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I’m lucky to work with dozens of excellent people across the efficiency projects I help sell and develop. There was one project, in particular, I’ve been excited to talk about for how the moving parts came together to deliver a really great energy efficiency project for a lighting installation.
Sure: proven engineering strategy and industry experience are necessary components for effective efficiency upgrades. But as this project showed me, there’s nothing like the great team approach to create solutions that not only work, but leave our clients delighted with the results.
We recently conducted a follow up interview with a client here in Illinois about a LED lighting upgrade we designed at one of their factories in Crystal Lake. Werner Company is an international manufacturer of ladders, jobsite equipment and safety equipment.
As this project is complete, it presented some unique aspects for how efficiency upgrades can unfold. I chose to capture the story from the perspective of a few people involved.
Meet the characters
While I interviewed a couple of key players who helped make this project a reality, there were dozens of other subcontractors, in-house staff at Werner, supporting Crescent employees and our very own Fairbanks Energy project managers who were involved. We couldn’t interview all of them for the story, but their work was hugely important to this project’s success.
Werner’s Maintenance Lead, Lisa Urbina, and their Financial Controller, Shannon Nelson, joined us for a virtual conference, along with Jim Lock, the Energy Business Development Manager, and John Lindquist, Account Manager, from Crescent Electric Supply Company. They both introduced us to Werner.
John Lindquist, Account Manager, Crescent Electric Supply Company
John made the original point-of-contact with Werner and first connected them to Jim Lock.
Jim Lock, Energy Business Development Manager, Crescent Electric Supply Company
Jim introduced us to Werner and provided vital information about products and solutions throughout the duration of the project.
Lisa Urbina, Maintenance Lead, WernerCo
Lisa was responsible for getting the project going in the first place, working on-the-ground identifying issues for our teams and helping us navigate working and installing new lighting in an active manufacturing plant.
Shannon Nelson, Plant Controller, WernerCo
Shannon represented the financial arm. She provided guidance about how to get the project approved internally and which financial benchmarks we needed to hit in order for this project to be a success.
We are always fortunate to be referred to many new clients due to our extensive experience in the industry. For this particular project, we were introduced by one of the leading energy managers in the country, Jim Lock.
But it was John who first brought in Jim.
So John, we just want to get perspective on the project. How did you get started?
John: “Werner’s been in town for a long time and I used to deal with them years ago when I worked for another distributor. But this job came to us from the head of our lighting department. Her husband works there [at Werner]. He was getting wind that the maintenance people weren't too happy.
“There was already another contractor in there [working] with another distributor. And I forget what they did, Rob, but they put in 120 fixtures already but they never mentioned a word to Lisa about the rebate program that's out there. Werner was also experiencing about a 20-25% failure rate with the fixtures that were put in there.
“Our lighting manager called me in and says, ‘Hey, you want to take a look at this?’ So, I called up Lisa, I met with her rather quickly – you know I like to go in and meet with them first before I call in all the troops – and we sat down and had a nice conversation.
“As you know, we have an energy guru, Jim Lock. He takes care of – I don't know how many states now – but he lives in Crystal Lake. So, my first initial call with Lisa was myself. Then I called Jim and he showed up, and then Jim called Rob and Rob showed up. We saw the scope of it. We knew it was pretty big.”
Jim, tell me about Crescent’s involvement in the project and why you’re here today.
Jim: “It was at the front door before we walked in: I knew from the size [of the building] that it was something that would need to be tackled by someone with the capabilities such as Fairbanks [Energy Services]. I called you and said, ‘Hey, can you be here in 45 minutes?”
Crescent Electric Supply Company is an electrical product distributor with offices all over the United States. Depending on the project, we might source energy reduction products from Crescent and in turn, they occasionally introduce us to their clients who need the turnkey services we provide, such as engineering, design, installation and project management.
We were excited when Crescent brought us to this project and we started to get to know the Werner team.
Lisa and Shannon, why’d you look into the LED lighting in the first place?
Lisa: “One of the things that attracted me [to this project] was the ComEd [utility] incentives. I started poking around and actually met with a few different companies, not just Fairbanks. It was interesting to learn the different ways people work, but Mr. Rob here, he impressed me the most.”
Shannon: “I think part of it too, Lisa, was increasing the lighting in the plant as well. We were making small improvements here and there, but this was a project that we took on to do it across the board.”
And what were your questions coming into this project?
Lisa: “How do I get quotes? Where do I start? Who do I know? What kind of lights would we use or are we going to have to re-wire everything? How long is this going to take? How many guys are you going to have in here?
“You have to ask every single question, because the more you know, the easier it is to sell the project [to management] and also to accomplish it.
“And then I started learning about different project approaches. So, we can go and we can replace every light at a bigger figure. I learned how some companies were very short not descriptive in their proposal [when I was looking for details] compared to what I learned along the way with Fairbanks. It was just the ‘magic’ of Rob that got us there!”
Shannon: “He played an integral role! I know my questions were geared around ‘How do we do this and spend our money as smartly as we possibly could?’ I know I was pushing for, how do we reduce the number of lights and still maintain the lighting quality so we can make this the least costly as possible.”
Lisa: “Yes, we had already started replacing some of the lights around the building. We were able to leave those in place and Rob and his team had a plan to re-purpose them [and match the other fixtures] so it didn’t look funny. That helped decrease the cost as well as improve the lighting and get the light levels where they needed. Some of our [ceiling] heights were way too high and you need higher lumens [light levels] there versus the lower deck where we had too many lumens [too high light levels].
“I guess that was the ‘hugest’ deal, that right there: all the testing and all of the evaluating, and ‘We can move these over here, and move those over there,’ and they just shuffled it all together.”
Every efficiency project starts with choices made about the best solutions for the job.
What kind of operational solutions was Werner looking for as a company?
Shannon: “People wanted brighter lighting in the plant because it was a pretty dark space and they understood the benefits of that brighter lighting for employee morale and everything.
“In order to get it approved by ‘the powers that be’ at the higher level, they had a strict guideline at the time of a two-year payback. And that was not just a simple payback, but payback based on our internal, weighted average capital rate. We worked very closely with Rob to make that metric happen in order to get this approved.
“I know we pushed him a lot to help us get there because it wasn't there initially, and we went back and forth quite a few times.”
Our Fairbanks Energy team took on this project in two parts; the first phase was actually for their exterior. It was during that frigid, “polar vortex” winter but we worked around the facility’s 24/7 running hours and managed to install the exterior lighting in roughly three weeks.
This was a smaller project and did not take as much effort to obtain the funding, especially due to the safety element. Once the first phase was finished however, we really started to focus on the numbers for the interior. The interior light levels were in need of vast improvement.
The light levels were the most important part of this project, can you elaborate?
Lisa: “You know, we’re buying lights here and there and upgrading fixtures sporadically and realized that it was either go and clean every single old bulb to get the light levels better that way, which was ridiculous/impossible, or go big and with the incentive option.
“In the assembly area a lot of production demands for quality specs when the guys are welding their products. Every single process here in the building is basically a ‘delicacy’ where we need to see better. And the difference now is tremendous.
“We had the old halogen lights so while welding steel and aluminum, all the dust and the dirt caused from those processes [would collect in the fixtures]. The exhaust fans and smoke eaters only do so much.
“It's been what, over a year now, and the lights are still shining really good.”
Shannon: “There is a noticeable difference out there now.”
Lisa: “We had a walk-through by one of our top owners and they were surprised. The panel that came through the facility was really pleased with the lighting. And that was the first thing they noticed, like, wow. You know: we can see!”
With the completion of this lighting project behind us, I asked Lisa and Shannon some of their thoughts on the process.
How was your overall experience working with Fairbanks Energy Services as your Energy Services Company (ESCO)?
Lisa: “The thing that I liked most was the flexibility of the guys; working with what I needed, what the Werner facility needed. They catered to us. I don’t know how many walks you did, like five or six, different times of day to see where and when the heavier traffic areas were, then talked through the different ideas, different fixture types, and really went through every single aspect with me.
“Again, this was mainly to get to our ROI exactly where it needed to be so the project could be approved. They really went above and beyond in addressing everything that was necessary. And they bought me lunch! Just kidding.
“No, but yeah, it was, that was the best thing. You know, just listening to what we needed and then having what we needed and putting it in place.”
Shannon: “Yeah, I would echo that. They catered to our needs very well.”
How involved was Crescent with Fairbanks Energy as this project progressed?
Jim: “I was involved with Rob through every facet, from the moment I made the phone call to him until the last fixture we shipped. I even helped him store some material in our McHenry location instead of putting it all at Werner, until it was needed.
“I helped Rob find the right fixture selections for being able to put all those different lumen packages together and have the fixtures look the same. So, Rob and I worked pretty well together.”
The pricing was important for this project, as it is for most of the upgrades we design. Without Crescent working with the manufacturers on getting the best possible pricing for our client, we couldn’t have pulled this off. A big portion of the project cost to Werner is inevitably the product side, and Crescent got the right product at the right price point that Werner needed.
Teamwork makes the dream work
All of us came to the same conclusions about what made this project so successful.
So guys, any final thoughts?
Lisa: “It was a learning experience. I gained a lot of knowledge in lighting, and in organization. It's taught me a lot, every step of the way, and with them being helpful, in doing this successfully. It was just a great experience. I don’t call anyone else!
“Especially because I represent, Werner Manufacturing and they depend on me to make the best choices. These guys helped a lot and that was really important and really good for me. It just feels good to have, you know, trustworthy people to work with.”
Jim: “I would add to that that the parties involved acted more like a team than separate entities. The communication was always open between Lisa, I, Rob or vice versa. Nobody felt like they couldn't talk to somebody. Everybody worked together to make sure Werner’s needs were met, in the time frame that they needed.”
I remember when Lisa texted me after she and Shannon got this approved. I said, “I’m so happy you were able to get this approved” and she wrote, “No, not just me, it’s we.”
And then she wrote something so poignant and powerful in all caps: the word “TEAMWORK.” Jim and Lisa were both right – this project couldn’t have been completed without all of us. It truly was a team effort.