End-to-end energy

Pay attention to every step in your process to gain maximum efficiency; awareness of the cost of energy is a critical step for a manufacturing company.


Many experts believe that close to 50% of the energy produced globally is consumed by the manufacturing segment. Some of the consumption is in lighting and environmental controls; the bulk of it is in powering the machinery and controls that run the plants and/or processes that produce product that eventually gets sold to consumers. Sometimes machines and processes cannot be shut down, or if they are, there is huge cost to clean up and restart, so in many cases it is cost efficient to just let them run

So, think of this. We have machines that take something and heat it, cool it, move it, machine it, transfer it for more machining, package it, store it, find it, ship it. Then we have equipment that handles the order intake, purchasing, tracking, expediting, shipping, tracking and potentially registration. Then we have a customer service organization that gets phone inquiries, requests for information, and requests for support. Additionally, we may send a technician out to troubleshoot an issue and the customer has to call. So somewhere there are people on phones. Within Cisco we think of this as Smart+Connected Manufacturing. But let’s explore more.

There are expenses to the manufacturer all along the value chain – from R&D to supply chain, to actual production and operations all the way to sales and service. All of this takes energy. For any manufacturing companies, this all shows up as one monthly bill. It gets treated as a cost of doing business. It is an expense to the company. One HUGE bucket. No control.

Awareness of the cost of energy is a critical step for a manufacturing company. Monitoring energy consumption and cost can help the manufacturing operations group make more informed decisions about what production line or process to use, when to run it, when to schedule maintenance, and a good view into overall efficiency. If you are not worrying about your energy cost beyond that big bucket, you should start.

Initial energy conservation

Typically the first response to higher energy costs is: turn off the lights when we don’t need them. Simple, easy to do, basic, and it results in a good first level response. But the lights are the smallest part of the equation. They result in a good first level reduction in the office, so they do help the manufacturer.

Then, turn off the plant when we aren’t running. That isn’t so easy. Some processes have material that is being heated or cooled on a continuous basis. Some machines cannot be shut down at will. So they stay in a ready state. Sometimes we have 3-phase motors running continuously in a “spinning reserve” mode. Once you get into the factory or process plant you cannot just turn these machines on or off. Think for a moment of how long it takes your computer to start up once you get to the office. It is even longer in the plant to start up the control systems.

Imagine, if you will, coming up to a machine that is turning out parts at the rate of 1,000 per minute. The operator walks by to see how the process is going and the machine shuts down while waiting for the operator to a) authenticate and b) resume what the machine was doing after seeing the data he/she wanted.

Efficiency of the plant is a huge concern; likely in the eyes of the operators more important than energy costs. Management wants to reduce energy cost, plant operations wants to make the machines more efficient. What a dichotomy! We have a huge gap between plant asset utilization and efficiency, and indeed, energy cost is just one of the critical parameters. The overall mantra of “keep that plant running” can have serious implications to energy costs.

So: we cannot turn off the plant via on/off switch. In many cases there will be machines in idle, but other machines being used. There are sequences to be followed and some things that need to remain on. What becomes critical now is knowing the energy footprint is as low in the manufacturing plant as we can get.

You cannot control what you don’t know.

Demand/response, your ability to influence

Your energy supplier or public utility can measure what you consume pretty easily. There is a meter at the fence or at the building, and that meter reports back to the utility how many kilowatts or cubic feet of gas were used in any given period. That data becomes the monthly or quarterly bill for you, the manufacturing account. The true challenge comes down to how do you measure it inside the fence or inside the building.

So now the challenge comes down to measurement for the manufacturing account. You can put a meter on every device. That will get pretty expensive, produce a ton of data, increase the number of physical devices you have to worry about, increase the complexity and space required for your production and other manufacturing assets. It isn’t an ideal answer. You could alternatively put metering equipment into key areas of the operation and measure those elements. Perhaps it is more efficient in terms of cost, space, etc., but it is still not ideal. Besides, what do you do with isolated data points from a few more locations?

A better solution is to IP enable as many devices as possible and acquire energy data from them along with operating data.

Software applications

The key becomes acceptance of standard Ethernet as a communication media from the automation and plant floor devices. This truly is the good news as we are making significant strides to IP enabling the manufacturing operations. Control vendors are building the energy control applications to utilize the data from end devices. The benefit now will be to accumulate actual energy usage data from a machine, from a line, from a cell, from a plant.

With that data you can now take advantage of potential incentives from your utility supplier where they may give you a reduced rate at various times of the day. So if you know that starting up that smelter at noon will cost you $x but starting it up at 3 PM it will only cost you $0.6x, you can decide if it makes sense to stagger your operations.

Sustainable asset management

Another significant advantage is the ability to set up an asset management program. Any equipment that moves is going to wear out over time. Imagine that you have a bank of 3-phase motors in your plant and you can see that the motor that controls the conveying line feeding your paint booth is gradually using more and more energy every day or week.

It may be that the bearings are wearing out, that preventive maintenance needs to be performed. It may mean that the motor is 20 years old and needs to be replaced. Without tracking the energy consumption to the device you may have a situation where you don’t realize there is a problem until the motor burns out and shuts down your plant.

With the data from your plant and a good asset management program you can better predict where there are growing issues, heading off shut-downs and loss of product or machine availability, or panic service calls. So your operations can be more efficient, you can perform maintenance when you need to (not when the machine decides it needs it), plus you can potentially be seeing reduced cost for the energy.

The key is, figure out where you can measure and make use of the data, then go control it.

What we’re talking about now is far more than an energy management program. Start with a sustainable asset management program that allows you real time visibility to the assets in your plant. Now build in some control and prediction capability. Many of the control system vendors have applications as part of their HMI systems that can track multiple points of data, build a model, run a schedule for machine usage and from all of this build up a maintenance schedule. The result is lower life cycle cost for you the manufacturer.

Couple this with an energy management approach and you will find a new ability to optimize your plant, take advantage of lower energy costs, or make more informed decisions on where to build that new widget. Perhaps due to the energy costs in Russia it makes more sense to shift production there temporarily.

Coupled with an asset management program you will find an increased life span of your plant, lower downtime, lower maintenance costs and a lower operating expense overall. You will find an increase in your ability to achieve customer satisfaction as well.

OEM/machine builder implications

It would be easy to assume that energy management is the purview of the end user. But machine builders (defined as those that build machines that go into a production line or automation system) should become aware of their ability to influence end designs. You should learn how to differentiate your product – you do have competition, right?

So play up your ability to provide data. Exploit your ability to provide remote services, or to provide a machine that operates at 90% of the cost of your competitor. Reduced energy can be a saving grace to your business, and you can help your customer become more efficient, saving cost throughout. Just as your end user customer appreciates longer life cycles, you will to: you have a longer time to maintain, to refurbish, to “control” what you have sold. Energy management can be yet a different differentiator.

Industrial intelligence

At the end of the day, what is important is to have the data you need, when you need it, and where you need it. Also to make sure that data doesn’t get in the wrong hands. So make the steps you need to first, secure your data. Then use it: analyze it, make some decisions based on the data AND your priorities.

Think about it, save some energy. Measure it, then start to control it.

Manufacturing Blog


Cisco Manufacturing

Mark Wylie leads Cisco’s industry marketing efforts into the manufacturing space. His current efforts center on Industrial Energy Management solutions for manufacturing accounts, as well as specific programs to solidify relevance of the machine builder/OEM space. He is well known as a primary contributor to Cisco’s Ethernet to the Factory solution as well as his partnering efforts with major automation suppliers. Most recently he was involved in a number of collaboration technology efforts designed for manufacturing accounts.

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