Going the distance with solar power 
Letterhead Press uses panels to generate 25% of electricity needs

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Jan. 28, 2016

Todd Miller sets up to print foil on a direct mail envelope for a client at Letterhead Press in New Berlin.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

NEW BERLIN - Covering roughly a football field-sized portion of the parking lot at Letterhead Press, Inc. are solar panels that have resulted in the printer generating enough electricity to meet 75 percent of the company’s peak electricity demand and 25 percent of their total need.

The solar panel project began in January 2015, but LPI had long been working to conserve energy and cut costs.

Lean Manager John Davis said New Berlin-based LPI has been able to reduce consumption by 40 percent in recent years. Previously, the company’s annual electricity bill was $275,000 and is now down to about $250,000 due to the decreased consumption - even as the company increased production. Offsetting some of the reduced consumption is the increased cost of energy.

“We are always looking for the lowest hanging fruit,” Davis said, referring to solar power generation. “You can only cut consumption so much.”

The benefits of the power generation are especially significant during the peak time of operation, which is about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but even on weekends some of it is used and the rest is sold to We Energies.

Davis said installing the solar panels at the 150,000-square-foot facility that employs about 150 people last year was great timing because the cost of installation was lower while incentives were at a high point.

Letterhead Press has three banks of solar cells providing power to their plant.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Currently, LPI is generating about $50,000 worth of free electricity and will reach about $60,000 to $70,000 in the future, CEO Mike Graf predicts. The panel field measures about 100 yards long by 40 yards wide and is four panels deep.

Graf said the process of learning about the technology and installing it was fairly easy, but was also a matter of finding the correct amount to generate so not to send too much back to the grid.

In the future, Graf said, he’s hoping the technology will get to the point where LPI can store excess electricity it creates in a battery and use it when needed. He may also look to augment the solar energy with wind or natural gas. There are various ways to increase LPI’s self-sufficiency, he said.

“Mike and I are always looking to do the right thing for the company bottom line wise and for sustainability,” Davis said.

Graf said LPI has received strong support from state agencies, such as Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Sun Peak Solar of Madison installed the solar panels at LPI, which prints packaging for well-known household products, as well as point-of-sale displays, puzzles and direct mailers.

Workers operate equipment at Letterhead Press in New Berlin.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Thinking lean

During the Great Recession, Davis said, he and Graf had more time to think about what the company would do to become lean and one area that jumped out was energy consumption. They turned to entities like Focus on Energy, which is Wisconsin utilities’ statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program, for guidance. The company has also tapped into the ideas generated by a network of engineers and consultants.

LPI is always looking to work with different people who have new ideas, Davis said.

The reduction in consumption initiatives started with relighting the entire building to save money. Then, a new system was installed for air to be received to heat the building. The 210-ton air conditioner unit was also replaced with a 65-ton unit that used chilled water it circulates through the system to cool the facility down.

“The culture of continuous improvement has really made the difference,” Davis said.

It’s important for companies to look at what Lean Manufacturing initiatives can be implemented to be able to complete globally, Graf said.

There are always areas that can’t be controlled by a company, such as taxation, so Graf encourages other business leaders to take a look at consumption.

In addition, LPI recycles nearly 100 percent of its waste with a collection program that takes the most of the material remnants to an area where they are compressed into bales, loaded onto semis and taken to a recycling facility.

www.letterheadpress.com

Email: kmichalets@conleynet.com