Energy management, the stealth enabler of Industry 4.0

Luke Menzel, the CEO of the Energy Efficiency Council.

Opinion: Implementing Industry 4.0 technology can help manufacturers save on electricity costs while using renewable energy, according to one expert in the energy sector.

Luke Menzel, the CEO of the Energy Efficiency Council, explains what role Industry 4.0 plays in energy management.  

Industry 4.0 has been around long enough now that “thought leaders” are already beginning to cast around for the next buzzword. However, Industry 4.0 remains crucial for keeping Aussie manufacturers competitive in the 21st century, and many are still grappling with the implications of the fourth industrial revolution for how they run their business.

Industry 4.0 is much easier for new plants

We know that unlocking the potential of Industry 4.0 looks very different depending on where you start.

For a manufacturer setting up a new plant, it is not much of a revolution at all; any new facility commissioned in 2019 is designed for digital. Leveraging all the benefits of granular, real time data – automation, better control of production, human to machine interface and so on – is relatively straightforward.

However, the same outcome can be a lot more challenging for an existing manufacturing plant. Basic digital infrastructure for capturing, processing and acting on data often isn’t present, and the digital equipment that is in place doesn’t connect up properly. Data – the lifeblood of Industry 4.0 – is scattered or just doesn’t exist.

There is a parallel problem when it comes to the energy productivity of Australian manufacturing plants, which is often low by global standards.

New manufacturing plants have been designed in a post 2017 world, when gas and electricity prices started to ramp up above their historic lows. New plants have sophisticated metering and data analysis baked in, are energy efficient, and are increasingly leveraging renewables and other technology to source electricity and other inputs, like heat.

Existing manufacturers are faced with the same, post 2017 landscape, but have a whole lot of legacy equipment they need to deal with. Many have limited or no data to tell them where they are using – or wasting – energy. Making decisions to take control of their energy situation are hard or impossible without good, integrated data systems.

Similar story, right? However, these are not two different problems with the same characteristics. They are actually the same problem.

Better energy management is an enabler for Industry 4.0

For most small and medium manufacturers, I speak to, taking control of their energy position is a burning platform. The transition to Industry 4.0 is a crucial strategic issue, but one that is a little less urgent. However, by taking immediate action on the energy front, Australian manufacturers can take a massive step forward to Industry 4.0.

At its heart, improving the energy productivity of manufacturing processes is about understanding energy usage at each point of the process, and how the process can be optimised. This requires granular data that enables better management of existing equipment, investment in new equipment where appropriate. However, a lot of metering and monitoring infrastructure – and the data it generates – is not just an enabler of better energy management, it is an enabler of better productivity via the principals of Industry 4.0.

The take out message here is simple: the infrastructure needed to better manage energy use is often the same infrastructure that enables Industry 4.0. That means we have a huge opportunity – by supporting manufacturers through the acute challenges associated with rising energy prices, we can also enable the transition to Industry 4.0, with much broader benefits to competitiveness and productivity.

Let’s get on with it

The NSW government is an early leader in this area with dedicated programs focussed on putting in place metering and analytics. In NSW up to $120,000 of matched funding is available for manufacturers to implement energy monitoring systems, improve processes and upgrade inefficient equipment.

NSW is also rolling out an energy management system benchmarking and support program for the most energy intensive manufacturing sub-sectors. This provides another $30,000 of funding so that businesses can better understand how energy is used in their manufacturing processes and enable energy productivity improvements.

We need to scale this effort up around the country which means other states, and the Federal government, getting similar programs in place. By doing this, we can accelerate the transition to Industry 4.0, ease the immediate challenges faced by business on the energy front, and make some serious steps towards ensuring our manufacturing base is match fit for the 21st century economy.