• By Jim Cahill
  • May 02, 2023
  • IIoT Insight

Companies across the globe are putting a strategic focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals to drive improvements in sustainability. On the environmental side, manufacturers and producers emphasize energy consumption and emissions reductions.

While energy efficiency has long been a key performance indicator (KPI) for these businesses, energy optimization has been limited by the available measurements and human resources to focus on such strategies. One reason for the measurement limitations is that most plants were instrumented just enough to provide basic control and safety functions, but not enough to maximize energy efficiency. And even if the available instruments produced sufficient data, organizational bandwidth means day-to-day operations and maintenance tasks take priority. Time-consuming activities, such as operator rounds, must be performed manually without continuous measurements and monitoring.

Many current energy management systems rely on manually collected data. Standard operating procedures often specify that these measurements be read monthly, quarterly, or even yearly, with the readings reported and manually entered into the system. These instruments often track water, electricity, and fuel consumption.

One reason for the measurement limitations is that most plants were instrumented just enough to provide basic control and safety functions, but not enough to maximize energy efficiency.

From data to actionable information

What has changed is the availability and breadth of wireless devices to easily add measurements and operational analytics to distill this wealth of additional data into actionable information for the plant staff.

Digital transformation is about using this actionable information to do things differently and better. For example, by using acoustic measurement technology to “listen” for leaks in steam traps, problems can be identified sooner and fixed to reduce wasted energy. This change is a transformation from quarterly, semi-annual, or annual manual inspections.

Another source of wasted energy is mechanical problems with rotating equipment, such as pumps, compressors, and fans. Equipping this machinery with wireless vibration, temperature, and lube system sensors, and feeding these measurements into built-for-purpose operational analytics can provide the operations and maintenance staff with predictive early warning before mechanical problems develop and excessive energy is consumed.

Combustion is a significant source of energy consumption in many manufacturing processes, especially where multiple fuel sources are used. Traditionally, fuel/air curves have been used in control strategies. Additional measurements to get real-time BTU or kilojoule energy content in the fuel enable more advanced control strategies to efficiently set the air and fuel mixture to maximize combustion efficiency and minimize emissions.

Filters are used in many areas of production processes. Adding wireless differential pressure (DP) sensors across the filter can help with spotting early fouling that can reduce efficiency and increase the energy consumption of the process.

Another example is a heat exchanger, which can benefit from wireless monitoring. A fouled heat exchanger can cause what is being produced not to be heated sufficiently, requiring a burner to be fired to make up the extra heat, thus increasing fuel gas consumption. A fouled heat exchanger may need more steam to heat the product or more chilled water or cooling water to be pumped to cool the product. Instrumenting the heat exchangers with wireless, non-intrusive temperature sensors on both hot and cold side inlets and outlets, and adding DP measurements combined with feeding this data to analytics software can help determine the optimum time for cleaning to minimize energy loss and scheduled downtime.

Looking ahead

These are just a few examples where measurements can be easily added with wireless communications technology feeding built-for purpose operational analytics software. This provides actionable information that plant staff can use to reduce energy consumption and improve operational performance.

It’s essential to start with the business objectives when developing the path forward to more sustainable operations. Assess current performance, identify performance improvement opportunities, and prioritize projects to gain early successes and momentum to do more. The performance benefits come from lower energy consumption and emissions, and greater staff productivity from eliminating manual tasks.

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About The Authors

Jim Cahill is a 30+ year veteran in the automation industry. He has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Texas with experience in offshore oil & gas production. He now leads Emerson’s social marketing practice to promote Emerson automation technologies and expertise. Follow him on LinkedIn or through Emerson Automation Experts.