Energy is one of the biggest issues facing businesses today. On the one hand, businesses understand the need and stakeholder value in reducing their carbon footprint; on the other, the rising cost of energy is adding a new financial imperative to maintain performance through lower energy consumption.

These challenges are not mutually exclusive. Lower consumption has the dual benefit of improving business efficiency and protecting the environment. Even some very simple changes in a warehouse and distribution facility can lead to significant gains.

Inefficient exterior doors at the loading bay, for example, alongside trailer door hinge ‘gaps’, and dock leveller ‘gaps’ let valuable energy escape. While each of these ‘gaps’ may appear small in isolation, cumulatively they represents a significant ‘hole’ which, if left unsealed, costs money through increased energy consumption.

Looking further inside the facility, reducing the number of ceiling fans while improving the effectiveness of air movement can have a major impact on heating and cooling costs. If cold storage is part of the facility, inefficient freezer openings are also a major drain on energy use.

Reducing costs          

The costs can be significant: the relatively simple act of sealing the gaps at the loading bay and an exposed leveller pit could mean a potential annual energy saving of several thousand Euro per dock position. Proper exterior doors with effective seals and cycle time speeds could save even more per opening, so the stakes are high.

Significant cost savings can also be realised beyond the loading bay and into the facility itself. Effective interior air movement has a huge impact on heating and cooling, especially in a large facility, and the potential annual energy savings can be anywhere between 20-30 percent. Freezer/Cooler doors that don’t require extensive steps or equipment to help eliminate frost and minimise air leakage could also save firms a five-figure sum.

In many cases, the solutions are simple. Every chink of daylight you see though the loading bay seal when a vehicle is unloading is costing you money and impacting the internal environment. Poorly installed or maintained insulation on your loading bay doors and pedestrian walkway doors can also be a problem, whereas tracking the efficiency of any refrigerated areas or cooler/freezer areas over time so seals, panels, doors, or units can be flagged when issues arise is also essential.

High Volume Low Speed (HVLS) fans are typically thought of as devices for keeping a facility cool in the hot summer months, but they also play a critical role in maintaining heat in winter. When the air moves in a conical shape, heat not only gets forced back down to where employees and products are, but it also keeps air flow steady throughout the room. Large-bladed fans have the power to move stagnant air approximately 85 ft. in every direction, helping to ensure even temperatures in every corner of a facility.

The issue of airflow is important because maintaining a constant airflow prevents the air conditioning units from kicking in unnecessarily and using wasted energy.

No one wants to work in a sweltering hot warehouse in the summer, and they certainly won’t be any happier freezing in the winter. Studies show that increased employee comfort is directly related to better productivity. Additionally, comfort and safety work hand-in-hand during the colder months.

There are several other areas in which businesses can look to improve energy efficiency. High-speed doors, for example, inside the facility mean less energy is lost and the temperatures in different climate zones are not affected. Streamlining your loading bay communication system allows a trailer driver to know exactly where to go and in turn could shorten the period of time where the dock doors are left open, saving on heating and cooling. Installing a timer on lighting or automatic equipment, saves energy when the room or the machine is no longer in use, while deploying new warehouse software can help you monitor and track energy output, so you can identify the biggest opportunities for savings.

New technologies are continually being developed. New controls for large industrial fans, for example, that ensure the fans only operate when needed, reducing energy consumption and reducing costs are soon to be launched. It will mean that in the summer, when fans are in greater demand, they can be programmed to deliver the optimum performance, taking into account different working patterns and the busiest times of the day.

Whatever you consider, an energy audit by a material handling expert can identify a wide range of options and possibilities in your plant or facility. And taking an holistic approach to energy reduction, rather than seeing products and solutions in isolation, will have a much greater impact.