Should you automate to regulate?

With a continued increase in the cost of primary energy resources teamed with pressure from government legislation to decrease environmental foot prints, the manufacturing industry is being marshalled down a path towards more sustainable practices.

As such, energy management has become a top priority for business managers and systems integrators responsible for controlling a manufacturing plant’s bottom line.

If applied correctly, energy management solutions can result in reduced operating costs, improved profitability and enhanced competitiveness for manufacturing and other industrial businesses.

Generally speaking, energy management is the process of measuring, monitoring and controlling energy within an organisation.

There are currently two reigning methods of energy management systems on the market. These include manual data collection, and automatic energy monitoring.

Both have proven track records, so how do you select the appropriate system for your facility?

Exploring automatic options

Rockwell Automation industry solutions manager for South Pacific, Corrie van Rensburg, claims automatic energy monitoring will soon be a critical component in automation systems, and assumed present in most industrial companies.

“This is the future of energy management. Companies will need to explore automatic ener gy monitoring options if they are both to obtain the full spectrum of information that is available and leverage this to make improvements,” van Rensburg told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Automatic energy monitoring is a fully-integrated platform of software and hardware that captures, consolidates and distributes energy-related data throughout the manufacturing enterprise.

“After people fit our monitors, they can see what the big [energy] consumers are in the plant and then they basically have to look at their usage, look at the batching schedules, look at production schedules and see when a particular piece of equipment has to be used and when it doesn’t,” van Rensburg said.

According to van Rensburg, real-time automatic energy monitoring is a cost-effective alternative to manual capturing processes which are often labour-intensive and prone to human error.

In addition, he says the intro duction of the Government’s Energy Efficiency Opportunities (EEO) Act has been a driver for the installation of automatic architecture.

The mandatory energy report ing program commenced in July 2006 and targets corpora tions that use over 0.5PJ of energy annually.

Under the program, manufacturing and other industrial companies are required to conduct technical energy savings assessments and show evidence of a continuous improvement process for energy.

“Now, with the second phase of the EEO in place, there is a lot more pressure on these com panies to actually see some results and so a lot are looking at installing automatic monitor ing equipment to try to reduce their costs,” van Rensburg said.

According to van Rensburg, there are three processes involved in effective automatic energy management. These are: monitoring electrical flows; analysing energy con sumption patterns; and using control systems to shut- down equipment.

According to the technology supplier, one of its customers who integrated these three processes saved 40% of their previous energy bill.

Those businesses which moni tor and analyse data only are generally said to be able to save between 5 and 7% of their costs.

Manual monitoring

CompAir national key account manager for the air audit divi sion, Gilbert McLean, agrees with van Rensburg and also stresses the importance of implementing an energy management system in order to reduce energy costs.

He adds however, the key to successful management practices lies in specialised manual monitoring of the areas of the plant that consume the most energy.

“You can put in permanent automatic measuring devices, which are good for ‘trend set ting’; but these are expensive to install and maintain, and need someone to take responsibility for the collection and interpreting the data collected,” McLean said.

“The most cost effective method will be to have professionals in their field whom have a proven track record to actually measure and offer independent reports and recommendations on ways to improve the systems.”

McLean, who specialises in conducting Demand Side Air Audits for compressed air sys tems, says he has found middle and senior managers, engineers and chief executive officers prefer to have a “master in one trade rather than a jack-of-all- trades approach”.

“So what a lot of companies are doing, especially the larger sites, is appointing experts in particular fields, for example compressed air systems, air com pressors and other experts for air conditioning, water manage ment, lighting, heating, transport etc,” he said.

One size doesn’t fit all

BIZ-MAP is a business consultancy firm which aims to improve a corporation’s performance management capabilities, and identify new business opportunities.

The company’s founder, Bruno Bello, says although there is not a ‘one size fits all’ energy management option, there are some general rules which should be adhered to.

“I think you need to start by mapping out all the activities that occur in the business – all the drivers that account for energy consumption,” Bello said.

“Some businesses will actually sit back and say: this is our ener gy bill, what of that relates to our running costs? What of that relates to emissions we would like to reduce?

“And then they break it down into categories, because to look at just energy consumption is a broad topic and doesn’t mean a real lot.”