This country's 350,000 manufacturers must add cutting-edge technologies to their processes to stay competitive. Yet most are small- to medium-sized companies leery of investing in new technology without first
confirming its effect on their
products.Some utilities previously had no option but to run local technology-demonstration facilities on their own (see sidebar on p. 36), but helping manufacturing customers use the electrotechnologies they need may require expertise that a utility's customer service, marketing, or R&D staff cannot offer. EPRI's answer: the Industrial Technology Center Partnership (ITCP). The ITCP formula encourages forming teams to conduct competitiveness assessments of customer facilities (em with an eye to making environmental, efficiency, and productivity improvements through process changes and electrotechnology applications.
The following ITCP activities can help a utility prove the worth of new technology to its customers:
s Demonstrations to explore the effectiveness of new
s Before and after case studies to quantify real-world benefits
s Plant assessments by EPRI-sponsored teams to produce cost-cutting recommendations
s Workshops to help customers make the most of ITCP assistance
s Alliances with local, state, and national agencies to develop funding opportunities for electrotechnology transfer and deployment.
If a utility so desires, one of EPRI's national industrial centers will provide a local onsite director. The goal is to create 15 to 25 ITCP centers over the next five years.
The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 have prompted many manufacturers to seek alternatives to solvent-based coatings, inks, and adhesives. New federal clean air standards taking effect this May are even more stringent. In response, Pennsylvania Power & Light (PP&L) set up the Electrotechnology Applications Center (ETAC) in 1994 to research infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) electric drying and curing technologies. According to PP&L program director G. Keith Sames: "With us it's an act of self-preservation. If no one helps these businesses control their air
emissions in a cost-effective way, they'll close down or move".
One PP&L customer, Resilite Co., a leading producer of athletic mats, asked ETAC to help it comply with the new federal clean air standards. For 30 years the Sunbury manufacturer had been spraying a vinyl-based paint and allowing the mats to air dry, emitting some 635,000 pounds of solvents into the atmosphere each year. The cost of installing solvent-capturing equipment might have put the company out of business. But the water-based paints it tried out created problems, including gluing the mats together when rolled up.
Says ETAC's senior chemist, Al Fuchs, "We had to find a water-based paint that not only met
EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] standards but performed as well or better than the old coating and had an economic advantage, too."
Following a thorough examination of the options, Fuch's team found a paint that exceeds emission standards while reducing mat shrinkage and base-material costs. Currently the team is investigating how best to apply IR to this process. The faster drying times will speed production, lowering lead times for orders and freeing up valuable floor space. An added benefit is reduced solvent vapor in the workplace.
In addition to technology demonstrations, ETAC currently offers companies a variety of other services. Clean Air Act seminars held within a 100-mile radius of ETAC explain how the lab can help PP&L customers improve productivity, energy efficiency, and environmental impact. Factory process assessments enable ETAC staff and PP&L field engineers to identify areas for improvement.
Once lab investigations substantiate the value of a new electrotechnology, ETAC engineers help incorporate it into a customer's full-scale manufacturing process. These same engineers also train plant personnel on how to operate the new equipment.
"Our goal this year," says Sames, "is to bring additional electrotechnologies into the lab that will help industrial customers become more competitive. We're looking at radio frequency technology for drying fabrics and curing furniture adhesives, for instance. We're also looking at microwave and electron-beam heating. If someone out there has an idea we haven't thought of, we want to look at that as well." t
William M. Smith is executive project manager for industrial competitiveness at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA. ETAC director Tom Shaughnessy oversees the Center's day-to-day operations.
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