Business critical energy supplies and mitigating the risks

Posted on 11 Mar 2021 by The Manufacturer

Siemens is helping firms realise their net zero ambitions by leading by example. Tom Lane caught up with Toby Horne, Lead for Energy Resilience, to find out more about achieving reliable and uninterrupted power supplies.

In the UK alone, the manufacturing sector accounts for £191bn of output, providing 2.7 million jobs. An industry of this size and scale is obviously no stranger to risk – whether that’s from material shortages, quality issues or simply fluctuating market conditions.

2016 saw a new variable enter the equation as the UK voted to leave the European Union. Four years of planning and risk mitigation has led us to where we are now, with some industries exporting to Europe still reeling from the after effects. One of the great difficulties surrounding Brexiting the EU was the fact that so much of the risk was unknown, unrealised and unseen.

refurbishment_siemensMost impacted was the UK’s ‘just in time’ industries. One example of JIT in operation is the Swindon assembly plant of Honda UK. In the report titled UK in a Changing Europe, it stated that Honda retained just an hour’s worth of parts at the Swindon production line, and it required 350 trucks’ worth of components to be delivered every day from Europe. The Japanese-owned firm stated that every 15 minutes of customs delay would cost it up to £850,000 a year.

Sometimes seeing a risk and mitigating it can be two very different things, which is why in a world ravaged by COVID-19 and still adapting to our place in Europe, maintaining some of your facility’s core elements still need to be front and centre for any major manufacturer.

Access to reliable, uninterrupted power is fundamental. The damage caused by electrical failure can impact all aspects of a business’ operations, from just in time delivery to employee safety. Paired with this is the fact that any unplanned downtime can result in anywhere from thousands of pounds lost to millions.

Yet despite the business criticality of energy supplies, many businesses can’t confidently claim that their electrical equipment is in the best possible shape. Years of reactive maintenance, ad-hoc fixes and incorrect service practices handed down over decades have led to equipment existing at various stages of health, potentially unable to cope with the increasingly heavy and complex demands placed upon it.

Leading by example

Siemens has learnt this by experience at its Variable Speed Drive facility in Congleton. Unplanned brownouts (partial outages) were costing the site £100,000 in lost production every year. Congleton was running on an old switchboard which would break down four or five times a year. The site is operational 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, and every time the switchboard broke down, they would have to send their workforce home, resulting in a loss of production.

Toby explained: “Once we saw those numbers, we knew we needed to act. Following our thorough audit of the problem, we found that they needed extra electrical capacity and some on-site generation installing. We were able to service and upgrade their existing switchgear and install a combined heat and power engine to give them the power they needed behind the meter.”

“We don’t just want to install hardware for hardware’s sake, solving short-term problems. Our remit is to understand the whole picture of an organisation’s emissions and then, through a combination of digital simulation tools and physical audits, we create a digital twin of a customer’s low-carbon energy system.”

“Finding the items drawing the most power can often only be half the challenge and implementing a plan of action to mitigate is where the real challenge lies. It’s a case of looking at what can we reduce, what can we produce on-site and then, ultimately, what we still have to procure.”

By undertaking this, Siemens was able to stop the brownouts from happening and recoup the cost of the project through production within six months of installation, while simultaneously future proofing the site and adopting greener technology.

Digital upgrades are still a priority, even in the pandemic

According to a study by Deloitte and MAPI, despite the pandemic- related market shocks, 62% of global manufacturing leaders say they are investing in digital factory plans and even increasing that spending. A separate MAPI survey said that 85% of leaders agreed or strongly agreed that digital factory investments would rise by June 2021.

Toby said: “A lot of our software platforms are coming into their own to help companies make informed decisions, you have to make it easier. Whether it is about reducing carbon, improving wellbeing or tackling COVID-19, it shouldn’t be down to a manual process. Getting that connectivity, then putting it into a platform and actually automating some of the decisions on the back of that can all be possible through everything that we describe as our digital tool chain.


“In days gone by, you would know an electrical relay was going to fail because if might get very hot, or breakers would trip regularly. By that stage, the unknown fault could already be causing fluctuations in 41 power, impacting production, which might be the first warning. We can install software to monitor infrastructure performance and pre-emptive digitalised switchgear that can spot even the slightest indication of a failure. It’s the same with your car. Even though you service it every 12 months, a car is designed to give you live warnings of faults. Oil pressure, tyre pressures, fuel, it’s all there to help equip you with the information to act. Why should your facility be any different?”

A patchwork of legacy equipment

Critical electrical power equipment, which has accumulated over decades, forms a significant backbone of today’s manufacturing industry. A complex patchwork of modern and legacy technologies makes up the electrical systems powering UK industry. These engineering assets have been added to, adapted, maintained and repaired or replaced over time; all are at various stages and states of health in a sprawling complicated picture of electrical systems.

Toby concluded:

“Manufacturing is one of the most energy-intensive industries. Any power outages or pricing fluctuations can have significant ramifications on day-to-day operations and production output. The cost to businesses can be eye-watering when you consider that 3% of all working days are lost in manufacturing through machine downtime, which costs UK business £180bn each year.”

In an industry constantly at the beck-and-call of external and internal shocks, the Siemens’ message is clear – forewarned is forearmed, and with its expert teams of specialists removing the chance of unplanned power outages while also keeping your facility digitally connected, decarbonised and energised, it ensures that facility owners are fully empowered to keep their operations as safe and productive as possible.

For more information and to organise a site visit or for further information on behind the meter energy generation

Toby Horne, SiemensToby Horne is Lead for Energy Resilience, Siemens

Photos courtesy of Siemens and Shutterstock

Header photo courtesy of Depositphotos