The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $1.5 million to Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis for a program that helps small regional manufacturers save on energy costs and become more efficient.
The award is part of $35 million recently granted to 28 higher education institutions nationwide to operate regional industrial assessment centers, which provide “site-specific recommendations to small manufacturers with opportunities to improve productivity, secure information, reduce waste and lower energy costs.”
The program also provides an opportunity for engineering students at the university to get experience in manufacturing processes and energy management.
IUPUI’s program has been operating since 2011 and services manufacturers in a 150-mile radius from Indianapolis, which basically covers Indiana and parts of Ohio and Illinois.
The mission of IUPUI’s center is to "train the next generation of energy engineers, because the nation needs people who understand energy-related issues,” according to Jie Chen, chair and professor of mechanical engineering.
The program helps manufacturers save money and identify weaknesses in their processes. Since 2011, IUPUI’s center has done audits for 76 companies and recommended changes that would save those companies $11 million.
A team of student engineers, supervised by faculty, visits manufacturers to conduct one- or two-day energy audits, which involve analyzing utility bills, reviewing processes, collecting data, and interviewing staff members. Then the team drafts recommendations.
The audit is free for the companies.
“The Department of energy pays the bill,” Chen said. “This program benefits everybody who is involved. It’s a tremendous experience that is not available in the classroom. As engineers we want to define a problem and find solutions. Though these audits, we can identify areas that need to be improved."