and innovation will become important. Whatever the trend, quality inspection will play a critical role in the development and final production of wind turbine components.

Winds of Change

As the global wind power industry progressively evolves, Hexagon Metrology has its eye on the ball with new developments in laser tracker technologies, including the recently released Absolute Tracker AT401.  The AT401’s unique combination of portability features such as small size and weight, and battery power, combined with its IP54 rating and ultra long range of 525 feet (1050 feet radially) turn out to be ideal for not only conventional 3D inspection in nearly any kind of factory setting, but also for field applications.  It’s the first laser tracker that can safely and easily used outdoors, even in the rain.   With the ability to pack the AT401 laser tracker in a case small enough to fit in an overhead luggage bin, the mobile metrology professional can follow windpower components from factory to field without skipping a beat. 

Back home, Hexagon Metrology continues to look for new ways to boost its curtailment figures during their demand response events. The company is pursuing a wide range of other energy-related projects, from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification to inspiring others in their community and manufacturers of all sizes to make DR part of their company’s energy plans.

“EnerNOC demand response is simply good business and good for our community as it protects everyone from brown-outs and black-outs,” concludes Anderson. “It is a simple way to be a good citizen of our community, and we’re very proud to be a part of it.”