The Complete Engineering® Podcast

Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center

We're reducing energy and we're reducing money for the companies, which we are. But what we're really doing is we're trying to save the environment, one kilowatt hour at a time.

Brittlin Hoge
Student Worker - Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center (NIAC)

In this episode of the Complete Engineering podcast, NIAC Director Bob Williams and student worker Brittlin Hoge join us to talk about how they are helping local businesses save big money from their energy assessments while Nebraska Engineering students also gain valuable field experience. Go Big Red!

NIAC Director Bob Williams and student worker Brittlin Hoge
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(Cornhusker Fight Song)

Narrator: Welcome the Complete Engineering Podcast, brought to you by the College of Engineering. We are Nebraska, where we develop complete engineers with the technical and non-technical skills to do big things. Visit us at

Matt Honke: Welcome to another episode of the Complete Engineer Podcast, brought to by the University of Nebraska, College of Engineering. I'm Matt Honke.

Karl Vogel: And I'm Karl Vogel.

Matt Honke: And today we're joined by Bob Williams and Britlin Hogue with the Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center. Bob is a associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering and is the director of the Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center. It was established in 2016 on a grant from the Department of Energy.

Karl Vogel: Britlin is a senior chemical engineering major with a minor in international engineering, and she works at the Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center and has for the last two years, also, a member of our engineering student advisory board.

Matt Honke: So Bob, let's start with telling us a little bit about the history of the IAC, how it began, and what is the Department of Energy looking to solve or improve upon with these regional IACs?

Bob Williams: The IAC program started in the Department of Energy about 40 years ago, although it's had different names through the years, and the idea is that DOE funds universities to train teams of students and staff to go out and provide no cost energy and cost saving assessments to small to medium sized manufacturers in the region. And the way we got involved here is that I've been involved along with my partner, Bruce Dvorak from civil engineering and BSE who started the Partners in Pollution Prevention program about 1997. He asked me to join him about six or seven years ago to oversee the industrial and the manufacturing summer projects. We had an idea at that time to apply for a DOE grant the next time it become available. We wrote the proposal in the spring of 2016. Found out in August that we were gonna be funded and we started operation in the fall of that year. We did our first assessment in the winter of 2017. We've since done about 32 assessments in the greater region. Most IACs operate in about 150 to 200 mile radius. We have the ability to go much further. With the assessments that have been done under the IAC program, the average annual savings to each client is about $136,000.

Karl Vogel: Wow. So, saving 136,000 out of a top end bill of two and a half million is a pretty significant chunk of money.

Bob Williams: Yes, it is, and there are also other benefits to the company as well. We do some education in energy efficiency. We're also training students that may become their future employees.

Karl Vogel: Along that line, (mumbles) ask Britlin here, how did you become involved, and what is it exactly you do in your role with the NIAC?

Brittlin Hoge: So, I first heard about the Partners in Pollution Prevention, or P3 program, along with the NIAC about two years ago when I was taking a course. It was taught up Dr. Bruce Dvorak, and so he made a pitch to all the students in his class saying the P3 program, the applications are now live. If you want to apply it's a really great thing. So, that was the first time I was really exposed to the work that the NIAC was doing. After that summer, Dr. Dvorak and Dr. Williams asked if I would like to join the NIAC team, and so, I accepted, and that's how I got started. What I do is I will be one of many team members that we choose to go on each assessment, and I will go with that group, and we will take a look at the, just the process that the company is doing, all the different aspects of it, and we will try to identify areas where they can save energy and therefore save money.

Bob Williams: Just to add a little bit to that, from the day that we perform the assessment we have 60 days to finish the technical report. We upload that to the field management office at Rutgers. They do a little bit of a quality check. Once they have approved it, then we give a copy to the company.

Matt Honke: The NIAC is also a partnership with the utilities and state agencies and other groups. Bob, why is this beneficial for your group to be a part of this work?

Bob Williams: It's very important for us to work with the utilities or the state agencies. For example, on the utility side we worked very closely with LES, NPPD. We've recently reached out to OPPD and also Black Hills. In the case of LES they provide us help when we go do an assessment. They have referred some of their clients to us. If our students like Britlin when they're analyzing the energy bills have a question about whether it's the electricity rate, whether it's the demand charges, we can reach out to LES. They can provide us more detailed information, which helps us do a better job of making the recommendations. Some of the agencies and the utilities have even gone out on assessments with us. They can help us identify rebate and incentive programs which make our recommendations for implementation even more cost effective. We also work closely with groups like the Nebraska State Energy Office, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. Again, they help get the word out. They answer technical questions that our students might have. Finally we work with the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership. One of their main goals is to provide some services to Nebraska manufacturers. In some cases, we can do things that maybe they don't provide, and vice versa. We may go in and do an assessment at a company and make a recommendation. We can then turn that over to MEP and they can follow up and contact the client about providing some follow up services.

Karl Vogel: You've mentioned before you've done 32 assessments to this point. What kind of feedback are you getting from these companies that you've assessed, and how has the work been benefiting not only those companies, but the people of the state in general?

Bob Williams: Since our two and a half years in operation, our implementation rate is close to 60%. We're very proud of that.

Karl Vogel: So, that's the companies implementing about 60% of what you recommend.

Bob Williams: That's correct, and we verify that by performing an implementation survey nine to 10 months after the date of the assessment. That's one of the things that we're required to do by our grant with DOE. We typically have the lead student contact the company and ask them whether or not they've implemented those. If they have, did they see the cost savings that we estimated? It helps us to perform our job better, part of our continuous improvement. We also ask them if some of our recommendations have resulted in some spinoff of ideas, either within their plant or maybe within another plant within their overall corporation.

Matt Honke: What are some of the businesses that graduates from the NIAC have gone on to to work for?

Bob Williams: We've had a student recently take a job with Kawasaki, General Dynamics, Lincoln Industries, and that's just local. We've had a couple go on to graduate school. We had one student move out of state to work for a software company. It's common for them to probably get a few opportunities per month based on their experience with the IAC.

Karl Vogel: Now, Britlin, you've had some experience interning with the Nebraska Energy Office, and now you've worked with the NIAC. How's that preparing you for your career, and what is it you're looking to do for a career?

Brittlin Hoge: I'm gonna be working as a process engineer with Black & Veatch in Kansas City. Being a part of the NIAC, one, has given me real problems working with real people who are running their own companies. It's really much more realistic of what it's going to be like when you are going to be working for a company. You're going to be a part of the team working on a real problem, but there's gonna be a whole bunch of different skill sets that are all brought to the table. So, that's really helped me out with preparing for my future job. I believe Bob had mentioned earlier that you had some experience being a team leader on some of these assessments.

Karl Vogel: How has that work as a team leader given you some experience that you're gonna need?

Brittlin Hoge: Being a team leader is a little bit different, because although you are also maybe creating an assessment recommendation for the report, you are contacting your team members to see where they are, if they need any more information. You are sort of the gateway. If they have any questions for the company they bring those questions to you, and then you can contact the company. So, really it's been a great experience being a leader and being able to really manage a team well. Being a part of the NIAC was really the first time I had ever had any sort of leadership experience like that.

Bob Williams: And to follow up on what Britlin said, another benefit for our students is that they get a chance hands on to go out into the factory floor and take measurements with some pretty interesting and sophisticated equipment. We have a FLIR thermal imaging camera, which we take with us. We have an ultrasonic leak detector, light meters, other types of data loggers, and measuring equipment that the students have a chance to use and then apply in a real world setting.

Matt Honke: At my house, I've had NPPD come there and they have the little Ghostbuster gun that tells me where air is coming through, you know, around doors and windows and through even outlets. Do you guys get into that kind of depth of how energy efficiency can save?

Bob Williams: We can, yes we can.

Brittlin Hoge: I actually at the wastewater treatment facility I'm currently working on a recommendation exactly for that actually because some of their doors, they just don't shut exactly right. Just looking at it you can see, oh, there's the snow outside and you can hold the Ghostbusters gun at it, and see this is the temperature in between the door where the air is coming in and this is the temperature of the room. And so then you can see the difference in temperatures and try to estimate if you were to get some sort of rubber paneling that you could just stick on there to try to seal that up how much could you save.

Matt Honke: It's crazy. I mean, I've seen it just in our own household the savings that we've had. To transfer that to an industry I can see where you can come up with these $140,000 worth of savings, that I could really, it makes a lot of sense.

Bob Williams: And the nice thing about our thermal imaging camera is it gives us the thermal image and simultaneously stores a nice digital image so that we can match those up exactly, put that in the report.

Matt Honke: So, there's the FLIR thermal imaging camera--

Bob Williams: FLIR is the brand name.

Matt Honke: Okay, not the Ghostbuster camera. (laughing) All right. So, what you guys see when you go out into these industries, that knowledge that you're taking back, that finds its way into courses then potentially and changes some of the curriculum and how we teach our students?

Bob Williams: Absolutely, the class that we use to train our P3 and IAC students, we've re-ramped that curriculum. We've brought in some of our partners to help teach some of that material. We've shared our experiences with the students. It's been very valuable, but also we had brought in that knowledge into almost every course that we teach, and that has broad impact on a range of students from, mostly from engineering, but a few from outside engineering as well. We also have some energy service companies that are our partners and they will come in and help train our students in things like boilers, cooling towers, lighting. Lighting is a good example because the technology is changing so fast. So, we have a lighting partner here in town, IC Energy Solutions, and they come and they train our students. They will even provide technical support to our students as they're working on their assessment recommendations.

Matt Honke: Well, this is the Complete Engineering Podcast, and that's in reference the Complete Engineer Initiative that we have here at the University of Nebraska. The six major tenants of the Complete Engineer Initiative are intercultural appreciation, leadership, team work, self-management, service and civic responsibility, and engineering ethics. What are some of the skills you've learned from the NIAC and your time there that have helped make you a more complete engineer?

Brittlin Hoge: The leadership aspect of it definitely has really helped me become more of a complete engineer. Being able to step into those leadership positions for the first time for me has really formed me into a better student going into my labs and my design classes. That has really helped with making me a better team member, because I have been really held to a high standard with the NIAC because it is work and you are working with real clients and your teammates depend on you. And so, getting things in on time and really doing quality work, that has really made me a better team member.

Matt Honke: And Bob, you've mentioned Bruce Dvorak several times, and he's with civil engineering. You're with mechanical engineering. That cross-discipline work, I mean, that's something that we're seeing more and more of in engineering. I mean, how much does that play a role in the success of a group like this?

Bob Williams: That's a huge part of the success. Bruce and I have worked together closely for the last six or seven years. We are co-principal investigators on more than a dozen grants in that time, both federal grants and also from the state agencies. I have helped support some of his graduate students, vice versa. He and his grants have helped support some of my students. I mean, a great relationship, so we work together very closely and I think it's been a very beneficial relationship for the whole college.

Karl Vogel: We're a little more than two and a half years into this NIAC and you've been doing very good work so far. What is the future for the NIAC?

Bob Williams: Hopefully things at the federal level will be such that the program will continue to receive funding and we can expand on our operations and bring more students onboard. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but we've been to five states so far. We also plan to work with some of the other IACs in the region and maybe do some joint assessments. We've talked to the folks down at Oklahoma State about doing some joint assessments.

Matt Honke: I'm curious. There's so much things that you guys are learning each time you go out there to these industries. I'll start with you Britlin. When you come home, do you act differently or do things differently around the house? Do you check things that you never would have checked before?

Brittlin Hoge: Oh yeah, definitely. I'm always the one of my roommates just turning off lights and turning down the thermostat and we've noticed that in companies as well that if we just do an assessment even if they don't implement any recommendations they are more cognizant of the ways that they are using energy and so their energy usage will go down, because just 'cause they're thinking more about it.

Matt Honke: And Bob, how about you?

Bob Williams: Well, I happen to live in Seward, and we get one bill that comes from the city that includes electricity, water, sewage, all on the same bill. So, yes, I've been looking at that more closely, trying to do more things, whether it's just in recycling and things like that, even in the office, not just at home. I keep track of all of my, you know, recycled bottles and cans and make sure I put them in the receptacles that we have here in the college.

Brittlin Hoge: It's great working with co-workers who are so passionate about being the environment because that's really what we're doing. We're reducing energy and we're reducing money for the companies, which we are, but what we're really doing is we're trying to save the environment, one kilowatt hour at a time. We're trying to reduce the energy usage and reduce the carbon emissions into the air, and so it's really inspiring to work with co-workers who believe in that and work under professors who believe in that, but also going to these companies and hearing about their leadership. They really love the idea that, oh, even if the payback period is really large and it's not gonna save all that much in money we really want to do it because it's gonna save a lot of energy, and that's what's important to them. So, it's really great meeting all these people who also are really passionate about that.

Matt Honke: So, you can save money and do the right thing all at the same time. Yup.

(bell ringing)

Matt Honke: Dog or cat?

Brittlin Hoge: Dogs.

Matt Honke: Who is your favorite superhero?

Bob Williams: Superman.

Matt Honke: Favorite tailgating food?

Brittlin Hoge: Burgers.

Matt Honke: Have you ever used a slide rule?

Bob Williams: Yes.

Matt Honke: First video game you owned?

Brittlin Hoge: Probably Wii Fit.

Matt Honke: Favorite musical genre?

Bob Williams: Classic rock.

Matt Honke: What was your favorite toy growing up?

Brittlin Hoge: I liked cards, like a nerd. (laughing)

Matt Honke: If you could time travel to when would you go?

Bob Williams: The old West.

Matt Honke: On a scale of one to 10 how strict were your parents?

Brittlin Hoge: Oh, nine.

Matt Honke: Do you know how to run a VCR?

Bob Williams: I don't have a VCR anymore. (laughing)

Matt Honke: Chocolate or vanilla?

Brittlin Hoge: Vanilla.

Matt Honke: Saturday or Sunday?

Bob Williams: Saturday.

Matt Honke: What's your pet peeve?

Brittlin Hoge: I don't like when people slurp their drinks.

Matt Honke: Pancakes or waffles?

Bob Williams: Waffles.

Matt Honke: And Herbie Husker or Little Red?

Brittlin Hoge: Little Red.

Matt Honke: Well, we want to thank Bob Williams and Britlin Hogue again for joining us from the Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center. You can contact them at By saving money, you can do the right thing, and that is something that I think we've all learned here today. Thank you.

Bob Williams: Thank you for having us, and we hope to hear from many of the companies in the area and see if we can't set up an assessment.

(piano music - Cornhusker fight song)

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