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Focus on the Workforce: Training Tomorrow's Energy Engineers

John Smegal







By John Smegal
Workforce Development Lead
Advanced Manufacturing Office
US Department of Energy

The Energy Department’s Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) program is a workforce development initiative aimed at creating the next generation of energy engineers. IAC graduates possess a unique mixture of engineering and energy management expertise, combined with hands-on experience obtained by working directly with small- and medium-size manufacturing facilities across the country.  The federal government has been supporting the IAC program—formerly known as the Energy Analysis and Diagnostic Centers—since 1976.  Although initially housed within the US Department of Commerce, the program was transferred to the US Department of Energy in 1980.

IACs provide extensive training for both undergraduate and graduate engineering students in industrial processes, energy assessment procedures, and energy management principles. As part of their training, IAC students conduct energy assessments of small- and medium-size manufacturers to identify opportunities to improve productivity, reduce waste, and save energy.

IAC Students and Alumni 

Each year, 250 to 450 engineering students within the IAC program gain valuable knowledge evaluating the efficiency of key industrial operations, systems, and processes.  IAC students graduate with the skills and abilities to conduct energy, waste, and productivity assessments, use instrumentation and diagnostic equipment, work safely in an industrial environment, and communicate successfully through written reports and presentations to clients. Some of these students demonstrate sufficient assessment expertise and assume leadership experience to receive IAC program certificates.  Since 2010, more than 100 IAC students per year received these impressive portable credentials.   

Since its inception, thousands of engineering students have participated in the IAC program, representing over 50 colleges and universities across the US.  More than 60% of IAC graduates pursue careers related to energy or energy efficiency.  These graduates are well known for their expertise in industrial energy efficiency, and are in high-demand in the energy-related job market.

Eligibility for Assessments

Manufacturers may be eligible to receive an IAC assessment if they meet the following criteria:

  • They operate within Standard Industrial Codes (SIC) 20–39;
  • They are less than 150 miles from a participating IAC;
  • They have gross annual sales below $100 million;
  • They employ fewer than 500 individuals at the plant site;
  • They have annual energy bills more than $100,000 and less than $2.5 million; and
  • They do not have professional in-house staff capable of performing an independent energy performance assessment.

In some circumstances, these criteria may be relaxed at the discretion of the IAC Field Manager and the Energy Department.

Location of IACs

IACs are located at engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) at universities within the US.  IAC status is awarded through a competitive solicitation—usually for a period of 5 years.  The most recent awards, issued in September 2011, resulted in the selection of 24 schools.  Over the life of the program, more than 50 universities have participated as IACs and they have trained more than 3000 students. 

IAC Assessment Process

The assessment begins with the IAC team conducting a survey of the eligible plant, followed by a one or two day site visit in which the team takes engineering measurements as a basis for assessment recommendations. The team then performs a detailed analysis for specific recommendations with related estimates of costs, performance and payback times. Within 60 days, a confidential report, detailing the analysis, findings and recommendations of the team is sent to the plant. In six to nine months, the team lead follows up with the plant manager to verify recommendations that have or will be implemented. Overall savings calculations are determined by adding the estimated savings values for each of the implemented recommendations.


Assessment ResultsStudents on an IAC assessment confirm Energy Use Readings associated with an industrial pumping system.

Since 2010, the IACs have conducted between 300–400 assessments per year.  On average, each manufacturer identified about $140,000 in potential annual energy savings and implemented more than one-third of these within the first year of the assessment.  The average payback period for recommendations that were implemented following an IAC assessment was 1.2 years.  Since 1981, over 16,000 IAC assessments have resulted in nearly $5.9 billion in energy savings and close to 28 million metric tons in CO₂ emissions reductions.


IAC/SME Collaboration

Beginning in 2013, the US Department of Energy announced a five-year collaboration between the IACs and SME.  The objectives of this collaboration are to enhance the training experience of both IAC and SME students; enhance the conduct of the assessments by incorporating more process improvement recommendations; and lastly, to increase the implementation rate of energy saving recommendations made by the IACs.  Because of their focus on manufacturing processes, SME students are ideally suited to collaborate with facility management to construct a business case for making the necessary investments to implement energy efficiency and process improvements.  Additional benefits include:

  • Promoting SME and IAC students to develop senior design capstone projects or graduate-level research projects based on follow-up efforts with manufacturers;
  • Increasing opportunities for reverse internships  (e.g., utility employees and others spend time with the IACs);
  • Creating affiliations for the IACs with other professional societies that also work with SME (ASME);
  • Encouraging IAC students to join SME;
  • Encouraging SME student chapter members to look at IAC employment opportunities;
  • Creating possible affiliations with Manufacturing Extension Partnership and SME student chapters;
  • Providing additional resources to small and medium-sized manufacturers through SME, without additional infrastructure at the Energy Department (e.g., direct links to SME
  • Education Foundation, SME Technical Community Networks, Manufacturing Education and Research, Lean to Green); and
  • Expanding the number of industry partners reached by the IAC program.

As the collaboration just completed its first year, the results were limited to a subset of pilot schools.  Nonetheless, three IACs (Oregon State, Tennessee Tech, and UMass) have completed a total of 11 joint assessments addressing both energy efficiency and productivity-related improvement opportunities.  On average, the value of identified opportunities exceeded $160,000 per assessment. Both SME and the IACs anticipate significantly expanding the scope of this innovative collaboration during the coming year. ME


This article was first published in the December 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 11/22/2013

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