Shifting the power into the hands of the manufacturer

Amid a government directive to reduce industry carbon emissions, one Australian manufacturer is making it its mission to turn power into profit. 

A manufacturer of good stock, Radcoflex is questioning its own energy values in order to improve its industry standing.

For 60 years, the Australian-owned business has manufactured and supplied a selection of metal and non-metal expansion joints and flexible hoses for industries ranging from automotive and roads, to the mining and defence sectors.

Director Mat Carroll has only been in the role for just over six months. Despite his commitment to sales and production tasks, he has coupled innovation and adoption of energy with environmental efficiency strategies as a mutually beneficial task.

In addition, the company is addressing its carbon footprint to reduce cost and has already shown substantial short-term gains during its pursuit of long-term sustainment.

“We have, to date, commenced three principle energy management strategies in Radcoflex,” Carroll said.

“These include the modernisation and implementation of more efficient machinery, the first of which was the change our constant speed compressor to a Variable Speed Compressor.”

Radcoflex identified that its old compressor was only being loaded for short periods of time per week. Yet, due to the constant operation, the company was using 27,512 kWh of energy which less than a third was attributable to loaded operation.

“With the adoption of a variable speed drive (VSD) compressor, our total power usage is estimated to drop to approximately 7,800 kWh,” Carroll continued. “This was a greater than 70 per cent reduction in power on a single machine modification.

“By continuing down this avenue to modernise – not only our machinery for energy efficiency – but, more broadly, manufacturing practices, we can maintain a competitive advantage in our industry.”

The next change the company has sought is around the type of lighting it uses across Radcoflex’s New South Wales manufacturing, which has produced some “quick but significant wins”.

“Our existing lighting solution was largely based on old halogen or fluorescent globes, which were costing our business approximately $7,000 per annum,” Carroll explained.

“However, with the substitution to LED lighting, we have seen approximately a $5,500 reduction in annual fees, which, when factoring in the cost of the change over of equipment, will be repaid within 13≈months.”

The final component was the adoption and installation of solar power on Radcoflex’s head office and manufacturing sites.

An industry advisor projected that a 60kW system would provide the company the most optimal solution when coupled with its operating hours of manufacture.

“This system effectively will reduce our power reliance from the grid by just over 60 per cent,” Carroll said, “which will facilitate a return on investment in four-to-six years and effectively enables us to invest capacity into further innovation, or purely reduce our outgoings.”

The decision to change the company’s approach to energy consumption wasn’t entirely profit-driven, either.

Carroll explains his passion for the environment and a belief that, in whatever walk of life, “we should always try to leave somewhere better than how we found it” and that profitability and social conscious are compatible.

“I believe that the capacity for industry to be profitable as well as sustainable for the future are intrinsically linked to businesses – small to large – across all sectors finding innovative solutions to challenges that are ultimately and holistically beneficial,” Carroll said.

“It is the capacity of an individual and group to innovate and therefore be the disruptor in their own market sector, so to be continually viable.”

Australia is ranked in the top 10 countries in the world for renewable energy investment, according to the E&Y’s Renewable Energy Index

In addition, the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target is on track to source 23.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

To meet this, the government is rewarding Australian businesses, which actively reduce carbon emissions through the federal Emissions Reduction Fund.

Carroll, however, believes the manufacturing industry needs to act in unison to crack down on energy consumption at a time when power prices are going up in a country rich with commodities dug up for export.

“Realistically, it is up to you [the company] to engage with a supplier or another company in that domain to discuss what you want to achieve and trust the information that you are given,” he continued.

“From that point onwards, it is crucial to be savvy with the process and to take the right measures for your site. In our case, there are limits to the amount of solar power we can have before you become a major supplier, which would prohibit our power use and savings.

“These weren’t decisions I made easily but, it came down to the age-old commentary that says, as an ‘early adopter’ – while it can be a risk – we can better position ourselves, and the industry, for the future by finding other means of doing manufacturing now.”

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