Energy is one of the biggest operating costs in manufacturing, accounting for up to 20 percent of total operating costs, according to a 2012 survey by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
Energy costs rise and fall based on a number of factors, with the price of oil a top factor. But no matter what a company makes, it still needs to pay for its energy use. And despite oil price plummeting to the $40-$50 per barrel range, energy production and consumption in process manufacturing plants remain a high share of operating expense.
Slashing the number of energy dollars spent seems like a no-brainer: cut the costs; boost the bottom line. But reducing energy costs is more difficult to achieve than by simply turning out the lights. It has traditionally been such an elusive goal that any operational leaders have written it off as a lost cause. New technology is changing that mindset. Some forward-thinking energy managers are already using the Internet of Things to cut their organization’s energy costs by 5 to 15 percent.
By operating across several machines and sensor types, Internet of Things can draw from aggregate data conclusions that can’t be drawn from local data. Software operating across several types of machine data can also draw out useful system insights. For example, a software update might include a better algorithm for setting an automobile’s fuel-air mixtures that would improve fuel economy. This real-time information allows for action in addition to analysis, as the right expert, whether a facility manager, or energy specialist can look at the data given and respond.
Finding the Energy Draining Culprits
Many plants don’t have the technology in place to track and measure energy use. On top of that, information on a plant’s energy production and consumption isn’t consolidated into a single place. Energy production and consumption data is often not visible in real time and isn’t presented at a level granular enough to reflect how changes in behavior affect energy use.
With limited information at their disposal, energy managers can have a difficult time finding the places where energy use could improve. To develop a clear energy-saving strategy and drive energy-saving behavior, managers need to boost monitoring capabilities and this data needs to be coordinated into a single system.
The Internet of Things captures information seamlessly from the sensors and machines that monitor all aspects of the manufacturing process. The information it returns offer greater visibility into actionable data that can result in significant energy savings. Network sensors track energy performance, monitor for leaks and flag any subpar operating situations.
What’s more, the Internet of Things gets the right information to the right expert– whether that person is an onsite manager, an off-site facility specialist, or a third party expert—when they need it, so they can make the best decisions to improve energy performance.
To look at how the Internet of Things aids industrial users, take the example of Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor), which reduced energy use by up to 15 percent within one year at its Northwood pulp mill in Prince George, British Columbia, by upgrading controls. The additional process control reduced fuel consumption and variability at one of the company’s two lime-kiln process units.
The company installed Emerson’s DeltaV Predict advanced control platform, part of a process automation suite from Emerson that uses sensors and other data gathered via the Internet of Things to control process parameters, according to Dave Sordi, process control engineer at Canfor.
Adding “pervasive sensing” technology to a plant allows for real-time alerts that notify energy managers about wasteful situations. Energy managers can then take timely action before their operation loses large amounts of money.
Monitoring and Partnering for Savings
So what are the Top Quartile Performers doing differently from those manufacturers who still see about 20 percent of their operating costs go to inefficient energy use?
Managers at these companies make energy savings a priority. To that end, they deploy the Internet of Things to automatically get the energy-use information they request all in one place.
The Internet of Things offers greater visibility into actionable data that can result in significant energy savings. Network sensors track energy performance, monitor for leaks and flag any subpar operating situations. Adding Internet of Things sensor technology to a plant allows for real-time alerts that notify energy managers about wasteful situations. Energy managers can then take timely action before their operation loses large amounts of money.
Energy managers—with titles like senior vice presidents of operations, corporate energy managers, and corporate sustainability managers—who want to add Internet of Things technology for energy monitoring will likely want to bring a sensor and technology provider into their discussions. Energy managers will also want to work out an enterprise-wide energy performance standard. They’ll also want to analyze how—and how soon—the technology will provide return on assets.
A service provider can also help energy managers implement wireless infrastructure if needed or add energy measurement to an existing wireless infrastructure, whether for a pilot project or across the entire site.
The task need not be overwhelming and the return on investment can be great, as Canfor has seen.