Kiwifruit packer EastPack lifts productivity through energy savings

Workers at the EastPack Te Puke site have owned the energy saving programme once they could see the effects.
CHRIS PARKER/EASTPACK

Workers at the EastPack Te Puke site have owned the energy saving programme once they could see the effects.

Kiwifruit packing company EastPack has a chunky electricity bill of $3.2 million spread over seven sites. That's equivalent to the power used by 3450 households.

So it set out to lower its energy costs, while also enhancing productivity and competitiveness.

"Lower energy costs feed straight to the bottom line," says chief executive Hamish Simson.

As the country's largest kiwifruit packer, EastPack understands the competitive advantage of having the most cost-effective way to pack the fruit and get it to market. Its 250 permanent work force grows to 3000 at season peak in the June quarter as they pack and ship over 30 million trays of kiwifruit.

Improving energy efficiency is an often overlooked and a simple way of lifting productivity, yet Simson saw there was plenty of low-hanging fruit on the energy savings front at EastPack.

To help achieve its energy savings, EastPack partnered with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and consultants Energy Management Solutions (Emsol).

EastPack packs and ships over 30 million trays of kiwifruit.
CHRIS PARKER/EASTPACK

EastPack packs and ships over 30 million trays of kiwifruit.

EastPack's Nathaniel Street led the project and after 18 months the company sliced more than 5 per cent off its energy costs and saved $170,000 to date.

Street says a key to EastPack's successful programme was not just Simson's buy-in, but getting support from all management and workers, including key IT staff and coolstore staff, where the most energy is used.

The collaborative agreement with EECA and Emsol was critical in providing guidance on how to develop and implement an energy management plan, including expertise on monitoring, energy audits, and plant upgrade design.

Monitoring equipment, revamped information systems and a Cisco power management suite were all installed.

The programme was piloted at two of EastPack's Te Puke sites where big wins were made quickly by upgrading and installing new systems.

EastPack cut its energy cots by $170,000 to date by introducing monitoring, energy audits and a plant upgrade.
CHRIS PARKER/EASTPACK

EastPack cut its energy cots by $170,000 to date by introducing monitoring, energy audits and a plant upgrade.

Significant savings came from improved design of refrigeration controls to allow more accurate temperature settings.

Monitoring energy turned up some easy fixes, such as the discovery that trace-heaters in cool room doors, to stop them freezing, were being left on over summer when the freezers were off.

The power management suite, which can track where and how much energy was being used, clearly showed where energy was being wasted.

"It meant we decided to upgrade to different types of computer screens from old ones that used quite a lot more power than we would have liked," Street says.

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"It's also made us look at our weekend power use and ask: Why are we using so much power?"

New software allowed staff to find out when something was being left on when it shouldn't, or when there were energy spikes that staff could query why they were occurring. Printers had timers installed so they turned off in evenings, weekends and the off-season.

"The software paid for itself within three weeks," Street says.

While changing the staff culture took time, once staff could see the effects of savings, they owned the programme.

"People started thinking 'hey, the light's been left on, I'll go turn it off because there's nobody in that area'," Street says.

"From the floor right through to management, people just start thinking about different ideas even if it's just not having the pie warmers in the canteen on all day."

Additionally, the programme has improved health and safety - new brighter LED lights have improved lighting, especially for night shift workers.

"They noted it wasn't just improving energy efficiency but improving the work environment. That made a big difference regarding the culture of my teams."

EastPack has been able to design energy efficiency into new buildings, with new cool stores planned with insulation above industry specification.

"This small extra capital outlay, together with installing the best refrigeration equipment for the business, has given EastPack a significantly lower energy bill," Simson says.

With success at the pilot sites, EastPack is now replicating the work at its five other sites.

For more information on how your business can cut your energy costs visit www.eecabusiness.govt.nz.

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