Delivering savings through energy monitoring

Energy efficiency is a critical issue for plant managers, so suppliers are working hard to come up with new ways to deliver solutions and strategies that are easy to implement and deliver a return on investment.


In an interview with CFE Media, Opto 22’s marketing communications manager David Crump said the challenges of energy monitoring extend beyond the devices:

CFE: In what industries have you seen the greatest interest in energy monitoring? What’s driving that interest?

Several industries, including commercial buildings, cold storage (such as for food and beverage), and government. But interest is growing in all industries as facility owners and managers realize that energy use can be managed just the same as their other costs.

As for what’s driving the interest in energy monitoring, it’s the same thing that drives manufacturing plants and other large facilities to deploy any technology—an opportunity to improve efficiency and increase profitably, in this case, through cost cutting. As it stands now, energy represents one of the single largest opportunities for businesses (in all industries) to reduce costs.

CFE: What should manufacturers reasonably expect in terms of savings and ROI?

It’s a tricky question. You’re asking, “How much can I save if I purchase an energy monitoring system and start measuring?” And the answer is, “You’ll never know your potential for energy savings until you actually begin monitoring and measuring.” I’ve seen it range from hundreds, all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. One statistic I can share is that the recent study Efficiency and Innovation in U.S. Manufacturing Energy Use (prepared in part by the U.S. Department of Energy) noted that many manufacturing plants can easily reduce their energy consumption by 10% to 20%.

CFE: It’s one thing to measure energy usage; it’s another to change manufacturing processes to reduce energy usage.

True. But is it prudent to change any manufacturing process without first understanding what’s going on? The first step has to be information gathering. You need the data first because (as we are fond of saying around here) “you can only intelligently control what you can ably measure.” Once plant personnel, energy managers, and facility operators begin aggregating the real-time data they need to correlate their energy use with specific business operations, it’s then that they can begin effectively identifying specific problems, designing energy management initiatives that reduce costs, and exercising control over their processes, machinery, systems, and equipment.

CFE: When your customers have had success at changing, what’s been the common element in that change?

It varies. Many customers make adjustments to processes and systems in their plant to reduce energy usage. Heating processes (like those taking place during curing or autoclave or industrial furnaces operations) immediately come to mind. If they can be made more efficient, there’s a huge potential for cost savings.

Some customers have gathered data revealing maintenance issues that were causing huge wastes of energy. And after the appropriate changes were made, a significant waste of energy was eliminated. For example, there was a refrigeration system (at an old meat packing plant) that had an automatic defrosting system for its freezer coils. The way it was supposed to work was that periodically, hot refrigerant would blow through the cold coils so ice buildup on the surface would melt and evaporate. The hot gas for this procedure came through piping, and old automatic valves at each coil regulated the defrosting process.

This plant implemented Opto 22 energy monitoring hardware and found that the cooling coils in the freezers weren’t working properly and the hot gas was continuously leaking to the coils in the freezers. So too much heat was being introduced, and to counteract this, the refrigeration system was running a lot more (using much of its capacity just to support itself) and costing literally thousands of dollars per month. So in this case, changes involving maintenance issues produced ROI for the monitoring system.

And sometimes change comes in the form of simple, common sense business practices. There was a manufacturer in the automation industry that began energy monitoring and quickly discovered that a lighting system in one area of its factory areas was continuing to operate two hours past the time when all the employees that worked in that area had punched out and gone home for the day. In this case, it’s easy to see the simple change that was made to cut costs.

So my point is, there may be no common element in terms of what the change is. The common element is that gaining access to energy data almost always reveals things that were previously unknown. This, in turn, leads to a variety of changes, both in corporate philosophy and policies, as well as to manufacturing processes and other business operations. Each of these can save money and make a real difference.

CFE: Are these devices really just a means to an end of having a sound energy strategy?

Yes. Energy monitoring devices are the means to an end. They are what enable personnel in plants and other facilities to acquire the data they need to make competent decisions. That’s the key—decision making. The fresher and more comprehensive the energy data you’re gathering is, the better decisions you’ll be able to make, and the better energy management strategies you'll be able to devise.

Opto 22 has introduced its EMU Sensor for energy monitoring to address the need for monitoring across existing communication platforms. Connecting through connect existing utility meters to Modbus/TCP and OPC industrial protocol support, allowing the sensor to connect via Modbus architecture-without need for translators.

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