Achieve thermal control via the IoT

In this installment of Automation Zone, monitor and maintain facility temperatures while centralizing climate controls.

By Eric Corzine, Rittal Corp.

Drastic fluctuations in local temperatures, such as from a summer heat wave or a winter blizzard, may temporarily inconvenience the average consumer, but any deviation from the acceptable operating temperature range in an industrial setting can have significantly more perilous consequences. These fluctuations can increase the workload of climate control systems, raise energy costs, and lead to equipment malfunction, operational downtime, and lost revenue.

As more designers and operations managers turn to the internet of things (IoT) to increase efficiency and performance, they’re seeing opportunity in building energy management systems (BEMS). Implications of the IoT for climate control include the power to monitor and maintain plant and equipment heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and moisture levels in real time. Automated monitoring of systems improves tracking, identifies failures quickly, and will extend the life of equipment and controls.

Warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing environments often feature large open spaces in which running equipment can see temperatures spike quickly. Add enclosures, computer rooms, and human machine interfaces to those environments, and centralized climate control becomes more than a convenience.

From design to operations, IoT for climate control allows you to do several things:

  • Profile and assess your equipment. Manage data about machine or temperature collected from remote sensors.
  • Preprogram heating and cooling. Schedule and control systems that run HVAC, large industrial-grade exhaust fans, etc. based on energy models, occupancy, and production loads.
  • Bolster predictive and preventive maintenance. Address emerging thermal management issues before a failure or other costly slowdown in the plant.
  • Reduce energy use and costs. Control heating and cooling of equipment and machinery and potentially reduce plant energy consumption by 15% to 20%, according to a GE study on the benefits of the industrial internet.
  • Increase the ROI of enclosures. On-demand climate management of an enclosure, as prescribed by real-time temperature date enabled by the IIoT, can deliver an ROI in just a few months.

ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) provides climate design tables and information for 6,443 locations in the United States, Canada, and around the world. This information can help you create a blueprint for what your energy consumption needs will be in aggregate and will help you determine the type of IoT solutions you may need.

Immediate plantwide IIoT conversion may not be realistic for most industrial operations that don’t have the budget of, say, an industrial behemoth like GE. However, an investment in relatively low-cost sensors to monitor temperatures on fixed strategic equipment or assets in the facility is a good start.

IIoT-connected temperature control systems can measure and control critical factors such as temperature, humidity, and air flow throughout an entire building and account for external factors like the weather forecast and plant utility rates. What the industrial operation gets is a smarter, more-efficient and self-regulating facility that optimizes energy consumption. Specifically, when it comes to climate control, having access to real-time data collected from internet-connected sensors can:

  • Allow the machine (through automation) or the machine operator to adjust equipment climate controls to reduce energy use and costs.
  • Allow plant managers or equipment operators to make on-the-spot repairs or schedule proactive maintenance.
  • Allow plant managers or equipment operators to make temperature corrections before an equipment failure.

Those who do take the first steps to plug into the IoT for plantwide climate control will be in good company and perhaps will encourage others to plug in as well. Having the ability to continuously monitor in real time and to control facility and equipment temperature with the help of smart sensors installed throughout the plant, in data centers, in enclosures, and on critical equipment will be well worth the investment.

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