In April, electronics assembler Mack Technologies completed work on a substantial installation of money-saving technology at its factory in Westford, MA. The company didn’t get a new paste printer, reflow oven or pick-and-place machine. In fact, the plant’s slick new technology had nothing to do with assembly.

What Mack did was install new lighting. On the shop floor, Mack replaced 2,600 T-8 fluorescent bulbs with high-efficiency LED fixtures. In the office area, Mack replaced several hundred older bulbs with high-performance T-8 bulbs. The project was the largest retrofit deployment of LED lighting in any manufacturing space in New England.

The investment will save Mack Technologies more than $50,000 in annual lighting costs. In addition, the company will receive some $130,000 through a combination of state and federal tax credits and incentives from the local utility. Mack expects a two-year payback on the investment.

Mack is not unique. Across the country, manufacturers are giving more scrutiny to their energy costs. Amazingly, manufacturers once considered their utility bills a fixed cost. Not so, today. Having streamlined their operations through automation, lean manufacturing and other initiatives, manufacturers are now beginning to look at their energy costs as a source of savings.

It’s a welcome trend and one that’s already bearing fruit. According to a new study from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), total energy consumption in manufacturing decreased by 17 percent from 2002 to 2010. Manufacturing gross output decreased by only 3 percent over the same period. Taken together, these data indicate a significant decline in the amount of energy used per unit of gross manufacturing output.

This significant decline in energy intensity reflects both improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the nation’s manufacturing output mix. Consumption of every fuel used for manufacturing declined over the period.

The EIA looked at manufacturers’ energy consumption in two ways: as a fuel for heat and power and as a raw material to be turned into a final product. Manufacturers used more than 14 quadrillion BTU of energy as a fuel in 2010, a decrease of 13 percent from 2002. Manufacturers used 6 quadrillion BTU of energy as a raw material in 2010, a slight increase from 2002.

 Although we have all been enjoying the benefits of the natural gas boom here in the United States, we cannot afford to get complacent. We applaud U.S. manufacturers for their energy-saving efforts to date, and we encourage all manufacturers to keep looking for ways to save energy. Have you performed an energy audit lately? Have you assessed the performance of your compressed air system? As Mack Technologies discovered, even small things like changing a light bulb can make a big impact on the bottom line.