Industrial businesses are constantly squeezed by ever-tightening margins as rising costs threaten profitability. However, many companies struggle to find ways to cut costs while still holding onto their value human capital. Given that raw material costs are entirely out of your control, and your operations require constant financial support, where can you find savings? Optimizing your power consumption with industrial automation can have a major impact on your bottom line and help your business weather future events.
New technologies have made it possible for industrial operations to reach greater energy efficiency levels without making major changes to their workflow. Best of all, automation technology provides other benefits besides reduced energy use.
Why Industrial Automation Is Necessary to Keep Pace With Rising Power Consumption
The Power Consumption Problem
Industrial operations increasingly need more energy to function. A recent study that explored manufacturing energy usage in Canada and the United States noted that the average manufacturing facility increased its energy usage by 6% over less than two years. What is driving this increase? Although equipment has steadily become more efficient over time, companies are able to use more machines thanks to increased miniaturization. In addition, more machines come equipped with computers that consume additional power.
As a result, industrial enterprises face higher energy demands, and projections expect this trend to continue. Nevertheless, energy has remained relatively cheap for so long that many equipment manufacturers have not prioritized energy efficiency, preferring instead to focus on output or reliability. These tendencies have laid the groundwork for rapidly rising energy expenses from industrial operations. However, this is only part of the bigger problem. There are also macro market forces at play that could worsen the situation.
Global Energy Demand
Global energy demand is on the rise, with a significant portion of the increased demand coming from developing nations. While developed nations have pledged to push for greater efficiency standards, developing nations are eager to acquire more power production to fuel their emerging industrial sector. Regardless of where you are, this has an impact on you. Increased demand leads to rising costs for fuels around the world. Natural gas, for instance, is at its highest price since 2008.
While demand for cleaner energy has increased, certain industrial processes are dependent on fossil fuels. Electrifying your operations completely would likely require a full rebuild of your floor, and the investment just cannot be justified currently for many organizations. Fuels like oil and gas will still be a vital part of industrial operations. These are further squeezed by changes in the world’s global energy supply.
New Supply Economics
The recent surge in renewable energy is certainly a welcome sign and one that we encourage industrial facilities to embrace. Nevertheless, there are still situations that renewables cannot satisfy due to their fickle power output. However, as more developed nations move away from fossil fuels, supplies are becoming tighter. Furthermore, the global supply chain is so integrated that even when your country depends little on others for its energy needs, it can still be severely affected by global events.
The Ukraine situation has provoked a massive drop in demand for Russian oil, but the global market’s needs haven’t changed. This has impacted global supplies as nations scramble to find alternative sources. Even in OPEC nations, we are seeing higher fuel prices as a result. In short, not only does your company need more energy, but that energy is getting more expensive and will likely continue to do so.
How to Cut Energy Consumption in Your Enterprise
If the cost of energy is rising and your internal demand is too, what solution is there? Many reports on commercial energy use focus heavily on lighting and heating expenses. These make up the majority of the energy spending of many organizations, but industrial businesses need a different solution. Heat and light are often insignificant when compared to the power draw from your actual operations. But how can you lower them without replacing equipment outright?
Industrial automation technology makes energy savings possible, and it can even help you save money in other areas, as we’ll see. In fact, automation has the potential to be the single most impactful technology you can implement dollar for dollar. So, what exactly does this technology involve and how can it transform your business?
Industrial Automation Technology
In order to automate your operations, you’ll need a steady stream of data from as many sources as possible. This means your machines, your business numbers, and your employee activity needs to be tracked in such a way that you can reliably pull data about any figure at any time. The data you collect will then be analyzed so that you can identify opportunities for improvement. Finally, with insights in hand, you can start to automate processes in your business.
As we mentioned, your industrial processes are responsible for most of your power consumption. Therefore, we want to focus on optimizing energy consumption from your industrial machinery. There are several tasks and functions that can be automated to help you achieve much greater energy efficiency. In addition, you’ll find that there are other benefits that will reduce your bottom line even further.
Nowhere else will you find greater savings than in preventative maintenance. Most industrial facilities still rely on traditional maintenance schedules dictated by the machine’s service manual. While the advice from the original equipment manufacturer is valuable, it is only a best guess as to when a machine actually needs service. Components do not deteriorate in a uniform manner. Not every machine will be damaged at the same time.
The traditional approach leads to a lot of engineers spending time on perfectly healthy equipment. Meanwhile, a machine that was recently checked won’t be touched until it comes up again for inspection. This means that not only does your staff waste time, but they might be missing critical situations. What’s the connection to your energy usage?
When a machine starts to operate out of spec, it will require more energy to perform the same functions. A process heating component will use more fuel if it’s leaking heat. A motor will consume more electricity if it has to overcome internal vibration. Furthermore, unexpected shutdowns can lead to lost production, which means all the energy that went into the previous steps has been wasted completely. These problems are common with traditional industrial maintenance methods.
In contrast, with preventative maintenance, you’ll constantly have fresh data about all of your equipment. This data is then sent to a computer or server, which will analyze it and identify patterns. For instance, you could track vibration data on machines and receive a notification whenever your equipment operates outside of its ideal conditions. That notification activates your maintenance staff. You can intelligently schedule maintenance, targeting specific equipment at a time that won’t cause inconveniences.
With more data available, you can automate operations to a greater extent. One of the key benefits of automation is that you become less dependent on human capital to perform your essential processes. When your machines can run by themselves, it’s much easier to operate at off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper. After all, getting employees onto the night shift is difficult without incentives. The fewer workers you need, the more efficient you’ll be.
You can also find opportunities to reduce delays between steps in your processes. Over time, your data analytics will find more opportunities for improvement. Speeding up a process by just a few minutes multiplied by the hundreds or thousands of times you perform that process in a month can produce significant savings. If your work is done for the day, automation can even shut down systems for you faster than a human could. That reduces energy consumption even more.
Automate Your Company
Industrial automation is not science fiction. It does not require massive investments and you don’t need brand new machines either. Old equipment can be retrofitted with sensors that feed data into collectors. That data can go to a cloud server via Wi-Fi on the factory floor. You don’t even need to splurge on a fancy server in your facility. Once your equipment is ready, all you need to do is collect data and let the computer do the work.
For best results, you’ll want an expert’s opinion. Contact SAAB RDS to learn about how we can help you install a complete system to automate your industrial business.