Manufacturers are facing rising costs, in particular, energy. They know they must reduce consumption, but often lack the insight to understand how, as they don't have accurate and detailed information as to how, when and where their costly energy is being consumed.
This where digital measurement can make a huge difference. Using digital meters across a factory will enable managers to understand their pattern of energy consumption and enable them to identify opportunities for potential savings. All energy sources, whether electricity, gas or fuel oil, can be accurately measured, with the data transmitted to a central dashboard that can be shared across different groups within the plant. This provides a common understanding of how and where energy used.
This is just the start as, from this single view, multi-disciplinary teams can identify and realise opportunities for saving energy, working together towards a common goal. There are a number of ways this can be achieved, and manufacturing companies can make rapid and significant reductions in their energy usage and reduce their operating costs, with minimal capital expenditure.
Visibility helps identify opportunities
While smart meter monitoring is becoming commonplace in the domestic sphere as consumers look to find ways to monitor usage in a bid to make cost savings, so too are organisations in the industrial sphere where energy use is high. But simply collecting the information isn’t enough. In a manufacturing plant with many areas of energy use – whether it be keeping the lights on in a building and the heating running, or keeping plant machinery operating – it’s vital to connect the meters to a central system or dashboard to get usage data across the board. This is the only way to create actionable insights.
Once all meters are connected to a central, cloud-based system for optimal visibility and control, a single electricity consumption dashboard provides the visibility needed to make changes that lead to cost savings. Firms should also consider enhancing their meter network by adding meters on areas like production lines that may not already have them, for a true, holistic view of energy consumption.
When this kind of real-time measurement enabled testing can be performed, like isolating and measuring asset and process loads, the data gathered can help formulate an energy management strategy. This then leads to tangible actions that can be executed to make immediate savings.
Some organisations may be missing out on huge savings simply because they’re overlooking the obvious, or perceiving the savings from simple changes to not be worth the hassle. For a plant operating five days a week, but having a much lower staff count at the weekend for tasks like maintenance procedures, ensuring the energy usage on a Saturday and Sunday is lowered accordingly could make a huge difference. Lights left on and machines left running may present itself as a low-cost ‘stand-by mode’ option, but the energy consumption of this alone, over a year, could run into significant cost.
Simple changes like restructuring a production schedule so that maintenance procedures could take place on week days, closing the plant entirely at weekends and switching off power, could yield dramatic cost savings.
There could even be savings to be made by looking at boiler usage. Many large plants will keep a ‘stand-by’ boiler for the event that one of the others should fail and cause production downtime. These boilers are often left on hot stand-by so that they could be immediately operational if needed. However, the cost of keeping a continual hot stand-by boiler should be weighed against the downtime of having to fire it up from a cold start, which may be a much cheaper option.
The great benefit about investing in the equipment to effectively monitor and achieve visibility is that the case for such changes can be accurately evaluated and benefits subsequently measured.
Common information can help effect culture change
Getting employees on board with energy saving underpins a successful energy management strategy. Once shift supervisors can see the consumption levels for their shifts, and the impact of simple behaviour changes such as proper equipment shut-down, they are able to convince their teams to change the way they work. Building an energy-saving culture across the plant is crucial and once employees are informed of how this is affecting costs to the business, they may be inspired to do more. Embedding this further into KPIs or even rewards can further improve results.
Many firms are put off making these kinds of simple changes as they believe the pay-off won’t be substantial enough to warrant the effort. Starting with small, well-defined projects is key, and results of such test cases can then illustrate level of success, and form a blueprint to be tested in other areas of the plant. Eventually, integration of all of the modular individual projects will build a complete picture of the plant, which will be vital in the energy management battle. One thing for sure is that the cost of doing nothing will be far higher and continue to grow in a volatile energy landscape.
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