‘Big Brother’ sensors encourage factory workers to cut energy usage

Posted on 10 Jun 2013

New ways of empowering factory employees to cut energy use have been successfully trialled by a consortium of UK universities and businesses.

Energy usage data is collected by specially developed low-cost sensors and fed into a live 3D computer model of the factory that staff can check on their PCs, allowing them to pinpoint where energy is being wasted.

The sensors automatically trigger text messages reminding staff to turn off lights and equipment that have been left on.

Following a six-month one Derbyshire factory has reduced energy use by 20%.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), this approach to reducing energy use has been developed with specialists in clean technology Moixa Technology working alongside the universities of Dundee, Leeds, Southampton, University College London and several other industrial partners*.

The successful six-month trial took place at the Federal Mogul factory in Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Sensors have been designed to combine lightness with the robustness needed in a factory environment.

The results are based not just on the sensors and computer software specially developed for the project, but also on encouraging staff to take a more active role in energy saving.

“When empty areas are over-lit or computers are left on at night, for example, it’s the workforce that’s best placed to do something about it,” says consortium project manager Dan Mason of Moixa Technology. “Engaging with them about energy saving through workshops and interviews has been at the heart of the consortium’s approach.”

Live, site-wide energy consumption information at a glance
Live, site-wide energy consumption information at a glance

Key innovations tested during the trial and showing particular promise included:

• A live, constantly updated 3D computer model showing energy use in different parts of the factory and sent to staff computers. A green/yellow/red coding system highlighted parts of the building and individual machines where energy consumption was excessive.

• Texts and emails sent to specific employees alerting them to take action – e.g. the ‘last man out’ at the end of a shift received a message just before they left reminding them to turn off unnecessary lights and machinery.

• Competitions between employees on different shifts to see which shift could achieve the most energy savings. Although no prizes were awarded, the kudos associated with victory was shown to provide strong motivation to save energy.

The consortium says that in contrast to the new system, the expensive, highly automated energy saving systems currently used in many workplaces (e.g. automatic lighting and climate controls) frequently fail to achieve substantial, permanent cost savings.

As well as requiring substantial capital investment, they can unwittingly foster a ‘not my problem’ attitude towards all aspects of energy consumption and even towards other areas of business activity, the researchers claim.

* Industrial partners include Arup, Vitamins Design, More Associates and Federal Mogul.

More information about the sensor project can be found here www.moixaenergy.com/tsb.asp

A short video on the project (called The Energy Project) is available on Youtube at

For more information on how to develop the right energy strategy for you manufacturing organisation, attend The Manufacturer’s Energy Conference 2013 in Birmingham on July 16.

The conference will address:

  • Energy purchasing
  • Energy usage, monitoring and optimisation
  • Options for on-site power generation and payback on a range of power generation technologies

An early bird discount is available until the Friday June 14.