Collaborative Approach Yields Strong Energy Savings Potential during Treasure Hunt Exchange at Nissan North America and Toyota

By Bruce Lung, U.S. Department of Energy on Jun 28, 2016

Tapping the knowledge and ingenuity of employees can yield strong results in the quest to improve energy efficiency. This past May, the first Better Plants Treasure Hunt Exchange event took place at the powertrain plants of Nissan North America in Decherd, Tennessee, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama (TMMAL) in Huntsville, Alabama. Both companies, which are Better Plants Challenge partners, decided to implement the Treasure Hunt Exchange to maximize energy savings identification by leveraging the respective skills of both companies’ employees and experiences in each other's plants.

The energy treasure hunt process is derived from the Kaizen philosophy that promotes continuous improvement and requires cross-functional teams working together to find solutions. The use of cross-functional teams is important because each position can bring different insights to a problem-solving effort. The first phase of the event took place at Nissan’s plant, while the second phase occurred two weeks later at Toyota’s plant. Both phases involved joint teams of Nissan and Toyota employees.

Nissan's Energy Team

Toyota's Energy Team

The teams at both sites, which included engineers, maintenance experts and operators, spent three days at each plant evaluating process and cross-cutting systems to uncover and quantify energy-saving opportunities. The teams were divided into functional groups that each evaluated the most relevant areas for each plant. In both plants a Facilities team assessed compressed air, lighting, and HVAC systems.  Toyota’s Facilities team also evaluated their plant’s cooling towers. At Nissan, Team 2 covered chillers, pumping systems and associated support equipment. For Toyota, Teams 2 and 3 focused on Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machining equipment on machining and assembly lines, while at Nissan only Team 3 addressed the CNC machines on their production lines.

Because both companies’ employees’ possessed extensive knowledge of industrial energy efficiency, they were able to find and quantify a wide variety of opportunities ranging from lowering compressed air system pressure to shutting off unneeded equipment and installing Variable Frequency Drives (VFD).

According to Mike Livingston, Machining Maintenance Planner, for the Nissan North America Decherd, TN, plant, “It was a pleasure to work closely with Toyota’s employees during their visit here at Decherd and our visit to their Huntsville plant. During our time at both respective plants we found many opportunities due to the exchange of ideas that could help reduce energy consumption. I consider the Treasure Hunt Exchange a success and I hope we are able to replicate this event in the future at our other plants.”

For Dan Cooper, Facilities Engineering Energy Specialist at TEMA, “Treasure Hunt is an activity engrained in the Toyota culture.  These are performed at each plant.  TMMAL is very active in energy management and conducts a “Kaizen Blitz” every year. One eye opener for TMMAL is the importance of looking for treasures when the plant is in a sleep mode (Sunday during non- production).  Several opportunities were discovered that would have otherwise been missed if not for following the TH process.”

Phase 1 of the Treasure Hunt Exchange uncovered energy cost saving opportunities at the Decherd plant totaling approximately $284,000. In phase 2, the efforts of the combined teams yielded potential annual energy cost savings of more than $331,000 at Huntsville, plant.

This event showed what can happen when joint teams of knowledgeable plant workers collaborate to assess and quantify energy-saving opportunities. One other significant aspect of the Better Plants Treasure Hunt Exchange is that one employee from each partner is trained to become an internal facilitator of future treasure hunts within their organization. At the conclusion of this Treasure Hunt Exchange, two participants, one from Nissan and one from Toyota, were trained to serve as internal facilitators to lead future treasure hunts within their respective companies.