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How can industry improve efficiency following COVID-19?

Coronavirus has upended industry in ways we simply haven’t seen before. What would’ve previously passed for ‘normal’ now isn’t, with a large array of industries experiencing widespread disruption. Processes and supply chains that once seemed very robust are now being put under serious strain due to social distancing and collapsing demand, and while the disruption may be temporary, its effect on business certainly isn’t.

With that said, it is clear that if businesses are going to recover and thrive post-pandemic, new avenues for financial and energy savings must be found. However, with reduced cashflows, finding solutions while maintaining highest possible customer service and business levels is easier said than done.

Yet the pressure on process, production and operations managers will remain for the foreseeable future. But with traditional options for efficiencies potentially off the table, new ways of thinking need to be adopted. A key area for this will be equipment sourcing – through out-of-the-box thinking around issues such as equipment hire, companies can quickly adapt to a very abnormal set of circumstances.

Adjusting to the situation

On its face, choosing a permanent boiler, power or cooling installation seems a logical choice. It guarantees certain output levels, and with any system representing a substantial outlay, selecting a one-size-fits-all solution that can meet varying utility requirements is sensible.

Yet issues remain – while these installations can handle multiple situations, they may be oversized or undersized relative to performance expected at the time, especially in industries working to short-term contracts. By not being adaptable enough to deal with fluctuating demand, site owners and operators can end up with increasingly inefficient processes.

To use an analogy, a permanent solution can be a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. With budgets contracting due to the coronavirus, they might not be best-placed for our current circumstances. By contrast, by adopting a flexible, project-based approach to their equipment and hiring solutions on a needs-must basis to meet scalable demand, businesses can safeguard themselves against the demanding post-pandemic environment and any further, future impacts. 

Ageing installations

Alongside inefficiencies caused by incorrectly-sized installations, equipment age is also a major factor in performance loss. I’ve seen even well-maintained systems decline in performance over time, and equipment at older plants can become quickly outdated as innovation marches on.

Additionally, concerns around adhering to existing legislation have been compounded by the coronavirus. For instance, sticking to a decarbonisation plan in line with the Government’s net zero targets or, in the case of cold storage suppliers, phasing out refrigerants and equipment that aren’t F-Gas ban-compliant, puts companies under further pressure. Yet COVID’s financial impact means some businesses simply can’t afford to make the necessary changes needed to avoid reputational damage, and, in the worst cases, breaking the law.

Instead of confining themselves to a worsening situation with no obvious escape route, businesses need to entertain innovative approaches like strategic hire. It may no longer be possible to enact ten, five or three-year business plans these days, but I’d ask the question – why should we? Renting heating, cooling and drying equipment allows companies to react more quickly to the new normal, and gives them to up-to-date, efficient and sustainable systems without prohibitive upfront costs.

Harnessing waste products

Another key efficiency issue that goes under the radar is the amount of by-products industry casts off as unrecoverable waste. In most circumstances, this is understandable. However, by taking a more forensic approach to what businesses are discarding as waste, and exploring what technology is available to harness and repurpose these potential resources, process managers can make savings that may not have been immediately obvious.

For example, though the manufacturing industry requires vast amounts of heat and energy for multiple site processes, many plants still produce large quantities of steam that simply goes to waste. This is quite literally money going up the chimney, especially in such an energy-intensive industry, and this sector is by no means an outlier.

If stakeholders instead replaced the inefficient gas boilers traditionally used in these plants with hired, up-to-date combined heat and power (CHP) systems, this otherwise-discarded heat and steam could be repurposed back into site processes. Alongside improving efficiency by reducing waste, CHP systems also generate their own electricity, leaving companies less reliant on purchasing it from the national grid at rising prices.

At a time when all savings are to be welcomed and businesses are under pressure like never before, the competitive advantages granted by solutions like CHP systems could be even more pronounced. Furthermore, as a hired solution that’s classed as an opex cost, these advantages can be gained without investing large amounts of capital businesses may not have readily available. 

Carrying out efficiency audits

The impact of the coronavirus is pronounced and ongoing, and industry needs to look beyond current solutions in order to weather the storm and grow. Realising process efficiencies is an excellent way of doing this, and we would be very happy to conduct site audits so key stakeholders can see where savings can be made.

To request an efficiency audit from one of our team, get in touch.