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Lean Machine: How Sustainability Champion Charlie Barker is Helping Save Energy in Rutland

January 20, 2022 | by Taylor Frommeyer
In Rutland, Vermont – also known as the Green Mountain State – a committed team of GE Aviation employees make small and large changes every day to save energy throughout the plant. This past year, GE’s Rutland employees have saved over $57,000 on energy costs, and they’re on trajectory to top it.

Facilities Engineer Charlie Barker has been the leader of the GE Aviation Rutland Energy Efficiency Program for the past 14 years. Charlie’s efforts have resulted in 115 energy conservation projects, saving 16,053,903 kilo-watt hours in electrical and over 12,541 tons of greenhouse gas emissions at the Rutland aircraft airfoil manufacturing operation.

Need help conceptualizing that? Think of it this way: 16,053,903 kilo-watt hours is equivalent to 2,474 passenger vehicles driven for one year. And 12,541 tons of greenhouse gas emissions is equal to 2,067 homes' electricity use for one year.

Top and above: Facilities Engineer Charlie Barker has been the leader of the GE Aviation Rutland Energy Efficiency Program for the past 14 years.

How does he do it? Well, many hands make light work. Barker organizes activities designed to inspire employees to conserve energy, and frankly, to show them how easy it can be. “We’ve run a lot of treasure hunts, compressed air audits, and regularly share opportunities for employees to save energy,” he says.

“One thing about our plant is that we always get a lot of employee engagement when we run events like this. We have a lot of employees who are very passionate about the environment; they’re used to telling their kids to turn the lights off and save water at home. It’s great that employees have the opportunity to contribute to our energy conservation measures at the site,” Barker says.

His energy conservation efforts align seamlessly with other GE business priorities, especially related to Lean. “Our plant is going through a Lean transformation, and energy efficiency fits really well into that model. It’s all about getting more with less: getting more out by using less energy to produce it,” says Barker. Between reducing energy waste and more productive business practices, Rutland employees are making strides.

In addition to weaving more sustainable business practices into everyday work, Barker is also coaching future facility engineers to find more sustainable ways of working during their education. He leads the GE Rutland Maintenance Electronics Apprentice Program in partnership with Vermont Technical College. For the students’ senior engineering project, he challenged the apprentices to design automated energy saving solutions to make the conservation more reliable and consistent.

The benefits are two-fold: the apprentices’ projects are still operating at Rutland, and the program is also recruiting skilled workers to the site.

Barker mentored the apprentices as they conducted research, implemented solutions, and quantified savings. Projects included adding variable speed drives and controls to air handlers and coating spay booths, installing compressed air saving controls on machine tools, upgrading obsolete controls in their electrolyte filtration system, and installing conductivity meters and level sensors to conserve water on rinse tanks. Collectively they were able to save: 62,083 kilo-watt hours, 12,527 gallons of propane, 3.7 million gallons of water annually, resulting in cost savings of over $57,000 and 227,411 pounds of CO2 annually.

Barker attributes his successes to the support of the Rutland employees. “It’s really beneficial to have a fresh set of eyes to challenge the way we do things," he says.

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.