Opinion: Can analytics and automation unlock energy savings and efficiency for manufacturers?

Opinion: Can analytics and automation unlock energy savings and efficiency for manufacturers?

The challenges currently facing UK manufacturers have never been tougher, with increasing price pressure, rising production energy costs, constantly changing regulations and supply chain volatility all having an impact.

Each of these issues impacts directly on operational expenditure, leaving both margin and profit under threat. Under pressure to ensure the end price for the consumer remains the same – or lower - the only logical course of action is for manufacturers to safeguard or claw back margin by lowering operational costs through eliminating inefficiencies.

One area where manufacturers can look to make these much-needed savings is in their energy spend. Becoming energy efficient provides manufactures with a specific set of challenges, combining both regulatory and commercial considerations, meaning effective energy management is now a strategic business necessity and unlocking the hidden value of big data holds the key.

An average manufacturing site can generate tens of millions of data points every day and can require this data to be stored for many years. However, despite having access to these huge amounts of data, not all manufacturers use it effectively. Many companies have already invested in a data infrastructure but don’t realise the extent of the data they are currently collecting and how it could be analysed and applied for business improvement - they have a huge data asset they are not making the most of.

In these harsh economic times, where the emphasis is on increasing productivity without increasing capital investment, it would make sense to squeeze as much benefit from a data asset as possible. So, how can we realise the potential of big data and make it work for energy management?

Andy Graham, SolutionsPT 

Energy consumption in manufacturing facilities can be reduced by using the latest automated technologies, more efficient equipment and through improved monitoring and control of energy used in infrastructure. This software and data based approach is increasingly popular with UK manufacturers who have either exhausted other methods or found the cost to modernise their entire infrastructure prohibitive. For many, the prospect of a complete infrastructure upgrade is impractical but, through the implementation of Corporate Energy Management solutions, businesses can develop a stronger and more insightful understanding of their operations, and are able to visualise their energy use and see any inefficiencies. Used effectively, such solutions can allow operatives to monitor real-time energy usage and automatically notify operators, supervisors and management of energy inefficiencies and waste.

Recently, one of the largest beverage manufacturers in the world wanted to improve the way it monitored its energy usage. Smart metering theoretically allowed the company to track consumption but the data was stored in an isolated database and only ever reviewed on an ad hoc basis, so was therefore of limited use. As part of a pilot scheme, the company implemented Wonderware Intelligence, an Operational Intelligence (OI) product that creates an information framework to simultaneously connect to industrial data sources and to automate the calculation, contextualisation and storage of operational Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics.

This enabled the manufacturer to access intuitive real-time management dashboards, allowing them to monitor energy consumption in the context of each site, line and operator. This allowed them to isolate previously unidentified spikes in consumption and immediately take action to resolve them. After the success of the pilot, Wonderware Intelligence is now being rolled out globally.

The way an ever-increasing number of companies are beginning to understand energy data is indicative of a broader trend towards using operational data in innovative ways. It is predicted that Operational Intelligence will continue to develop at pace as senior decision makers become aware of what is now possible with the latest tools and how valuable they are to their businesses. It will become common practice that CEOs and the like will expect to be able to get high level insight into operational Key Performance Indicators in the same way they do for systems such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

The next step for the industry will see data from various niche manufacturing systems such as Manufacturing Execution Systems, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisitions, Maintenance Management Systems and Laboratory Information Management Systems aggregated together. This can then be manipulated and analysed using accessible browser based, slice-and-dice enabled technologies such as Wonderware Intelligence and Wonderware Corporate Energy Management. This will become commonplace and allow those running businesses to see energy usage across the production process and how that data tracks back to the bottom line.

Additionally, Operational Intelligence can deliver valuable insight into other areas of the manufacturing process, providing further cut-through for a host of other efficiencies outside of energy usage. With greater access to data on batch and quality management, manufacturers are able to ensure that productivity remains high, which can help reduce surplus energy consumption. Again, this allows for performance abnormalities to be spotted instantly, ensuring that errors can be corrected, whilst unscheduled downtime and other issues, such as spoilage and wastage, can also be prevented. What’s more, these solutions can sit alongside other monitoring software to offer manufacturers scalable functionality, from entry level targeting specific elements of performance to full scope integrating with, and addressing, all levels of operations.

Deriving intelligence from the analysis of data is a must for any organisation looking to become successful. This is especially true for manufacturers, who not only face a fight for survival from external challenges and competitors, but can often be up against other locations and plants within the same company which enjoy lower cost bases. The easy availability and analysis of data can transform the way a company works and enable manufacturers to better understand their plant, and predict and manage performance and expenditure. With so much of this data already available and locked in process data historians, accessing it is easier than you think.