Energy efficiency: Getting a grip

18 August 2020

With energy consumption being one of the biggest costs to industry, Mike Loughran discusses some approaches that can help reduce these costs.

More energy efficient equipment is a great starting point for reducing energy costs! For example, a fixed-speed motor on a fan will be designed for the maximum demand of the system regardless of the airflow needed. So, even having the fan at 50% output, a fixed-speed motor will still use energy as if it were at 100%. Replacing that drive with a variable speed drive allows users to throttle back both the fan and the energy usage and make instant savings. 

To be truly energy efficient, it is important to understand energy usage data with much more context.  

Achieving the required level of contextualised data requires a fully connected enterprise with data enabled technologies throughout. The latest plant hardware is built with data in mind and can be connected to the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Historian and control and monitoring software or SCADA systems. Such a system enables:
• Real-time information display about assets’ energy usage to mitigate peak loads.
• Defined energy costs per product.
• The capability to automate legal requirements regarding documentation of energy usage.

Being armed with actionable intelligence gleaned from enterprise data offers ways to optimise energy usage. There are other benefits, as equipment that runs less efficiently often requires greater attention. 

Legacy equipment
Installing new hardware is not always an option. Legacy equipment, designed to operate for many years, was often installed before the data capability of Industrial Internet of Things era, so many process businesses are. Unable to retrieve accurate energy usage data and, in some instances, the only way to know how much energy equipment is using is to manually read a meter, record the output and then log it into another system. 

Achieving real-time energy usage control requires a network of hardware and software in constant communication. From sensors on equipment through to energy management software dashboards that allow for real-time visualisation control; information must flow freely throughout the plant. Operating legacy equipment does not preclude engineers from receiving these benefits, however, the correct software combination to unlock these capabilities must be deployed. 

With a robust system in place, it is possible to meet the requirements for reporting and define the assets that use the most energy. 

A recent example of the benefits of such a system involved a metals forge keen to reduce its energy consumption. The assets in the plant that used the most energy were the three furnaces. By allowing communication between the furnaces, it was possible to reduce energy consumption without affecting output by never operating more than two at full output at any time. In this particular example, the company saw energy savings from the reduced energy load being pulled down from the grid and was even able to negotiate existing contracts with energy suppliers based on actual usage data, further reducing energy costs.

There is no one size fits all approach to reducing energy use. Whether a plant is running legacy hardware or a brand-new manufacturing facility with the highest level of real-time analytics, results will vary from plant to plant. And how facility owners approach energy management will also vary as processes differ. The ubiquitous and unvarying benefit of energy use management is seen on the bottom-line. No matter what is manufactured, or the process being undertaken, getting a grip on energy use will hit the constant objective facility owners have for saving on fixed costs.

Environmental impact is something manufacturers must take as a personal responsibility, even the slightest changes within facilities reduce the emissions from power plants. Reducing the by-products that come with energy production create a cleaner and safer environment for all future generations to come, only in taking care of the environment can we continue to expand human possibility. 

Mike Loughran is CTO at Rockwell Automation.

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