The case of the 4,000 missing hogs – The mystery
Watson: What was the most interesting Energy Mystery you have had to solve, Holmes?
Holmes: It would have to be The Case of the 4,000 Missing Hogs.
Watson: How could 4,000 hogs be missing?
Holmes: Good question, Watson. What makes it even more interesting is that the people running the hog processing plant didn’t know it.
We were hired by a hog processing plant (slaughter house) to help them reduce their energy costs. During my first meeting with John, the President of the company, he said “Utility costs represent our third largest expense after personnel and raw material. Reducing utility costs could be the key to our survival but I have no idea where those dollars are being spent”.
Our first step was to install an energy monitoring system on the utility meters, the electrical distribution system, the ammonia compressors, cooling towers, boilers, air compressors and other key equipment.
Watson: Had they had an energy audit?
Holmes: The local utility had provided a “free” energy audit which recommended new lights in the office.
Watson: What did you find out?
Holmes: We discovered that the biggest energy user in the plant, the refrigeration system, was using five times the amount of electricity that it should, and had been doing so for perhaps as long as 30 years. All of the employees, maintenance personnel, outside contractors, operators, and everyone else who had worked on the system during that time had completely missed the problem. We might have missed it too without the data from the monitoring system.
Watson: I am assuming you explained this to everyone, it made them happy and they said “Thank you very much”.
Holmes: Dream on Watson. As a recent engineering graduate you are still thinking in terms of Theory, not the Real World. Sometimes convincing people that you have found a problem is a bigger challenge than finding the problem.
The Plant Engineer had already gotten approval to buy more electrical transformers and ammonia compressors. He knew I had told the President that the plant was getting ready to spend several hundred thousand dollars for equipment they didn’t need. The last thing the plant engineer wanted to hear from me was “you don’t need more refrigeration capacity”.
Watson: What did you do?
Holmes: I scheduled a meeting with the Plant Manager, Plant Engineer, Production Manager, and Business Manager to explain what we had found. When I walked into the room I was faced with a bunch of angry people. They were all mad at me. “How dare you tell John that we don’t need more refrigeration equipment? Some of us have worked here for 30 years and we know on a hot summer day, we can’t keep the meat cool. This is an old, poorly insulated plant and we need more refrigeration.”
I started to squirm around in my seat trying to look intelligent and confident. They had me outvoted and outnumbered. I just sat there for a while, not saying anything and trying to make them believe I was pondering my response. I was actually trying to calculate the odds of getting out the door before they could kill me. You’ve seen Rocky. You’ve got to realize that guys who work in slaughterhouses all carry very big and sharp knives.
Finally I said, “You are looking at what you use and I am looking at what you need. You are running enough refrigeration equipment to be processing 5,000 hogs a day yet you are only producing product from 1,000. The question you should be asking is what is happening to those missing 4,000 hogs. I know that occasionally one gets loose, runs through the downtown streets (just a couple of blocks away) and you have to send one of your cowboys down to shoot it, but 4,000 a day?" I don’t think so.
Watson: Did that make sense to them?
Holmes: I could tell they were all really impressed. You could just read their collective minds; College boy, professor, never even been in a meat packing before and you think you know it all.
Watson: My professors neglected to tell me that some people would resent me for what I had learned? So how did you explain the recommendation you had made to the President of the company?
Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn’t. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson.