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There’s a connection to the facility’s utility meter, which allows for tracking the amount and cost of energy consumed. Then, in consultation with the plant’s manager, Powerit connects the system to various machines throughout the plant.
“We’re always connected to the utility meter,” Solberg explained. “That’s the baseline. We need to know the facility’s overall consumption because that’s what the utility bill is based on. Then we look at every machine that consumes energy to determine which loads it makes the most sense for us to control. We don’t always control just production loads. Sometimes we might control the office HVAC in order to offset a production peak.”
The implementation includes setting constraints within the Spara system so that any scheduled power shutdowns will be overridden if the system determines that action will disrupt a critical production run. Once configured, Spara functions like what Solberg describes as “an omniscient plant manager,” making real-time decisions on energy use that always strike the optimum balance between production performance and energy cost.
How the technology works
After the initial installation, Powerit will experiment by reducing loads on certain machines and then monitoring to see how that impacts both peak demand levels and production efficiency. If the effect is positive, those settings stay intact; otherwise, they are changed and monitored again.
The loads selected for initial monitoring vary by type of facility. However, in line with Navigant’s theory that small vendors must have special expertise, Powerit has established a strong presence among food and beverage manufacturers and metal foundries.
“We do have a lot of foundry customers,” Solberg said. “Metal-melting furnaces are common loads to control in those facilities.”
Foundries typically have multiple furnaces feeding various casting lines. Without a demand control solution in place, those furnaces operate independently of one another, and it’s not unusual for one or more of them to run longer than necessary, which means they are wasting large amounts of energy.
A demand-control application can, in effect, operate multiple furnaces as if they are a single unit. It allows a plant manager to easily determine which furnaces should be shut down, and for how long, to avoid peak demand charges while also protecting production schedules.
With Spara technology those decisions are made automatically, based on the constraints that are set during system implementation, Solberg said.
“Because you have multiple furnaces feeding a casting line, there will be some natural buffers built in,” she said. “If three furnaces are feeding a single casting line, you can power down the furnace that will be last to feed the line to avoid peak demand. Then, you can power that furnace up again in time for it to meet its schedule for feeding the line.”
Rochester Metal Products is among the foundries that have benefited from the use of the Spara DM platform.
Based in Rochester, Ind., Rochester Metals supplies products to customers in numerous industries, including manufacturers of air compressors, and medical, automotive, heavy construction, and marine equipment.
Rochester Metals adopted the Spara platform after learning that its utility was implementing a new peak-demand pricing structure. The system is connected to all furnaces used in Rochester’s melting process.
When the system recognizes a peak-demand period, it can immediately determine which furnace is not needed at that given moment, and it sheds load from that furnace first.
Same usage; much lower bill
Before adopting Spara DM, Rochester Metals’ typical monthly peak demand was 21,000 kW. After testing the system for a month at 18,000 kW, with no impact on production, the setpoint was adjusted to 17,000 kW. Again, there was no production loss, so the setpoint was moved to 16,000 kW, which is where it remains today with no production loss.
“In reality, the amount of kilowatt hours they’re using hasn’t changed,” Solberg said. “What’s changed is how, and when, they use those kilowatt hours. That has created a significant decrease in their utility bill.”
Powerit helps customers configure its applications to tap into its inherent intelligence for selecting the right loads to control for cost-efficient energy management. However, some users have made adjustments to their production processes to take further advantage of the technology.
“On the first pass, the savings we offer generally don’t involve touching the process flow,” Solberg said. “But the system does allow operators to see everything that’s going on in a plant from an energy consumption standpoint. That gives them the power to tweak things to really optimize energy usage.”
Early this year, Powerit introduced a cloud-based version of its platform that Solberg said will further enhance customers’ ability to analyze and optimize energy use.
The new solution, called Spara Hub, offers the typical benefits associated with cloud-based applications, such as faster deployment and streamlined maintenance. But the real advantage, according to Solberg, is “the additional functionality we can deliver as a hosted solution.”
Operating on a hosted platform will allow Powerit to develop one method for connecting its applications to utility networks as well as to the technology platforms of the larger industrial automation equipment suppliers.
“The platform lets us build standard connections to utilities and power aggregators for bringing pricing information back to our customers,” Solberg said. “We’re also partnering with major automation vendors to embed our software capabilities into their ecosystems."
Ultimately, Solberg believes having the Spara solution in the cloud will make it easier to show manufacturers the true value of an industrial energy management strategy.
"If a company has a metering system that shows their consumption patterns, they can redirect that data to our hosted platform, where we can do a quick analysis on their potential energy savings," she explained. "We can do that analysis without a hosted platform, but we would first have to install hardware at the customer's site and do a fair amount of engineering work to get the data we would need."
- Edited by Sidney Hill, Jr., a CFE Media contributing content specialist, sidhilljr(at)gmail.com. This article is part of the Industrial Energy Management supplement for CFE Media publications.
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