Placon Corp.’s amped up Focus on Energy

In Business Magazine


Whether it’s to achieve greater energy efficiency or lower operational costs, Greater Madison area businesses like Placon Corp., along with their counterparts statewide, are taking advantage of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program.

Placon, a Madison-based manufacturer of thermoformed plastic packaging, is one of the first businesses to take advantage of Focus on Energy’s strategic energy management initiative, which is part of its large users program.

Many of the companies served are manufacturers with energy management teams that collaborate with contractors and Focus on Energy, but Placon is in the early stages of a strategic energy management review that will attempt to capture additional savings with the help of a gap analysis and data collection from various systems.

Referring to a widely used environmental management program, Jim Hart, manager of engineering and maintenance for Placon, notes the company has been ISO 14001-certified for several years, so it’s already monitoring energy use. “We have that driving some improvements, but we feel that we can do a lot more,” Hart says. “We took this opportunity to do the [Focus on Energy] strategic energy management program to get more involved with it.”

Focus on Energy’s Timothy Dantoin, a senior engineer with Leidos Engineering, says at its core, strategic energy management, launched earlier this year, is a continuous-improvement program for managing energy. SEM has room for 30 participants over two years, and several spots are still open for Wisconsin companies.

“It has a number of unique incentives, and we want to make sure the incentives are used effectively,” Dantoin says. “We’re looking for companies like Placon that we know have a solid track record in energy efficiency, and understand the continuous-improvement process.”

Pardon the extrusion

In the case of Placon, Focus on Energy is looking at an implementation period in excess of 12 months. Programs can be adapted appropriately to each individual participant, and the Placon project will include performance modeling based on their energy use data and production numbers.

“We’ll develop a regression model to indicate their performance, and then we’ll also look at their energy management information system and any metering software they have in place to have a firm grasp of where energy is going in their facility,” Dantoin states. “Placon is way ahead of the curve than most companies and most participants in terms of their energy management system capabilities.”

Now that the gap analysis has given Placon an idea where it stands relative to the ISO standard for energy management, the project team can begin to record energy use from the ground up. This involves understanding the production process and then identifying significant energy use. Once the project team identifies two or three significant energy using areas, they can look at ways to gain better operational control over energy use during the production process.

Placon already has a pretty good backbone for data management and energy information, so the project will use Six Sigma for process improvement to assess what the company has and what it’s missing. Another step to fill any gaps could be the use of an energy management information system, and yet another part of the process will involve interpreting what the data means.

Each manufacturing process is different, but ideally operators should know what their particular part of the production process should be using in terms of energy. They should also have the ability to know when it’s getting out of line, investigate, and take corrective action. “They can take action based on whether or not their particular part of the production process is performing as expected in relation to energy,” Dantoin says. “If it's getting out of line, they will need to determine what steps must be taken to get it back into the centerline of expected energy use.”

While Placon has a pretty good understanding of its energy usage at the aggregate level, the strategic energy management project will further break it down to individual processes and equipment-based opportunities. At Placon, power plant cooling, compressed air, plastics extrusion, and the recycling of used PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are among the biggest energy-using aspects of the business.

“Obviously, we’re not looking at light bulbs in janitorial closets,” Dantoin states. “We're looking at energy usage at a more significant level. You probably have a pretty good idea what those might be beforehand, but this process really encourages you to understand where energy is going out at the level of equipment.”

Energetic parameters

Focus on Energy, funded by the energy utilities that serve Wisconsin, requires participating businesses to find a trusted contractor partner to do the work. Its programs offer contractors both prescriptive (defined) and custom incentives for the installation of energy-efficiency equipment, but the end-customer gets a continuous energy-saving gift.

With business incentive programs for small, medium, and large businesses, the program helps businesses hold down installation costs and bring a faster return on investment for a variety of energy-related projects. Many times, the return on investment is achieved in as little as two years.

Focus on Energy’s larger users program offers prescriptive and custom incentives to facilities using more than 1,000 kilowatts a month in the past year, or 100,000 therms of natural gas per month, or if they have a utility bill that is $60,000 or more in any given month. Under the large users program, prescriptive incentives are available on a range of technologies, including lighting, heat recovery units, large chillers, and compressed air systems.

The large users program has an incentive cap of $200,000 per project and $400,000 per customer, per year, and it doesn’t buy down projects down below a 1.5-year payback. With that short a return, it would be logical for businesses to invest in the equipment on their own, without an incentive.

Prescriptive incentives are outlined in a set list that’s available on the Focus on Energy website ( There is a corresponding incentive amount, depending on the technology, and then there are custom incentives.

If a project doesn’t qualify for something prescriptive, employers can work with Focus on Energy to find out if there is an opportunity to do a custom incentive.

A summary of retrofit and new-construction incentives for energy efficient equipment is available on the Focus on Energy website under the business and then the efficient equipment tabs.

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