Energy monitoring has a new upper limit

Ethernet-based industrial networks can make it easier to pinpoint, and stem, energy losses.

By Mary Burgoon October 12, 2013

It’s time to redefine the term “monitoring” as it relates to managing energy consumption to improve industrial manufacturing. The capacity to access, integrate, and precisely analyze granular-level energy data from the production floor has increased exponentially.

The progress is due, in part, to ease with which hardware and software can now be seamlessly combined over industrial Ethernet for ever-greater levels of automation optimization.  

Monitoring energy data at the operation level is a well-established production management discipline. Manufacturers have been collecting energy data with traditional power monitors—and submeters, in some cases—for years.

Two relatively basic energy-monitoring scenarios demonstrate the relationship between information-powered visibility and achieving insights necessary to prioritize and make correlations.

  • Scenario 1: For its enormous presses to run correctly, a North American magazine printer powers up the equipment 24 hours ahead of the next production run. Because the systems shrink during the post-production cooldown, the production start-up sequence includes using gas-fired burners to heat up the presses. 

    Lowering natural gas expenses attached to this high-utilization step in the production process looked like an obvious cost-mitigation strategy. In reality, with natural gas at low rates relative to the cost of electrical power, gathering intelligence on the much larger consumption of electricity is a more significant energy management opportunity.

  • Scenario 2: A manufacturer’s energy consumption profile documented a significant spike in demand that occurred monthly, without fail, on the same day and at the same time. A submeter pinpointed the source of the spike. During lunch break on the same day of the month, the maintenance staff simultaneously started all of the production equipment for testing purposes. 

    Staging the start-up—achieving a steady state with one system before turning on the next—would avoid the spike. But the optimal energy management strategy also included scheduling the once-monthly testing at 6 a.m., during the power utility’s off-peak demand period. The bump in overtime costs is minimal relative to paying peak rates over the course of an entire year.

Traditional activities like charting the month-over-month plant costs, or even building the case for replacing low-efficiency equipment, are relatively fundamental compared to the potential of energy monitoring within a standardized network platform. Industry will see decision-making and improvement planning improve dramatically as data collection moves closer to discrete production elements.

Drilling down to the individual machine or device level complements a management strategy of looking deeper, sharpening lines of sight, and correlating multiple perspectives. The advanced data capture that is emerging with an IP-centric infrastructure can enable significantly more than macro, facility-level adjustments. It can help identify exactly which assets are consuming energy—and when.

So, what is an IP-centric infrastructure? It’s an infrastructure in which all devices, machines, and software systems deploy the standard, unmodified use of the Internet Protocol (IP). It creates a unified network fabric in which devices within a plant can to talk with one another, as well as those at the enterprise level.

The new definition of energy monitoring aligns with the core principle of identifying the most critical variables and prioritizing modifications or improvements according to the impacts on production efficiency and profitability. Given the contribution that energy makes to the cost of production, management wants to know, with confidence, that the enterprise is optimizing every critical variable.

The objective is to reduce the amount of energy per unit produced, whether that unit is a ton of plastic resin or a bottle of soda. 

Routinely and pervasively achieving these higher degrees of data granularity and visibility is still in the distance, but we can see this new monitoring capability from here.

The use of Ethernet with IP, such as handheld tablets and EtherNet/IP-connected devices, is increasing the amount of actionable information and communication specific to energy consumption.

The ability to impact energy utilization ranges from operation- or facility-level projects deploying stand-alone meters, to fine-tuned interventions that make any machine or device accountable to act as a smart power meter reporting energy consumption.

With manufacturers now recognizing the profit-improvement opportunity that is available through managing energy better, they are starting to launch projects at every point along this broad spectrum.

But every enterprise energy project faces the same scrutiny as every other business improvement project competing for corporate resources or capital. Rates of return and payback periods dominate in the management approval process. In that respect, there is good news for the energy management win-loss record. The enhanced energy data granularity enabled by EtherNet/IP—and the sharper visibility the detail creates—raises the odds that an energy efficiency pursuit is focused where it counts.

Industrial EtherNet/IP-enabled energy monitoring allows manufacturers to identify opportunities for high-impact changes that materially improve the process—and the bottom line.

Written by Mary Burgoon, a market development manager for Rockwell Automation. She authored this article on behalf of Industrial IP Advantage, a coalition of companies that promotes the use of standard Ethernet Protocols for industrial applications. Edited by Sidney Hill, Jr., contributing content specialist, CFE Media. 

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This article is part of the Industrial Energy Management supplement for CFE Media publications. 

See the links at the bottom of this article to read other articles in this supplement.