Olin Brass Energy Team is generating more than savings at East Alton plant

Nearly four years have passed since the Olin Brass Energy Team was formed –four years in which the team has been quietly making great progress toward fulfilling their mission to increase efficiency and cut energy-related costs at the company’s Brass Mill and Casting Plant facilities in East Alton, Illinois.

“We’ve been doing a lot of good work here at East Alton,” said Energy Team member Don Ballard, a Maintenance Tech Specialist who is currently charged with the Energy Team’s communication efforts. “And we think it’s about time to spread this good news out to the rest of the company and the community.”

The effort had its start in October 2010, when Jim Kabitzke, the Brass Mill’s Engineering Team Manager, was charged with forming a team of associates from throughout the East Alton facility to spearhead short- and long-term efforts to reduce energy costs.

“Obviously, energy is expensive, so our number one objective was to identify opportunities that would make us more efficient and ultimately more profitable,” Kabitzke said. “But we also wanted to demonstrate our determination to be a good corporate citizen – to show our customers, and maybe more important, our community, that we’re a well-run business that really cares about the environment and the future we share.”

The Energy Team quickly found a pair of partners to help shape and motivate their pursuit of those goals. First was the Energy Star Program, developed jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to encourage businesses, municipalities and individuals to develop and implement measures to voluntarily reduce energy consumption.

One of the Energy Team’s first actions was to pursue involvement with Energy Star, and they quickly agreed to make Olin Brass an “Energy Star Partner,” the first company in the copper and brass industry to do so. Participation encouraged Olin Brass to make a partnership commitment to benchmark current energy performance and cut overall consumption by 10% within 5 years.

Key to their chances of achieving that goal was the participation of the Energy Team’s second partner, regional utility AmerenIllinois and their own energy efficiency venture, ActOnEnergy. “Participation with Ameren just made sense,” Ballard reflected. “They have a list of well-defined energy reduction projects for businesses and offer cash incentives to companies who take them on. That’s helped us cover the costs of every project we’ve done so far.”

Further, those projects are more than paying for themselves, Ballard said. Working proof can be seen in the ActOnEnergy compressed air leak survey and repair initiative, which was implemented in 2011 and has since produced enormous savings in both energy consumption and money spent.

“At the outset, we partnered with an energy consultant, CAT Inc. of New York, who came in and shot all of the compressed air lines in the plant to identify where the leaks were,” Ballard said. “In the process, they used a program that actually told us how much each particular leak was costing us – which turned out to be a quite a bit.”

That was enough to make a believer out of Ballard. Once all of the leaks were identified, corrective plans developed, and repairs made, the improvement was immediate and dramatic. “Let me put it this way,” Ballard said. “We use a lot compressed air in this plant, for actuating cylinders and valves on the machinery as well as for blowing off finished strip before coiling it. At one time, we needed four compressors to run the plant. Today, we’re doing it with just one.”

The project’s success has played a big part in the overall electric power reduction at the plant to date. As of November 2013, internal records show a 14.4% decline from the 2010 benchmark, for estimated cost savings as high as $900,000 or more. And the savings don’t stop there, Ballard explained.

“You have to remember, when we were running four compressors, we had to service them all. Now we’re just paying to maintain the one.” In other words, they’re cutting operating costs as well as power costs, he said.

The compressed air project is just one of many that are bearing fruit for the Olin Brass Energy Team to date. Other notable efforts include six different energy efficient lighting projects, new startup/shutdown procedures for a variety of heavy equipment, and a bevy of measures designed to slash water usage and costs (see “Treasure Hunt” article for more information).

But beyond bottom line savings, perhaps the biggest impact the Energy Team has had so far is on the company itself.

“Support from inside has been key to our success from Day One,” Ballard said, “and it’s getting stronger all the time. Our plant manager is behind it. Our vice president has been behind it. And the employees are all behind it.”

Indeed they are. Energy Team participation is strictly voluntary, and none of their efforts require additional staff. In fact, virtually all of the corrective work involved in the various projects – repairing air leaks, switching lighting systems and so on – has been done by in-house people within the context of their regular jobs.

The reason for the enthusiasm is simple, Kabitzke observed, “I believe people see that this is a ‘win-win’ proposal in every way,” he said. “Because there’s a growing understanding that every dollar we save, every Btu we don’t use, will in the long run help all of us, inside and outside the company. This is cooperative, not competitive. Everybody wins.”

A subsidiary of Global Brass and Copper Holdings, Inc., Olin Brass is a world leader in its own right, one of the oldest, most innovative and diverse producers of copper alloys and products in the world. With six domestic operating units and an international group serving Asia and the Pacific Rim, the organization is poised to maintain and expand its presence in copper markets worldwide.  For more information, please visit