It was 6:30 p.m. when I left the plant. We had been working since 7 a.m. to finalize the details of a proposed new base-coat/clear-coat system and agree on a timetable and price. My cell phone had been ringing just about every 20 minutes all day long. My client's blackberry was in almost constant use. We were both on the Internet keeping track of e-mail and searching for information about booth designs, pump sizes and other system features. When I finally did leave the plant, we went straight to dinner. After dinner I met with some vendors to review the day's events and draw up a task list. Then it was back to the motel room to take one final look at e-mail. At 10 p.m. I turned on the TV to catch up with the Olympics. At 10:10 I fell asleep.

Sound familiar to anyone? We burn a lot of energy to get through workdays like this. Speaking of energy, how is the price of fuel affecting your business? My gas bill went up by 40 percent two months ago in my office and home. I added more insulation and it went down below the previous year. Makes me wonder why I waited and what other opportunities there are to save money on fuel.

With the cost of energy so high, many coaters are wondering what to do. There are a few possible ways to save on fuel usage in the design phase of building a system and some other things that can be done to an existing system.

First of all, look at your system and make sure that you are getting good throughput. Good line density will take full advantage of a coating system and minimize costs associated with utilities. Some utilities are related to the amount of product coated but some losses occur whenever the system is running, whether there is any product being coated or not.

Next, consider the use of water, chemicals and energy in the washer. Counter-flow arrangements, good filtration, oil removal, nozzle maintenance and heat exchanger maintenance are very important to overall operating cost. A relatively small amount of scale on the heat exchanger can have a big impact on efficiency.

The drying process may also be an area where you can save money. Position your parts for good drainage. Use a blower and air movement to assist drying and reduce the needed temperature for drying. Operate the oven at the lowest temperature that will provide adequate drying.

Heat losses at the oven openings can be costly. Powered air curtains are often used to reduce heat losses but they have limited ability to stop heat losses and they use a fan with a fairly large motor so the gas savings is offset somewhat by electrical cost. In some cases, an extension to the vestibule can help diminish the losses related to the expansion of heated air. If the vestibule is too short the air curtain is not strong enough to stop the loss, especially if the opening exceeds 3' in width. The oven also relies on good plant-wide air balance with adequate air-make-up (AMU) to maintain balance and reduce losses. Direct-fired AMU is also the least expensive and most effective way to heat a building.

Thicker oven wall insulation, washer tank insulation, direct-drive motors, frequent burner maintenance and high efficiency motors can also save energy.

There is no quick and simple way to save a lot of energy, whether you are running a coating system or finalizing a system design and purchase, but some adjustments and additions can help. For my part, I plan to take a take a vacation in the near future to recharge the batteries.