Popcorn producer partners with local electric co-op on projects to improve energy use, maintenance costs
The day at Gutwein Popcorn didn’t start with a pop. It was a screeching howl – occasionally followed by a snapping fan belt.
Every few months, fan belts would inevitably snap from pressure created when jolting large 75-horsepower motors to life as part of the company’s dust and air cleaning systems. Fortunately, the family-owned business received support from its local electric cooperative for improvements that saved on maintenance – and long-term energy costs.
Gutwein Popcorn received more than $45,000 in Power Moves® energy efficiency rebates from Carroll White REMC, its local power provider. The electric cooperative offered the rebates over several years for multiple projects, including upgrades to LED lighting and installation of variable frequency drives. The VFDs improve control of motors so that they only use the amount of electricity needed. They also enable equipment to ramp up and slow down slowly, rather than sudden starts and abrupt stops that can happen when turning equipment on and off.
Prior to the VFDs, the company was replacing at least one fan belt every two months. The business has not needed to replace one since.
“When those motors would start prior to VFDs, they would make all kinds of racket,” Gutwein Popcorn owner Harvey Gutwein said of the dust and air cleaning systems. “Now with the VFDs, they start slowly and ramp up. It even helps the life on the belts, and the life on the motor.”
The company worked with Carroll White on its first Power Moves rebate in 2018. Gutwein Popcorn’s electrician encouraged the business to talk with the electric cooperative when upgrading lighting to LEDs; that led to an initial rebate of nearly $4,300.
Gutwein Popcorn most recently constructed a new warehouse and added VFDs to fans in new grain bins where the company conditions corn. The bins include sensors that control the fans as needed to get the desired moisture needed for the corn stored in the bin. Carroll White awarded the company $19,610 for in 2022. Since 2018, the company’s Power Moves projects have collectively saved more than 305,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
“It’s good for us, and I hope it’s good for them,” said Tyler Gutwein, Harvey’s son and plant manager for Gutwein Popcorn. “We’re buying electricity from them, and hopefully with these upgrades including VFDs, it’s lowering our cost and helping them to keep some of the peak demand down.”
Harvey Gutwein started the business in 1998 and it has been steadily growing since. He first rented space in the Francesville, Indiana, building that the company now owns. The Gutweins have added more grain bins and facility space to accommodate the growth.
Gutwein Popcorn sells popcorn across the United States, and routinely fills shipping containers with its popcorn sold overseas in Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines. In late 2022, the company shipped its first loads of popcorn to Egypt.
The business is planning its next projects, including adding VFDs to more grain bins that do not yet have them.
“Gutwein Popcorn is an incredible success story that highlights how Hoosier businesses can serve customers around the world,” said Cathy Raderstorf, CEO of Carroll White REMC. “We are proud to support Harvey, Tyler and everyone at Gutwein Popcorn to overcome challenges and accomplish their goals so that they can continue to flourish right here in our community.”