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In heavy industrial operations, energy costs are major factor in the profitability of a plant. All that power that it takes to move components down the line and provide a work environment that is safe and productive for all factory workers is important. Lighting is a major expense for an automotive plant, for example. Also, it takes time to turn industrial lights on and off. If you looked at a curve of the power demand for factory, it would look like a sine wave – a mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation.
During the morning, they start powering up all the machinery in the operations to a peak, and at the end of the day, they start powering things down.
What if we could get more deliberate on how we manage power in a factory? What if light could be a raw material or part that we control from an availability point of view within the production environment?
Consider this story about an automotive company that did exactly this.
The company connected lighting to the conveyor system. It is possible today to install software that allows the complex orchestration of people, equipment, and material on a production line. This also allows the ability to look up and look down the line, and to look back in time and to look forward in time to make sure that the right parts are at the right station at just the right time. Also, if things change on the line, like the removal of a car body for rework because of a quality issue, the orchestration of parts can automatically be adjusted based on that real-time event. So, all the knowledge of how the line operates can be in that software system.
In a separate system, all the lighting is controlled. You can’t reliably put motion detectors in a plant, because even if somebody is not in a location, there still needs to be light for the operation to happen. Also, if the motion detector failed to operate, it could cause a safety problem. Furthermore, by having lights on, it indicates that something is going on in that area. But it is possible to tie together the production monitoring system with the lighting system and apply some logic where under certain conditions, like a machine not operating and no worker activity in that area for the last 30 minutes and no production activity scheduled for that area in the next 30 minutes, the lights can be turned off in that area.
Once you have this automatic system in place, the shutdown of the plant at night can happen more quickly because it automatically detects when power is no longer needed for lighting and turns it off more immediately rather than waiting for human intervention to do so. So, the power use curve starts to look more like a square wave rather than a sine wave, saving a great amount of expense in energy.
A plant could save 20% in energy cost by employing a system like this.
Also, by gathering large amounts of information on the operating parameters, analytics can be applied to find even more information about how the plant is operating, so the right actions can be taken. One example may be the electricity demands vary based upon a correlation such as time of year or weather conditions. Operating instructions and policies can be changed to help make the plant more productive under these conditions. A combination of execution and analytics is the key to making further cost improvements and improving the bottom line in a production organization.