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Tackling safety and carbon reduction

15 August 2021

Luciano Santos explains how variable speed drive (VSD) and electric motor technology can have a positive impact on operational costs. 

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It is estimated that 70% of electricity consumed by industry is used in electric motor systems. With pressure increasing to achieve the UK Government’s target of Net Zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, steps need to be taken to reduce energy consumption within these electric motor systems. 

Some applications only require a motor to run at a fixed speed. However, there are many other instances where a fixed speed motor runs at full power and regulating flow rate is achieved by using a mechanical damper or guide vane. This clearly wastes energy as the motor is running constantly. Using a VSD to control motors can substantially reduce their energy costs. 

As well as energy saving functions, today's VSDs offer features that can benefit safety, productivity and reliability in the food factory. VSDs have functional safety features that help reduce risk. Safe torque off (STO), for example,  is a function that, when activated, immediately switches off the VSD output to the motor and ensures that it cannot be unexpectedly restarted. 

In many food operations, dust explosions pose a hidden danger. When a thin layer of dust, or cloud of dust, accumulates over surfaces, for example, the flammable dust (conductive, non-conductive) layer may heat up sufficiently to ignite. Once a single hotspot ignites, that can unleash a chain reaction that can have catastrophic consequences. 

Motors for explosive dust atmospheres, constructed from aluminium or cast-iron, are available in low and high voltages to fulfil EN standards and ATEX directives, to limit the possibility of dust explosions. If correctly specified, dimensioned and operated, these motors avoid hotspot temperatures, preventing the motor’s surfaces from getting hot enough to ignite dust. 

Smart wireless sensors are now also available specifically for motors used in hazardous areas, while others are available for bearings, pumps and general machinery. These devices fix directly to the motor's surface and transmit performance data for predictive maintenance, asset conditioning monitoring and process optimisation. The harvested information is analysed using AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms and presented in a user-friendly format. 

In most food sectors hygiene is key. Equipment may require regular washdowns, sometimes using harsh chemicals. Cleaning drives and motors by hand, or dismantling for deep cleaning, is often impractical. In response, ABB developed an IEC Food Safe motor which features a hygienically-designed stainless-steel frame. Food Safe motors are rated IP69K to ensure suitability for CIP washdown procedures, and sanitation with jets up to 80°C and 100 bar, while encapsulated windings prevent any water and moisture from reaching the windings.

Energy efficiency
Some 45% of global energy used in industry comes from electric motors, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of the world's installed base is fitted with a VSD. In the bakery sector for instance, ovens are responsible for 35 to 45% of the plant’s entire energy use. Using a VSD to control the oven fans can help to efficiently circulate air flow to regulate temperature and moisture, leading to shorter baking times. This results in less oven use and typically energy savings of between 20 and 60%. This can help make a huge dent in reducing a plant‘s energy use, potentially saving thousands of pounds per year, while also helping to work towards the UK Government’s target of achieving Net Zero carbon and energy emissions by the year 2050.

While VSDs are generally best suited to variable torque applications, they can also make a difference on fixed torque applications like belt conveyors. Motor and VSD packages can be used to ensure that goods are moved smoothly and uniformly to eliminate high peak starting loads and avoid damage to the application.

In 2019, ABB introduced a new generation of synchronous reluctance motors (SynRM) which achieves IE5 efficiency levels, according to IEC-TS-60034-30-2. With no need for expensive rare earth materials such as magnets and combined with the simplicity of induction motors, this technology reduces the rotor electrical losses close to zero, while reducing the motor temperature, optimising its bearing lubrication which in turn reduces audible noise and increases reliability.

Compared to an induction motor, SynRM provides up to 40 percent lower energy losses than IE3 motors and 20% lower losses than IE4 motors, as well as significantly reduced energy consumption and CO2 emissions. 

One of the biggest challenges in finding energy efficiency opportunities in a typical plant is knowing where to look. ABB has introduced a free service to make this easier. The Energy Snapshot starts with an ABB-approved engineer visiting a plant and identifying five applications that have the most potential for energy saving. A report is then produced stating the business case for investing, as well as the expected energy, carbon emission and cost savings, and including the key information relevant to various stakeholders in the decision-making process.

The way forward
High efficiency motors and variable speed drives are the workhorses driving many food production processes. They provide untapped opportunities to make energy savings, along with a multitude of benefits to safety, productivity and reliability. They impact on every aspect of food production helping safety managers meet the latest food safety regulations while supporting energy and facility managers in their quest to cut energy and reduce carbon footprint. Production managers benefit by using drives and motors to rapidly adapt production needs to meet evolving customer tastes, while operations and maintenance personnel benefit from optimised uptime and a lower cost of ownership of the application's assets. 

Luciano Santos is food & beverage market manager at ABB UK.

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