Energy efficient design of production equipment

16 July 2013

Suzanne Gill reviews the findings of a recent report, produced as part of the EnEffAH – Energy Efficiency in Production in the Drive and Handling Technology Field Project – which forms part of the German government’s energy research programme.

The report, ‘Energy efficiency in production in the drive and handling technology field’ evaluates energy efficiency measures in the automation and positioning technology fields, with the aim of helping manufacturers to better understand and identify methods, tools and the alternative advantages of pneumatic and electric drive technologies for improving energy efficiency in automation processes and to understand the requirements of the application will entirely determine the right technology mix to ensure energy efficiency.

The project document outlines a range of technical and organisational topics, explores the basic principles and measures for increasing energy efficiency and shows that the correct selection of technology (effectiveness) and the correct operation (efficiency) are critical.
“There are no quick-fix solutions for increasing energy efficiency, as it must be viewed in an overall context, said Steve Sands, product manager at Festo. Commenting on the findings of the report, he said: “Trying to save money at a component level without considering the overall system is ineffective and parameters must be looked at in detail to provide lasting efficiencies and savings. Life time costs really must be considered; it makes no sense for it to take ten years to achieve a payback on an initial investment through improved efficiency if the expected life of the machine is only five years! Selecting the right measures and using drive technology correctly, means notable energy and cost savings can and must be reached.”

The project investigated both pneumatic and electric drive technology, including the functional chain and the use of these technologies in the field of handling and robotics.
The energy-efficient design of production systems is becoming more important. Improving energy efficiency often means enhancing a company’s own competitiveness. Customer requirements for energy-efficient machine and plant technology can be taken into account, while a company’s internal energy saving goals can be met. It can have additional advantages – processes are more transparent and improvements in areas other than energy productivity can be achieved too.

Efficiency measures are varied and can range from replacing a single component to redesigning an entire drive system, or completely revising a process. Simple organisational measures such as switching off systems or parts of systems or regular maintenance intervals can also result in significant improvements.

The report explains that energy efficiency should be incorporated in the planning process of a plant at an early stage to optimise the results. Raising awareness plays an important role in overcoming these obstacles. Typical counter measures can be introduced by educating and training employees, visualising energy consumption of individual components or implementing company-internal incentive systems. It is important, says the report, that the concept of energy efficiency is shared by all departments in the company.

Looking at the technologies
The report offers an overview of drive and handling technologies – focusing on pneumatic and electric drives. Selecting the technology for an application is a key decision for the efficiency of the entire system, even though, in principle, most applications in drive and handling technology could be implemented both pneumatically and electrically.

Increasing standardisation of individual components has made technologies interchangeable. Both pneumatic and electric drives have specific benefits and disadvantages. In addition to the actual function, factors such as the force required, acceleration, cycle time, precision, holding duration, and many other factors are necessary to select the more efficient technology or drive solution.

The report goes on to offer system overviews and comparisons of the technologies. It highlights the fact that there are a variety of possible approaches to improving energy efficiency. Technical and economical considerations generally prevent all the measures presented in the document being implemented, but by selecting the right measures and using drive and handling technology correctly, notable energy and cost savings can be reached in almost every company without performance deteriorations, it says.

The amount of energy that can be saved will depend on the specific local parameters. The measures themselves also play a role: some of the measures can be implemented with very little expense, while others are better suited as part of a system refurbishment or new system installation.

Having a holistic view of energy efficiency, rather than focusing exclusively on individual components, is also important. Continuous consideration of energy efficiency is more effective than a sporadic approach. It is important that energy efficiency is entrenched throughout the organisation if, in addition to energy-efficient technical solutions, a lasting and broad awareness of using energy sensibly at work is to be created.

In conclusion
The report concludes by reiterating the need for an interdisciplinary technological approach to achieve for optimal system design. Electric and pneumatic drive technologies each have specific advantages and disadvantages, both in terms of energy consumption and other aspects, such as flexibility and costs. Optimal application design is generally only possible after a careful analysis and consideration of these aspects. If this cannot be done in-house, technology suppliers should be able to provide assistance. In addition, more energy-oriented services are now being offered to support users on-site.

To download the original whitepaper go to:

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