IAC Proves Good for Business
Student led program saves local businesses energy, cash.
 

Zaid Sadoun, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student at SF State on his 30th energy audit, passed a small machine at Morgan Advanced Ceramics that was making a loud hissing noise. “That’s an air leak--a waste of compressed air and a waste of energy,” he expertly pointed out. He had seen that kind of a problem before.

Zaid works with other SF State engineering students for the Industrial Assessment Center (IAC), a program run in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy. The program helps students gain real-world experience by applying what they have learned at school in practical ways to help local businesses.

The IAC visits small- to medium-sized manufacturing plants around the Bay Area to come up with ideas for companies to reduce energy consumption and waste, while maximizing productivity.

“Recommendations have averaged about $55,000 in potential annual savings for each manufacturer,” according to the IAC Web site. With lower energy and waste removal costs and increased productivity, the companies’ profits improve, which is a great thing in this slow economy.

The South Bay Sanitation Authority (SBSA) had an energy audit last semester and they are now in the process of implementing many of the measures suggested by the IAC. The SBSA is a waste water treatment facility that runs 24 hours and consumes a lot of electricity, circulating millions of gallons of water. Operations manager Robert Donaldson predicts that the energy savings will be so great, he will be able to pass the savings on to the rate payers, residents and businesses in the South Bay who must pay for the water treatment.

But it’s not all about the money.

“The majority of the electricity used is generated by fossil fuels and the exhaust is harmful in many ways, so any reduction in electricity consumption is a good thing,” said Adam Fernandez, a senior mechanical engineering student who has worked for the IAC for nearly two years.

The students are paid for their work, (from $8.50-$13.00 per hour depending on experience) though the manufacturers receive the services for free. This is possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The IAC at SF State performs an estimated 25 audits per year. Program director and Professor Ahmad R. Ganji helps the students perform each audit. Their most recent audit took place at Morgan Advanced Ceramics, a manufacturing plant that produces small parts for aerospace. Before visitng the plant, the students reviewed the company’s monthly energy costs, which are over $100,000 for electricity alone.

At the plant, the students met Dawn Steinker, who accompanied the group on its initial tour of the large manufacturing plant, which took just over three hours. Steinker manages several plants under Morgan Advanced Ceramics’ parent company, Morganite Industries Inc. She was thrilled to find the IAC’s free energy auditing service after recently paying a private firm $10,000 for the same service at another plant.

“I’m surprised that they aren’t backed up months in advance for appointments,” she said. But according to Ramajana Hidic-Demirovic, the IAC’s student marketing director, it is sometimes difficult for her to find clients because some companies are hesitant to work with students.

What those companies don’t know is that these students are professional. Steinker was impressed with the initial contact and walk-through and anxiously awaits their feedback. Another recent audit, at the Robert Mondavi Winery, left Operations Manager Brooks Painter with a good impression.

“They were helpful, professional and comprehensive in their approach,” said Painter. “I thought they did a good job and the report is very professional.” The winery plans to use many of the IAC’s recommendations.

The end of the tour signaled lunch, which Morgan Advanced Ceramics provided. During their meal, Professor Ganji led the students in compiling a list of areas and equipment that needed closer inspection. After their short break, the students got right back to work, using special equipment to measure each machine. It was a full eight-hour day auditing the facility. And then they had homework.

Over the next few weeks, the students worked on their assigned areas to prepare an engineering and economic analysis, coming up with solutions for the company to reduce their energy usage.

According to Ricardo Sfeir, a senior electrical engineering student on the IAC staff, it will take them about two months to prepare the report for Morgan Advanced Ceramics to use. Professor Ganji will call the plant six months later to ask if any of the suggested changes have been made in the operation. The IAC estimates an average rate of implementation at 40 percent with up to 50 percent annual savings.

Other companies that have had recent audits include Odwalla, Blue Diamond Almonds, and Crystal Creamery. It is too soon to know how much the IAC was able to help them.

The IAC was started in 1976 with four schools. At present there are 26 colleges and universities participating in the program, with SF State’s IAC beginning in 1992. Professor Ganji has served as director for all 11 years, conducting over 277 audits in that time.

Related Links

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