Creative Financing Pays for Itself with Intelli-Hood

2020 has been the most unique year that I can remember, especially when it comes to our economy. Coming off 2019, the economy was strong, companies were reinvesting and spending money, and it looked like 2020 would be another great year — until March. Enter COVID-19; companies that could endure the pandemic had to pivot fast. Predictions for a record year were gone in a moment. For months, businesses across the country were shut down.

As Melink (and many other businesses) are trying to come out on the other side of COVID-19, many feel more timid than ever before about spending cash, and understandably so. Numerous projects are on hold as capital expenditure budgets are frozen for 2020, 2021, and even 2022 in some cases. 

Melink’s company mission is to change the world one building at a time by helping decision-makers implement energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions into their commercial facilities. Intelli-Hood® is a Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation (DCKV) system that saves money by reducing monthly operating expenses in commercial kitchen facilities. Often, Intelli-Hood can pay for itself in one to three years, making it a very attractive energy conservation application.

Intelli-Hood

The question arises: How do we continue to change the world one building at a time when spending has been put on an indefinite pause? 

I was recently working with a university that wanted to implement Intelli-Hood in a kitchen. Without any utility rebates taken into consideration, the $62,000 project was going to pay for itself in less than three years. Everything was moving right along until COVID-19 put everything on pause. But Melink is committed to working with its customers and customizing energy solutions, so discussions were continued with the university. We were able to come up with a creative financing solution that is a win/win for all parties: an Equipment Loan Program. This allows the customer to pay nothing out of pocket, while simultaneously being cashflow-positive the second we walk off the job site. Working with a lender, we can get the $62,000 financed for the university over five full years at monthly installments of $1,287 for a total investment of $77,220.

At Melink, our proposals come turnkey, along with a custom Energy Savings Report. These reports give you an idea of how much money you will save with Intelli-Hood. In this instance, the customer was going to save more than $18,000 in energy savings the first year alone, resulting in a positive cashflow of almost $3,000. On average, utility rates go up 3% every year, meaning that with the customer locked into an installment payment of $1,287 for 60 months, the positive cashflow will continue to increase year over year. After five years, the loan will be paid off in full and the benefits really kick in, saving more than $20,000 per year. 

Looking at a 10-year period, the customer is going to save more than $130,000 without having to pay anything upfront. While a traditional purchase would save more money ($148,000) over the same 10-year period, it would require the full upfront cost paid in full. 

Intelli-Hood Return on Investment

So, if your business is in a similar position where your budget is paused but you are still interested in saving energy, reducing greenhouse gasses, and cutting operating costs – maybe this creative financing can work for you, too. We can continue to work together to change the world one building at a time, all while exploring realistic options in the current economic climate. 

Intelli-Hood: Preventive Maintenance Is Critically Important (Not Just in Times of Crisis)

Preventive maintenance is truly important to your business’ operation. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many business owners are continuously evaluating their corporate strategies to determine contingency plans. However, as we ride this roller coaster of uncertainty together, it is important to not just strategize for short-term implications of the virus. Now is the time to determine the best steps — like preventive maintenance and reducing the risk of damage to unoccupied buildings — to assist your company on the road to recovery.

And, just like any rollercoaster at an amusement park, the beginning and end have a pinnacle moment. Currently, we are adapting to the changes being implemented to minimize the impact. How we adapt will influence what the pinnacle moment will look like as we return to normalcy.

Of course, it is anticipated by many that financial strains will be incurred by companies across the United States as well as the world. In recent years, the buzzword “resiliency” has swept many energy tradeshows. One thing to add to this — although not glamorous — is the critical importance of executing preventative maintenance on equipment. A few benefits of preventative maintenance include:

  • Maximizing the efficiency of the equipment
  • Reducing downtime cost
  • Avoiding costly, last-ditch-effort service repairs
  • Improving reliability

Therefore, during an economic challenge, it is critically important to the bottom line of any company to have its systems operating correctly.

Intelli-Hood preventive maintenance

Intelli-Hood Preventive Maintenance

Melink Corp has implemented Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation (DCKV) systems across thousands of kitchens as an energy control measure to reduce operating costs. When preventive maintenance is not performed, it can lead to expensive repairs and downtime. Consider these examples…

Systems are designed to “fail safe,” meaning even a simple error can result in all associated fans operating at 100% speed.

One VFD reaches its end-of-life cycle and fails. Instead of replacing the component, Operations decides it is best to bypass the VFD, which now has fans operating 24/7.

These examples have obvious implications to the facility’s bottom line and operating costs.

And taking the idea of preventive maintenance even further, businesses should plan for staff turnover. For example, if a system was installed 15 years ago, the likelihood of the same staff on site is low. Therefore, it is important to have all individuals trained on the equipment to understand standard maintenance operations.

Taking Preventive Maintenance Steps

So how can your business prevent fix-on-fail for DCKV systems and other equipment?

Discuss with manufacturers to see if preventative maintenance services are offered. The cost of a service is low compared to the potential savings that can be lost with a system not operating correctly. The goal is to have a company maximize its bottom line to become financially stable or, should I say, resilient.

Think of preventive maintenance actions as opportunities. Take advantage of the opportunity to complete a preventative maintenance service. This is the time to make adjustments to maximize efficiency and provide training to your team. All this assures your facility’s DCKV system is operating correctly to maximize comfort within the work environment.

We shall all remain hopeful and confident that through working together, we can ride out the roller coaster ride of COVID-19. Melink’s team of technicians is available to help with Intelli-Hood preventive maintenance or troubleshooting. Or maybe you’re wondering if it’s time to discuss a facility upgrade for your aging system. Contact us today.  

Intelli-Hood Cleaning

To maintain your kitchen’s system, regular Intelli-Hood cleaning is important. If general cleaning is not performed, the Intelli-Hood® system’s optic sensors can trigger a fault and will operate the fans at 100%, thus eliminating any opportunity for energy savings. Below we will cover tips to clean the temperature sensors, optic sensors, hood exterior, and touchpad.

Most system damage is related to improper cleaning. Before any cleaning procedure, it is important to consult your system’s reference guide. The general optic and temperature sensor guidelines below apply to all systems (IH1, IH2, IH3).

Cleaning the Optic Sensors

The most common Intelli-Hood cleaning issue is owners not taking proper precautions to protect the optic sensors. Each set of optics has an emitter and a receiver; these pieces have a resilience coating to protect them from general moisture. For Intelli-Hood to function properly, site staff needs to keep the optics clear of obstructions and clean the optic sensors periodically with non-abrasive, non-corrosive cleaning products. We recommend only using a mild cleaning detergent, such as Dawn dishsoap.

Cleaning Intelli-Hood optic sensors and emitters
Intelli-Hood Optic Sensor Box

How often should I clean? The time between cleanings is largely dependent on the volume of grease being exhausted. Optic sensors in kitchens with lots of grease-cooking may need to be cleaned several times a month. On the other hand, some kitchens may have sensors that can go several months between cleanings.  If sensors get too much build-up on the lenses, an optic fault will occur. The fans will run at full speed until the sensors are cleaned and reset.

How should I clean the optic sensors? Press the push-button latches on the sides of the optic box to remove the cover. Then wipe the lens of the optic circuit board with a soft, damp cloth. Replace the cover of the optic box ensuring that the green cable connecting the cover to the optic bracket is not in front of the lens.

Cleaning the Intelli-Hood optic sensors
Remove the optic box cover to clean the internal components.

Is hood cleaning safe? When performing a general cleaning of the kitchen hood, hood cleaners must be careful to keep the Intelli-Hood components dry. The optic sensors are water-resistant but not waterproof. The optic box should be sealed with thick tape and plastic wrap before using high pressure water, steam, or other cleaning chemicals in the hood. Hood cleaners should not soak any parts of the system. Harsh cleaning chemicals can lead to scratching of the optic lens. Care should be taken around the fire suppression device (ANSUL pipes) when cleaning; sometimes when cleaning, these can shift the placement of the optic sensors.

Cleaning the Temperature Sensors

Temperature sensors are encased by a round cylinder to help prevent contaminant buildup on the sensor itself. They rarely need to be cleaned.

Intelli-Hood cleaning temperature sensors
An Intelli-Hood temperature sensor

However, if extremely large amounts of grease or other contamination build up on the sensor, the probes should be brushed or wiped clean with a soft cloth. Do not wipe down the temperature sensors with force; it is not necessary for them to be absolutely spotless.

Pressure cleaning is not recommended. If water soaks the temperature sensors, the water will work its way back through the threads, reaching the center of the Intelli-Hood processor.

Cleaning Intelli-Hood’s Electrical Components

Touchpad: The touchpad may be wiped clean, but it should not be soaked with excessive water. If the face is damaged, special care must be taken to prevent water from getting through the label to the electronic components behind the face. 

Cleaning Intelli-Hood touchpad with soft cloth
Clean Intelli-Hood’s touchpad with a soft cloth.

If holes start to wear in the touchpad’s keypad, contact Melink for replacement parts. You may need to replace the labels or the entire touchpad, depending on the damage. If you do not fix the holes, the internal parts may get wet, eventually leading to system failure and kitchen downtime.

If a touchpad is replaced, caulk should be used to seal the backside. This sealant will help protect the touchpad from kitchen cleaners that are sprayed in its vicinity.

Hood Light Fixtures: The hood light fixtures must be kept dry, too. If water gets inside a light fixture, it could create a short on the circuit and damage the Intelli-Hood processor, which powers the lights.

End Cabinet: If an end cabinet is present, take care to avoid getting components on the inside wet. Generally, these cabinets are completely open from the top. 

Cleaning the Hood-Top Equipment

On top of the hood, you may find a number of Intelli-Hood components including the air purge unit, hood controllers, temperature probes, and control cables.  These components must remain dry.

If a hood cleaner or anyone else needs to be on top of the hood for any reason, they must be careful to avoid stepping on these components in order to keep them dry.

Access Intelli-Hood reference materialsFAQs, and how-to videos. For advanced troubleshooting, contact Melink Technical Support (available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) via web request or by calling 877-477-4190.

The Melink Umbrella

Are you an existing customer or follower of Melink?  I’m guessing the answer is “yes” if you’re reading this, so what all falls under the “Melink” umbrella? If you’re in the Cincinnati, OH region perhaps we’re best known for our super-green energy efficient HQ building, with a second on the way, or Steve Melink’s advocacy in the region surrounding energy efficiency and sustainability.  Those things help to show who we are as a company, however it isn’t always clear in what we do as a business to support this mission of changing the world one building at time. 

To help illustrate the portfolio of offerings at Melink, pretend for a moment you own a hotel, restaurant or operate an entity involving a commercial kitchen facility.  Prior to leaving for work in the morning you utilize your smartphone to check if your building is healthy for your employees and customers by swiping open your PositiV app to check the latest building health makers of indoor CO2, temperature, humidity and building pressure.  You notice that your building pressure has been trending in the negative for the past week and notify your Melink Test & Balance account manager that you’d like an investigative visit to determine the root cause and corrective measures prior to big event coming up.  You meet your Melink field-technician onsite who identifies the outside air damper on your RTU has been locked shut and there’s an insufficient amount of fresh outside air being supplied to your building.  This negative air pressure situation would have been substantially worse, however you have a self-learning adaptive control system that adjust the kitchen exhaust fan speeds in accordance with the cooking loads in real time.  Your Intelli-Hood control system automatically turns itself on in case the prep crew starts cooking without the fans and will preemptively warn your team if there’s an issue with the exhaust fan to mitigate risk from fire.

Knowing your building is back to optimal conditions you head to the back office to review your utility bill statements and prepare payments.  You’re sure there’s a billing error, however you remember this past month your new rooftop mounted solar system has been installed and commissioned resulting in 40% decline in your electrical bill.  Your gas bill for operations in the winter time has never been much of a concern since your buildings geothermal HVAC system is utilizing the ground underneath your parking lot as natural heat sink rather than using gas to boil water for your HVAC units.  In addition, you have a waste water reclamation system to extract the heat in the water being dumped in the sewer to preheat your domestic hot water tank. 

Welcome to the Melink umbrella.  While not all customers have the potential to benefit from the full suite of our offerings, these complementary business units make us a stronger partner for our customers as they invest in business growth in a responsible, sustainable manner. 

“We’ve Done Benchmarking. We’ve Done Lighting. What’s Next?!” Kitchen Ventilation.

Kitchen ventilation, both exhaust and make up air, represent a significant opportunity for kWh and kBTU reductions in your facility. Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation, or DCKV for short, uses both temperature and optic sensors to vary the speed of exhaust and make up air fans in response to precise cooking intensity underneath all of the kitchen hoods. By having the fans run only as fast as needed savings are gained on fan energy (with controls producing 40-60% average fan speed versus 100% without controls). In addition, there are heating and cooling savings gained because now the kitchen isn’t evacuating all the expensive air that was just conditioned.

These controls can be installed in new construction projects, usually being specified by the engineering firm in the design phase of your project, and should qualify for one LEED point. In addition, DCKV is a path to compliance for commercial building energy code for states that have adopted ASHRAE 90.1 2010 and greater. You can see what your state’s requirements are here.

Retrofitting the temperature and optic controls within existing kitchen exhaust hoods is equally effective at generating energy savings. At the outset of a project it’s important to confirm that the controls are UL 710 and 2017 listed which permits them to be installed in any manufacturer’s hood in any cooking application. There are many utility rebate incentive programs available for the installation of DCKV as well.

The financial impact to hospital operating costs is significant when kitchen exhaust and makeup air fans no longer run at full speed 24/7.  A study by the EPA demonstrated that each dollar saved by a non-profit hospital through improved energy performance is the same as generating $20 in new revenues (incidentally that same dollar saved in a for-profit facility is like increasing EPS by one penny).

A recent project that Melink completed at a Mid-West hospital produced $20,000 (per year) in electrical, heating and cooling savings combined.  Using the EPA study metrics, this produced the equivalent of $400,000 in new revenue for this facility.  Taking rebate incentives for our technology, the hospital paid their original investment back in less than one year.

Ultimately the goal of any DCKV project is to install controls that maximize the energy savings within the kitchen. The controls will help in compliance with building energy codes, attain LEED points and make the kitchen quieter and more comfortable. This article, which recently appeared in the American Society for Healthcare Engineering publication, Inside ASHE, goes into greater detail on these topics and dives deeper into how these controls pay back initial investments.

Find the Inside ASHE article on kitchen ventilation here.

Noise! Noise! Noise! Reduce The Noise!

The Holidays are upon us, with all the excitement and the parties. As the Grinch says, “And Then! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!”

Now, I am no Grinch about the holidays, but prior to my tenure here at Melink I worked for nearly 10 years as an Environmental Health and Safety Manager within a large chemical facility, and there were various work areas which exceeded noise thresholds requiring hearing protection. It was LOUD. This is where I became cognoscente of NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) standards for hearing conservation,

NIOSH states continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA (adjusted decibels) over time will cause hearing loss. The volume (dBA) and the length of exposure to the sound will tell you how harmful the noise is. In general, the louder the noise, the less time required before hearing loss will occur. According to the NIOSH, the maximum exposure time at 85 dBA is eight hours.

Although we may not be able to control the noise of the holiday party or the loud toys the children will receive on Christmas day, perhaps within the working environments of commercial kitchens we can make drastic improvements and reduce the overall noise level.

Studies have been conducted over the years and dependent on many variables such as the size of the kitchen spaces, the duration of peak activity, and other various factors the overall noise level at times approach or exceed the 85dBA level, sources show a typical restaurant operates at 80 dB, although this value does not trigger hearing protection, some restaurants are known to reach 110 dB at times which is the noise level of a jackhammer! Think of the last time you were at your favorite restaurant and seated near the kitchen entrance versus the opposite side of the room.

Demand control kitchen ventilation can help not just provide energy savings but also reduce the noise levels drastically, especially over an 8-hour timeframe for employees in the kitchen spaces. When researching kitchen exhaust fans one will find that the noise levels are reported as a “sone” which depending on the static pressure of the design the noise levels can vary. A sone is a unit of loudness, how loud a sound is perceived. Doubling the perceived loudness doubles the sone value. Within fan specs of kitchen exhaust fans manufacturers indicate the “Sones” level for example a 5hp kitchen exhaust fan has a sone level ranging from 16.5 to 26 sones dependent on duct design. Per the decibel level and sones conversion chart this is equivalent to around 68.3 to 74.9 dB!

Now considering utilizing a temperature and optic based demand control kitchen ventilation, such as Intelli-Hood, can reduce fan speeds by 30-45% average fan speed over a 24hr period consider the reduction of noise exposure this provides. It is not uncommon for customers post installation of a Melink Intelli-Hood system to recognize significant noise reduction, many times commenting that during food prep hours, although the fans are “turned on” they operate at a minimum speed and it sounds like they are not even operating!

Perhaps you are in a position of influence of the decision to retrofit Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation, or perhaps evaluating and analyzing the opportunity for a client. Remember that there is more savings than simply energy that can be considered when evaluating demand control kitchen ventilation.

Customer Experience – The Key Differentiator

Good is no longer good enough! It seems it was only yesterday that every business claimed the key to winning customers was the quality of product or service they deliver. Here at Melink, we’re changing the game to focus on the customer experience! According to a Walker study, by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. So, what is customer experience you ask? Customer experience is your customers’ perception of how the company treats them. These perceptions affect their behaviors and build memories and feelings, and may drive their loyalty. In other words, if they like you and continue to like you, they are going to do business with you and recommend you to the others. With customer experience being the new battlefield, companies are changing their approach, offerings, and business practices. Sales teams are working harder to learn their customers and their customer’s business, so they can create the “wow”. Hotel managers, restaurant chains, and even doctors’ offices are focused on creating an experience that knocks their customers socks off, instead of just standard practices.

These days, social media gives the consumer a lot of power and impact. There’s an instant feedback loop and the cluster of data starts to create the company’s reputation. For example, if you get on Amazon to buy a new bike for your son, you’re likely going to check the performance stars and the customer reviews. Any of those reviews can be the difference between you purchasing that bike and moving on to a different bike. If you’re looking for a surgeon and every website has them at 3 out of 5 stars, you’re likely going to move on to the next guy. He may be the best surgeon in the land, but his rude receptionist and office staff have poor bedside manner and make people miserable when they go in to see him. If you go to a fast-food burger joint, how likely is it that you’re going to write a positive Yelp review if you pull up to the drive thru, order your food, pay the correct amount, get the correct change and correct order, and you leave in a timely manner? Probably never! They didn’t go above and beyond and create the “wow”! If you want to improve the customer experience, there must be a “wow”! Recently I went through a drive thru myself and was caught off guard with my experience. When I pulled up it was raining. Normally I would get soaked reaching out to hand over the money. This time the cashier stuck an umbrella out the window, so I wouldn’t get drenched. Super small, super easy, but I was impressed! I’ve never seen it before in my time on this earth and he was focused on my experience! I did write a review and I tipped a drive-thru cashier for the first time!

Millennials are changing the game and companies need to embrace it. Sure, the entitlement is out of control, but the business practice changes are not all bad. If you’re focusing only on your product or service and not how your customer feels about the entire experience, you’re in trouble! Some of the large hotel companies are incentivizing their General Managers on customer experience and guest loyalty. The baby-boomers want to talk, interact, have face-to-face experiences with nice people. The millennials want to check-in swiftly to the hotel with no hiccups and have issues resolved quickly. Management needs to address all their consumer personas in a unique way to setup the individual customer experiences for success.

What happens if you fail to provide a positive customer experience? According to a recent study, 67% of customers mention bad experiences as a reason for churn and only 1 in 26 unhappy customers complain. That means companies not focused on the customer experience will lose customers well after it’s too late! Most of this is the result of what I refer to as “sales autopilot”. When you’re there trying to make it look like your product is perfect for them, without the data, you end up losing trust with them. Trust, brand and customer experience are all built on honesty. And honesty is knowing when your product won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. Therefore it’s so important to stop selling and start solving!

Since most companies will be expected to compete mainly on customer experience, organizations like Melink that focus on customer experience will stand out from the noise and win loyal customers over. One thing is for sure, if you want your customer to have an excellent customer experience and create a “wow” you must know your customers better than ever before! Here at Melink, my team and I are completing customer profiles and personas to improve individual experiences. Once you know your customers well enough, you can use that knowledge to personalize every interaction. Customers these days have more power and choice than ever before. Thus, we are responsible for understanding and acknowledging their needs. When people ask what we do, it shouldn’t be Test & Balance, Demand-Controlled Kitchen Ventilation (DCKV), Solar, or Geothermal, it should be creating the best customer experience in renewable and energy reduction markets for our customers!

The Culprit of Corporate Cafeteria Energy Consumption

Corporate cafeterias have taken off over the last decade, and the trend is not slowing. Businesses and building owners have been adding new cafeterias or expanding current ones to help with recruitment of the millennial generation, boost employee retention and satisfaction, and establish a more inviting work environment. While providing a value to employees, cooperate cafeterias are one of the largest operation costs within the building. After all, food service areas account for the highest energy cost per square foot in the commercial building sector.

Cafeteria Energy Consumption Culprit:
THE KITCHEN VENTILATION SYSTEM

The expansion of cafeterias and new cooking techniques create new challenges for kitchen design, code compliance, and added ventilation among other things. A commercial building’s HVAC system accounts for about 29% of energy consumption, and up to 75% of the HVAC energy consumption is contributed to the kitchen hood ventilation system. Kitchen hoods normally run at 100% fan speed from open to close — sometimes even running for 24 hours a day. Even during slow hours of operation, the system is continuously running at 100%. Any time the fan is on, the kitchen hood’s exhaust fans are pulling perfectly good conditioned air out of the building. At the same time, the makeup air unit is trying to respond to this and is heating/cooling the air to redistribute it back into the kitchen. It is a vicious cycle of wasted energy and wasted money.

Solution:
DEMAND CONTROL KITCHEN VENTILATION (DCKV)

DCKV systems utilize optic and/or temperature sensors to actively modulate the exhaust and make up air fans based on the cooking activity within the fume hood. So what does this mean? If your kitchen has downtime and there is no active cooking, the fans will automatically lower their run speed to conserve energy. As cooking starts, fan speed will rev up appropriately until it hits the maximum speed of 100%, if necessary. This allows the highest energy savings, as well as increased comfort and safety for building occupants. DCKV is also easy to implement. It is a low-cost project that is equally effective in new construction or retro-fit during remodels. Savings from installing DCKV can be used to accelerate your payback for the addition of your corporate kitchen, making the cost of the kitchen less.

Interested in seeing how DCKV could benefit your company or commercial building? Contact us for a free energy savings report to see just how much you could save!

Intelli-Hood Barcelona Hotel Retrofit Case Study

CONTEXT

Intelli-Hood was installed in the NH Constanza by Savergy Solutions in Barcelona, Spain in December of 2015.

  • Total motor power: 3.75 HP
  • Daily operating hours: 12.5
  • Days per week: 7
  • Weeks per year: 52
  • Cost per kilowatt hour: 0.11 EURO

RESULTS

 

Energy savings graphic

Below is a sample graph of the varying exhaust fan speed for one day at the hotel:

Green graphic

And here are before (navy) and after (green) reduction results of kilowatt hours, heat load, and exhaust volume.

Bar graph

 

Could Intelli-Hood be a fit for my project?

Are you curious how much energy Intelli-Hood could save within your commercial or industrial kitchens?  Submit an energy savings estimate request form at the bottom of our Intelli-Hood page to get started.

 

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