Stuck with Islands of Efficiency? Comprehensive Energy Management Yields Greater Gains

June 22, 2012
Collaborative energy strategies facilitate communication across enterprise domains, slashing waste and optimizing production.

Imagine transporting a manufacturing executive from 1998 straight into an operations meeting (at the very same company) today. This wildly confused exec would look at todays raw material costs and quickly pronounce them insanely inaccurate.

Just over a decade ago, our world was dubbed as drowning in oil, (a phrase coined in a March 1999 issue of the Economist). Experts predicted we had more than enough affordable energy and other (now-limited) raw materials to comfortably carry on rapid, global industrialization. But though our fuel was plentiful, data on how we used it was not.

Needless to say, such a statement is not so easily made today. Volatile energy prices and uncertainty over the source that will power us into the future, compounded with rising environmental and climate-change concerns, have made energy efficiency and management a make-or-break strategy. And though our world has shifted, we now have one tremendously significant advantage -- a plethora of inexpensive, easily captured data.

Integrated Solutions are Needed

Comprehensive energy management integrates all parts of a business, from the data center to the manufacturing floor. It is no longer acceptable or smart to allow each domain of the operation to consume energy independently of the others. In fact, it is vital we know where our energy dollars are going, where more are needed and where consumption and waste can be reduced.

Were seeing more and more of our customers in multiple industries combat rising energy costs by intelligently using available data to adopt energy efficiency and automation technologies, and apply them throughout the organization -- especially those that can optimize existing facilities or processes.

Intelligent Metering Provides Granular View

Advances in data collection, remote monitoring and automation have enabled the water and wastewater-management sector to precisely predict storms like never before; and alert, prepare and ready their operations for storms from one point of access -- saving energy and taxpayer dollars. In manufacturing, intelligent metering is being used to get a granular view into where and why high energy usages occur -- and eliminate them when unnecessary (such as on weekends when production drops).

And in energy-intensive industries such as mining, companies are now adapting to governmental and societal pressures to reduce their carbon footprints by turning to three major tools: power metering solutions (to measure the entire spectrum of energy utilization, including air, gas, electric and steam); monitoring software; and enterprise energy management systems, which control the cost, quality and reliability of energy.

A good example of how companies can use data intelligently and achieve efficiency is to look at what we did in one of our own facilities. Our Lexington, Ky., plant manufactures both high-volume standard products and customized solutions for power control, distribution and safety functions for end users in the energy/infrastructure, industry, data center, buildings and residential markets. Here, we challenged ourselves to reduce our energy use by 4% each year, and in doing so, found the collaboration of the manufacturing, maintenance and facilities departments was the only way to continue this success year over year.

These three departments worked together to install and manage simple technologies to improve efficiency in all three areas:

  • Occupancy sensors for lighting conference rooms, mezzanines and storage areas
  • High-speed roll-up doors to reduce the plants negative air pressure, reducing the need for make-up air
  • Variable frequency drives on HVAC systems to more efficiently control heating and cooling
  • Servo motor driven hydraulic pumps to generate hydraulic energy (vs. the past practice of maintaining constant pump output and porting unneeded pressure to tank)
  • Replacing all light fixtures in the plant with new 6-lamp (32 watt), highly efficient fluorescent fixtures
  • Scheduling the start/stop times of the plant HVAC systems to coincide with production hours and coordinating chiller start-up with the lowest peak billing hours from the electric utility
  • Developing a comprehensive program to find and correct leaks in the compressed air systems
  • Utilize consolidated material drying equipment to reduce energy consumption required in the plastic injection molding area
  • Insulating injection molding machine barrels to reduce heat loss

Just by implementing these simple strategies, our plant has reduced its energy consumption by 13% since 2007.

Collaborative Management

And to combat rising costs of energy and other raw materials in this same plant, we also incorporated collaborative management and automation techniques to maximize our available data and create a highly intelligent manufacturing process significantly reducing costs, improving productivity and realizing high ROI on multiple fronts. These strategies included:

  • Implementation of the RFID (radio frequency identification technology) system OSITrack, as well as conveyor systems to eliminate isolated systems and reduce waste
  • Quantum PLCs to run the entire line and provide a mature, stable operating system, robust hardware and back-up support, without requiring the use of a PC
  • Installation of the first-known integration of two carrier conveyor systems in the United States, enabling quick and stable paint processing at 60 feet and 27 feet per minute on each respective system gaining up to 30% additional paint system capacity
  • The launch of over one mile of total conveyor system moving components, from the raw material state through painting, assembly and final packaging areas creating a load center every six seconds
  • Use of Magelis HMI touch panels, which give operators a real-time view of the entire conveyor system, carrier locations and product batching

The new system offers numerous applications that provide production, logistical and identification data to track nearly 900 carriers via sensors and readers throughout the plant. This collaborative automation gave us the knowledge of where every component is at all times, as well as the product state the component is in -- from raw material to finished goods -- allowing our plant managers to better allocate all material resources.

The intelligence gleaned through the new system regarding materials handling has resulted in over $1 million per year saved on operational costs. This is because the system, which runs at 100% uptime, minimizes manpower requirements for transportation, loading and unloading, increasing overall production and resource management. This has eliminated our wasteful materials handling, reducing non-value add work content by nearly 70%; and has significantly lessened the 128 miles of fork-truck travel our workers were driving daily. Additionally, our system has allowed us to mitigate our forklift activity by over 60%.

Since being able to limit the amount of storage or buffering needed for our product components, our volume of WIP (work in process) has decreased by $500,000 per year. The automation of manual processes has also reduced our work-related injuries by 46%, significantly improving the work environment for our employees.

Manufacturers in the United States need to be increasingly ready to compete in a global market place -- an industry that is now seeing companies using advanced technologies to create highly intelligent processes. The most effective competitive edge can stem from leveraging data, collaborative automation tools and technologies to streamline operations in turn boosting productivity, reducing costs and improving the bottom line, while also slashing energy consumption.

Mark Mancini is Vice President, End User Sales & Marketing, Industry Business, Schneider Electric, and Bob Spence is Plant Manager/Operations, Schneider Electric. Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management with operations in more than 100 countries, Schneider Electric offers integrated solutions across multiple market segments.

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