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Turning energy management to your advantage

30 October 2017

Energy management is one of the most effective ways to reduce operating costs and increase profits, while optimising efficiencies, processes and resources. Paul Doherty explains how to harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to help reduce downtime and boost productivity.

As the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, it should come as no surprise that the UK’s 6,800 food and drink producers are also some of the nation’s largest energy users. In some cases accounting for over 15% of operational expenditure, energy is one of the industry’s major outgoings – a trend that is likely to increase with the move towards more automated production lines.   

While the growth of automation will bring improvements in production output and flexibility, this can only be assured in conjunction with effective energy management processes and maintenance programmes.

IoT-based technology can help by providing the tools to give machines a ‘voice’, empowering them to effectively capture information and deliver insights to support asset and facility optimisation. 

One of the leading solutions available today comes in the form of sensor technology that monitors the flow of electricity at device level. Combined with cloud-based analytics, wireless sensors, such as those offered by Panoramic Power, have been designed to boost the IQ of assets, bringing users real time insights into their energy usage and highlighting system anomalies that could indicate serious operational issues. 

Thee self-powered, non-invasive sensors clamp on to outgoing electrical wires from circuit breakers and can be installed in a matter of minutes. The sensors transmit data to an analytics platform that can be accessed from smartphones, tablets and PCs with the option to generate more detailed reports such as historic data and benchmarking against similar users. The system can also be configured to automatically generate alarms and notifications to alert users when energy consumption falls outside predefined parameters.

At its most basic level, this information can help identify energy efficiency savings in the region of up to 15%, but dig deeper and there could be a larger prize at stake. 

Protect and save
The costs associated with poor site resilience in the form of equipment downtime vary widely but can reach many thousands of pounds for every day that manufacturing is down – even before issues such as order fulfilment and reputational damage are accounted for. 

All too often the condition of plant and machinery is not recognised and understood until something goes wrong – and by then it's too late. However, with active preventative and condition based maintenance, computers and automation join together and monitor the physical processes of the factory and make decisions. 

By adding intelligence to passive devices, IoT-based systems can communicate and cooperate with each other and with personnel, making it easier to analyse data to assess the status of equipment. For example, if a chiller is short-cycling, a facilities manager can be alerted and take steps to prevent damage and downtime, maintaining performance and productivity.

An example of this approach in action is a Centria pilot project ran with the Israeli food manufacturing firm, Strauss, which focussed on the cooling compressors within the company’s main distribution centre, which were known to be their largest energy consumer. Tracking energy use in relation to ambient temperature meant that when the system picked up a sudden increase in consumption, the site team were able to run an investigation that identified an incorrect sequence of operation (SOO) of the compressors that could have led to a total breakdown of the process. Fixing a single compressor malfunction resulted in an annual saving of £115,000.

Action plan
The level of granular detail available also makes it easier to optimise assets which allows users to proactively control and manage energy spend by shifting loads to cheaper times of the day, or by reducing loads in real time. Supported by IoT technology, the flexibility of these assets can also be made available as a service to the national grid, unlocking new revenue streams and freeing up capital for future investment.

Taking this a step further, these energy insights could be used to help inform decision-making around investment into new technologies to further improve operational efficiency and cost management. 

Energy efficient LED lighting remains a golden opportunity with potential savings of up to 75% over older lighting technologies, while on-site generation in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and highly efficient combined heat and power (CHP) can offer cost savings as high as 40% compared to grid purchased electricity and gas fired boilers, while reducing dependency on the National Grid and so improving site resilience. Storing electricity when it is cheap and plentiful, and using it later when supply is scarce or expensive, is another option that is becoming increasingly popular, particularly as the differential between peak and off-peak power prices increases. 

After installing two CHP units at their production plant in West Yorkshire confectionery manufacturer, Tangerine, is saving around £200,000 a year with no capital outlay as this was financed by Centrica. The initiative has also enabled the company to save 630 tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to the environmental benefit of 63,000 trees.

In conclusion, the challenge for food and drink manufacturers today is to look at the bigger energy picture. Optimising operations and reducing costs are significant business challenges but IoT and its application in energy management is transforming the way this resource is used. I think it’s also clear that alongside the basics of energy management, flexible generation, demand and storage can be important opportunities for organisations to respond in real time to the energy market, turning energy from a pure cost and potential risk into a source of competitive advantage.

Paul Doherty is business development manager at Centrica Distributed Energy & Power.

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