Employees of the A. O. Smith plant in McBee, S.C., have received the 2012 Chairman’s Green Star Award, for significant reductions in the plant’s use of natural gas, electricity and water consumption.

Executive Chairman Paul W. Jones presented the 400 employees with the award during a special ceremony at the plant.

A. O. Smith created the Chairman’s Green Star Award in 2009 to encourage natural resource conservation efforts throughout the company. It is awarded to the plant that achieves the most year-over-year reductions in natural gas consumption, electricity usage and water consumption.  A total of 15 facilities worldwide competed to receive this year’s award.

The McBee plant saved more than two million gallons of water—nearly seven percent—in 2012, reduced electricity consumption by more than 10 percent, and cut natural gas consumption by more than five percent.  During the same 12-month period, the plant increased commercial water heater production approximately seven percent.

Energy-saving improvements include new, energy-saving parts washer, modifications to curing furnaces to recirculated heated air for parts drying, new lighting fixtures, motion sensors, a new cooling tower, and expanded recycling.

“Given A. O. Smith’s position as a leading global water technology company, I’m pleased to see that a significant number of your projects have been focused on water conservation,” Jones said in presenting the award.  “Your efforts don’t just have positive cost implications for the plant, they have a positive impact on the environment as well.”

Energy efficiency and water conservation have been critical factors in nearly every equipment upgrade in the plant over the last several years, Sam Carver, vice president-North American operations, observed.

“We have been emphasizing efficiency and sound cost management throughout the operation,” Carver said.  “While a number of these are small projects, combined they have helped us substantially decrease our water and utility requirements.”

A major area of focus has been the parts washers that pre-treat water heater components prior to fabrication.  The engineering team in McBee has replaced a number of older washers with new equipment that is better insulated, helping reduce natural gas consumption.  The new washers also feature enhanced electronic controls that monitor fluid levels in the tanks more effectively, minimizing overflows and helping the plant reduce the amount of chemicals needed in the cleaning process by more than 25%, according to Manufacturing Engineer David Hoover.

The engineering team also has been able to modify the curing furnaces to recirculate heated air to improve parts drying while saving additional energy.

In With New Lighting
Another energy saving project involved an upgrade of the plant’s lighting system.  The engineering team replaced the original 30-year-old light fixtures with high efficiency lamps that not only are brighter—resulting in improved light levels and enhanced worker safety—but require less energy.  The high efficiency lamps give off less heat, helping maintain more comfortable temperatures throughout the plant, Manufacturing Engineer James Shaw said.

In addition to the new lighting, the engineers installed motion sensors in a number of areas throughout the plant.  This allows the plant to shut off the lights when portions of the plant are unoccupied, further reducing electricity usage.

New Cooling Tower
The engineers also upgraded the plant’s cooling tower which handles process water and air conditioning water.  The team installed a two-cell system that utilizes high efficiency variable speed drives.  The two-cell equipment provides better control of the amount of water being pumped through the system to increase overall efficiency.

Later this year, the team plans to upgrade the air compressor equipment throughout the plant with variable speed controls to reduce energy usage and continue to upgrade furnaces and parts washers in the facility.

Another initiative involved expanding the plant’s recycling efforts.  McBee has recycled steel and other metals for a number of years, but beginning in 2011, the plant has been separating cardboard, plastic, and glass.  Employees installed equipment to compact and bail the waste; as a result, disposal costs have been reduced 65 percent between 2010 and 2012.  In addition, the amount of solid waste sent to landfills was reduced 60 percent in the same period.

The 845,000 sq.ft. McBee plant manufactures standard and specialty commercial water heaters, high-efficiency gas residential water heaters, and copper tube boilers for hot water and hydronic heating applications.  In addition, McBee is the location of the company’s commercial water heater product engineering center.