Texas A&M Engineering center ranked by DOE
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M Engineering's Industrial Assessment Center has been named one of the top IACs in the country in a recent U.S. Department of Energy ranking. The center, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M, is headed by Dr. Warren Heffington, associate professor of mechanical engineering. The center also works with the Energy Systems Laboratory in the Texas Engineering Experiment Station. Rankings are based on contract performance factors. There are 26 other IACs around the United States, and the Texas A&M IAC has been one of the top-ranked centers the past three years. The center was named the first Center of Excellence in 2002. The Texas A&M IAC provides no-cost studies of manufacturing plants within about 150 miles of College Station. Engineering students under the direction of mechanical engineering faculty and ESL researchers analyze a plant's energy waste and productivity issues. Heffington said two important goals of the contract are to deliver no-cost industrial assessment services to client manufacturers in the area and to educate students about energy conservation. The center typically employs about a dozen undergraduate and graduate students each semester. For clients, the students identify energy conservation projects; gather data in plants, including interviewing management and staff; calculate savings in terms of both energy and cost; provide conceptual designs and management techniques to capture the savings; analyze utility data; and write reports. The students work in teams of five or six, rotating leadership positions each time. Safety is always an important issue, Heffington said, and each time one student is assigned as safety officer for the team as it works in a manufacturing plant. "The true strength of the IAC is its student engineering employees," Heffington said. "The IAC has been at Texas A&M since 1986, and in that time about 200 Aggies have made a significant contribution to its success. Some of those students have gone on to important leadership positions in industry and government. We have helped 475 manufacturing plants save energy, and reduce pollution and waste." Senior chemical engineering major Cheryl Keel has worked for the IAC since summer 2002. She has been on more than 20 plant visits during this time, serving as head report author several times and developing an electronic version of the center's report to reduce the amount of paper the IAC uses in printing and mailing reports to plants. Keel said her work with the IAC has given her research and problem-solving skills, experience with multidisciplinary teamwork and exposure to a variety of manufacturing plants -- all valuable to her career. "Work with the IAC has given me an awareness of simple ways for all companies to save money in the form of energy savings, waste savings and productivity savings that I can take with me to my future employment," Keel said. "It has also allowed me the opportunity to research savings opportunities specific to a company and provide the company with a possible solution. These research skills are important to solving problems that may arise in my career." The Industrial Assessment Center Program is a national program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, and centers at universities around the nation provide similar services.