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Growth Manufacturers Case Study

Energy Efficient Manufacturing at Airmar Saves Thousands Per Years

"The time spent on the (P4P) project was very valuable to us as we considered materials and methods for our new Airmar East facility. We gained a better understanding of lighting, insulation, air compressor usage, and the best type of heating system for our heat room." --  Mathew Theberge, Continuous Improvement Manger, Airmar

Airmar Technology Corporation is a world leader in the design and manufacture of ultrasonic sensors for marine and industrial applications. Products include advanced ultrasonic transducers, flow sensors, WeatherStation® instruments, and electronic compasses used for fishing, navigation, meteorology, surveying, level measurement, process control, and proximity sensing. Established in 1982, Airmar's headquarters are located in Milford, New Hampshire; distribution offices are in Lake City, South Carolina, and Saint Malo, France. The ISO 9001:2008 quality certified company employs over 200 people between the original building (also known as Airmar West) and adjacent Airmar East.

A few years ago, Airmar's Continuous Improvement Manager, Mathew Theberge, participated in a Lean Certificate Course taught by the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership's (NH MEP) David Hess. The course and its activities piqued the company's interest in doing additional improvement work with NH MEP.

Hess suggested improving the energy efficiency of their buildings by working with New Hampshire's Pay for Performance (P4P) Program. P4P works with participants from the commercial, municipal, and industrial sectors to address energy efficiency needs. P4P is executed through a network of qualified partners who are selected based on their experience and ability to service energy customers, plan and develop comprehensive energy efficiency solutions and projects, oversee installation, and verify that estimated energy performance can be achieved. The program is funded by proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an effort by 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the electric power sector. NH MEP is one of P4P's resources.

GDS Associates, an energy engineering and consulting firm and also a P4P resource, conducted an energy assessment of the interior and exterior of Airmar West, rating the company on lighting, insulation, air usage, energy consumption, etc. Hess plugged the data into the P4P framework and also into the EPA's Lean and Energy Toolkit, which incorporates Lean methodology to identify and reduce energy waste. Lean principles were reinvigorated   throughout the manufacturing process at Airmar to improve throughput and reduce energy usage within the facility and within targeted operational processes. Environmental improvement opportunities, energy savings, and energy reduction plans were formulated so that Airmar could achieve the #1 P4P Incentive to defray the cost of energy reduction plan.

In parallel to the energy program, Airmar production supervisors and engineers attended Basic Lean training events. This helped them gain a better understanding of the Lean tools and how they could be applied within their respective teams.

"Our employees loved this training," stated Theberge. "It helped more employees understand and become involved in the company's continuous improvement activities."

Kaizen Success
A successful 5S Kaizen event hosted by Airmar during the Lean Certificate course resonated with the company's management. They asked Hess to provide a "Train the Trainer" program to teach key employees how to facilitate Kaizen events throughout the company.

"Dave Hess was great to work with," said Theberge. "He has a manner about him that gets across to people, gets them on board and helps them focus on what needs to be done."

As tools, Kaizen and Value Stream Mapping (VSM) were helpful in getting employees to think about better ways to do things throughout the facility, and to help them to see things differently. Kaizen activities became an important part of the P4P strategy. A Kaizen of Airmar's inventory process brought their internal Lean Facilitators through an actual event.

"We were able to improve our cycle counting process, develop a reporting structure for tracking discrepancies and reasons for issues," reported Theberge. "So far, cycle count discrepancies have decreased. Improved inventory counts will lead to less time spent counting at fiscal year-end and reduced energy wastes for these processes."

Laminations Room Kaizen
The laminations area was cluttered, product flow was indistinguishable, and there was excessive material handling. The Kaizen team labeled and organized everything to make it a more practical and functional space. They located unused tooling and equipment hiding in cabinets, like soldering irons and other machines, and put them to use. The team determined the "ideal future state" for the area, and then target measures and to do lists were created and follow up meetings scheduled to help reach their goals. Sustainment measures were determined.

"While most in the P4P program utilized the findings to make structural upgrades or improvements, Airmar chose to focus on improving internal processes," shared Theberge.

Value Stream Mapping
A VSM event, the first ever done at the company, took a more global look at an average marine product line to map material flow and energy consumption. They found this big picture exercise very helpful.

"Understanding value stream mapping and group technology helped us determine product groupings that have subsequently led to the formation of work cells and what is being assembled in those work cells," said Theberge. "VSM is a valuable tool for analyzing any process."

Lighting changes were made in specific areas of Airmar West. Occupancy sensors were added in the Barrel Room and in closets. Explosion proof covers were installed on Barrel Room lights due to chemicals in the barrels. They installed daylight sensors in a bright and rarely used area of the manufacturing floor. All outdoor lighting and wall packs for the security lighting are kept on at night and bulbs require regular changing using a rented lift. New bulbs will not require changing for years, reducing energy consumption, time, and cost.

Building Improvements into Airmar East
Simultaneous to their continuous improvement and P4P work, Airmar began construction on the 75,000 sq.ft. Airmar East. Improvement ideas stemming from VSM and Kaizen events at Airmar West as well as P4P suggestions about lighting, insulation, and other energy efficiencies were incorporated into the plans and plant layout of the new building. Airmar East now houses most of the manufacturing operations, while R&D remains in Airmar West as the company continues their focus on growth and new product development.

Airmar's original facility was well designed and maintained and did not indicate a high level opportunity for energy use reduction. Instead, they opted to work with Hess to discover and improve energy consumption in their internal processes. Then they put together a plan that would result in 4% energy use reduction. Even though construction of Airmar East came after the P4P program incentives had ended, the information they had learned during their experiences at Airmar West was invaluable in the design and layout of the new facility.

Cost Savings at Airmar West
Projected cost savings of implemented solutions at Airmar West:

  • 4% – Energy use reduction

  • $25,000 – Incentive from P4P ROI

  • $45/yr – Daylight controls added to three high bay fixtures

  • $1,951/yr – Replaced overhead light fixtures on work benches

  • $332/yr – Barrel Room occupancy light sensor and energy efficient lighting

  • $34/yr – Closet occupancy sensor controls added to light fixture

  • $632/yr – Mold machine exhaust fan shut off controls added.

  • $800/yr – Exterior security lighting replaced with LED fixtures

Results of Kaizen:

  • 25% reduction in cycle count discrepancies

  • $10,000 gained from unutilized equipment

  • 25% increase in floor and useable surface area

Cost Savings at Airmar East
Projected savings at Airmar East over old methods/construction at Airmar West:

  • $680/yr – Savings from reducing overall air system pressure and installing small point of use compressor for special areas

  • $644+/yr – Savings from improvements to heating system and insulation in heat room 

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