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Propelling Efficiency

Tue, 07/10/2007 - 9:07am
Jeff Reinke
A more energy efficient lighting strategy has helped Mercury Marine trim operating costs.


The essence of lean manufacturing is to do more with less. So when Mercury Marine, a leading outboard boat motor manufacturer headquartered in Fond du Lac, WI, began implementing lean manufacturing strategies, it made sense that one of their primary targets would be energy consumption.

Mercury Marine’s Steve Luedtke (left) and Orion’s Mike Potts (right) have both benefitted from the recent installation of Orion lights at Mercury’s Fond du Lac, WI location.


“Our energy efficiency efforts started as part of a Lean Six Sigma initiative to help cut costs in each of our facilities,” states Steve Luedtke, a Plant Engineering Project Manager at the Fond du Lac facility. “It’s hard to ignore the rising costs we see on our utility bills, so energy efficiency became an important focus for us,” adds David Michaelson, the Director of Mercury’s Component Plants. “These measures not only contribute from an environmental perspective, but we’ve seen their impact on our bottom line as well. In many cases these savings have helped us to hit important financial targets.” Operational investments like this have also provided Mercury with the only marine propulsion manufacturing plant that is ISO certified.

The key to Mercury’s success in energy savings has been their approach. By going beyond the surface of the issue to really understand the factors driving consumption they’ve been able to implement programs that not only reduce costs, but also improve working conditions. This has been key in getting employees to buy into these programs and drive them to reach their full potential.

Mercury fields an employee-comprised energy team at each of their U.S. plants. Once a project is identified and marked for implementation, these teams are charged with making sure everything is carried through to completion. Although a recent lighting replacement will be more closely examined here, other successful projects have focused on electrical motor efficiency and boiler and oven settings. Employees can even buy compact fluorescent lights at the factory for use in their homes, instead of the incandescent lights most commonly installed.

Employee participation is vital, as Mercury works to unveil practices that address embedded energy usage, or all the elements involved with a given process. For example, instead of turning down the heat or running fewer fans, they will analyze how many times a door gets opened and how that affects internal temperatures. But employees are not just improving their working conditions, they’re also taking steps to help the company keep costs down, which leads to better margins on the motors Mercury sells, and therefore places less pressure on their parent company, Brunswick, to consider lower-priced labor overseas.

A focus on energy consumption also brings greater attention to other activities within each facility. So instead of just swapping out equipment, Mercury will go the extra step in seeing how their actions will effect current and future energy needs, and if the change will provide adaptability for potential upgrades. Overall, employees seem to have latched on to the approach - just ask John Potratz, another Plant Engineer at the Fond du Lac location.

“I got a call one Sunday because several of the temperature readings for our equipment had risen beyond their preferred levels,” he recalls. “When I got here and opened the door it became obvious as to why. In keeping with the focus on energy conservation, everything had been closed down and shut off, which resulted in the building reaching an internal temperature of about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. We actually had to backtrack a little bit in making sure our employees weren’t going too far with their energy conservation practices.”

The Light Choice

With this level of dedication to energy efficient operations, Mercury didn’t look at new lighting in the same manner that others might. Although the investment would be significant, the company wouldn’t take a patchwork approach in replacing some fixtures or upgrading others. Their goal was to implement completely new and uniform lights throughout their six facilities and two million square feet of production space in Fond du Lac, without sacrificing the quality of working conditions or raising energy consumption.

From the beginning Mercury knew it would need to find a partner that would be flexible throughout the process and open-minded to new ideas. In addition to the usual due diligence in comparing products, researching reliability and visiting numerous other plants, Mercury’s team also looked at how quickly they could expect to see a return on this sizeable investment. In the end, according to Michaelson, Luedtke and Potratz, the decision wasn’t that difficult.

Not only did Mercury feel the selected vendor’s offerings produced better lighting levels, but, as Mike Potts, Executive Vice President at Orion Energy Systems explains, his company was simply the right fit. “Orion is out in the field. We hear the issues and utilize a just-in-time manufacturing approach that allows us to constantly adjust and improve our products. Our company relies very heavily on listening to and learning from our customers. We don’t just make lights to sell them. We want to be involved in the whole process in making sure the customer has the right product in the right application. Everyone should see the benefit when buying Orion lighting products.”

The lights, shown above in an assembly area, have played a key role in reducing electricity costs and improving visibility on the floor.


Mercury chose Orion’s 4-lamp T8 CM4PL unit that uses a 147-watt bulb and a black ballast pack. Their reasons included:

• Orion’s patented design with optical and thermal efficiencies that deliver an average of 50 percent more light at half the energy usage, as compared to other lighting fixtures.

• Because, according to Orion, lighting represents 30 to 70 percent of the energy used in industrial facilities, the energy savings realized from replacing some units could be as high as $100 per year, per fixture.

• A modular plug-and-play design for simplified installation and maintenance. This design also readily accommodates upgrades, such as motion sensors, modular power extenders or advanced controls. Additionally, a patented aluminum “I” frame features lighterweight construction, again making installation and maintenance easier.

• The T8 Series uses a patented reflector design logic that harvests all 360 degrees of light in delivering increased foot-candles to the floor.

Smooth Sailing

After selecting their vendor, Mercury had approximately 3,000 pulse start metal halide fixtures (PSMH) installed in the Wisconsin plants, which house foundry work, die casting, heat treating, propeller molding, painting, machining, research and development, assembly and shipping. Mercury also implemented lessons learned from the project in more closely scrutinizing the lights used in their office spaces, and benefited from a Wisconsin Focus On Energy grant to help cover product and installation costs.

After nearly a year, Mercury sites the following benefits from their lighting upgrade:

• The company saw more energy efficiency savings in 2006 than in the 4 years prior, thanks in part to this lighting project.

• The new lights have translated to over $200,000 in annual energy savings.

• Since November 2006, average power consumption per day has decreased from 686 kW to 557 kW.

• Of the 3,000 light fixtures delivered, there were only 14 bad ballasts.

• Workers now have to deal with fewer shadows.

• Mercury boasts the only die-cast operation with a four-star energy rating from the Wisconsin Department of Energy.

• In some cases, light levels could be adjusted to a point where not all four bulbs were needed. So not only is less power being consumed, but fewer bulbs are being purchased.

The next step for this Mercury team will be taking what they’ve learned in Wisconsin to Brunswick’s other facilities around the world. The good news for Orion continues, as Michaelson, Luedtke and Potratz have championed the use of their products throughout their parent company.

“Senior management has to be aware of this and champion the cause for energy efficiency in order for it to work,” concludes Michaelson. “They have to make it a priority and sell it to the workforce. These types of programs offer a way to cut costs instead of headcount. When you look at it from that perspective, I think it would difficult to find anyone who wouldn’t be interested in energy efficiency.”
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