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Use control systems to get a better handle on energy use in your plant

Jan. 20, 2022
In this Big Picture Interview, learn how to use automation to support your sustainability goals.

Larry West is a sales engineer for Perceptive Controls who has been in the engineering and electrical field for industrial use for roughly 25 years, and before that he served in the U.S. Navy as a gunner’s mate and missile tech. Last September, Larry presented a session at the RPM Symposium in Kalamazoo, MI titled “Controls & SCADA – How They Support Energy Savings And Sustainability,” and spoke afterward with Plant Services Editor in Chief Thomas Wilk.

PS: At the RPM show you said “the sustainable moment is upon us now, regardless of political opinion,” and that’s something I happen to agree with. Can you talk about some of the things that plant teams can expect from this moment to the next couple of years, that may be different from what they’re used to right now?

LW: One of the big things that a lot of plants have already done or are looking at, is LED lights. There’s a major transformation in most plants as far as how they’re lighting their business. A lot of rebates and a lot of programs have been put in place to help facilities change out their LED lights. I bring that up first because that’s the one big thing that we have been able to accomplish almost nationwide for most facilities.

But we’re really here to talk about industrial energy use, right? So, the same kind of principles will apply. First, look at Energy Star for appliances. That’s a big one that if you bought an appliance within the last 10 or 15 years, you’ll get the sticker on the back and you’ll see what it says, Energy Star, and it basically rates the piece of equipment, how much energy it’s going to use for the year.

You’re going to see equipment, and you’re going to see regulations come to be, that are going to place maybe not directly that same type of system, but something very similar, for equipment. In other words, manufacturers that manufacture equipment, no matter how unique, are going to be required to rate their system on their energy use.

Buying equipment: We’ve commonly bought equipment using three metrics. Do we trust the vendor? What is the cost of the equipment, and the quality of the equipment? But there’s going to be a fourth: how much energy usage does it take to make each widget? Each piece of product that I’m trying to bring off of that machine? There’s going to be a calculation that has to be done against energy usage.

Finally, one of the things that we’re going to see change is that there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on rebates and energy costs. I can even see situations where companies get a rating from one to five, one being a poor energy user and a five being a great energy user. And your cost ratio will be based upon how efficient you are with your energy usage.

Big Picture Interview

This article is part of our monthly Big Picture Interview column. Read more interviews from our monthly Big Picture series.

PS: How can plants use control systems to help support sustainability goals?

LW: I was a field engineer for better than 12 years for a manufacturer in the Kalamazoo area, and I traveled across the world, working on machinery, heavy machinery, press operations, to chemical operations, the gamut. And one of the things in almost every one of those circumstances I could find in every plant was what I called the “perpetual running conveyor.” Sometimes it was more than one conveyor, but these are conveyors, material-moving equipment, that just sits off in the corner, nobody’s seeing it, and it just runs, whether the press is running, whether we’re moving materials, that conveyor is just running.

And as a field engineer who is controls-minded, it was one of those things that always perplexed me as being one of those easy fixes, just like the lights. It’s one of those things that, with good communication between equipment or sensors, we can pause that conveyor, let it see the material, then run the conveyor, and then pause it again when material has been pushed through.

Now, if we expand beyond just the conveyor, you look at every machine process. Within every machine process, there’s usually multiple things going on. We don’t need to spin everything all the time. If we look at the machine process, and let’s just say, for instance, it basically extrudes the material and cuts. Sometimes you’ll have a spinning blade that just sits there and cuts, whereas if we change the process just a little bit, we can, as we extrude and cut, we can change that process so we’re not spinning a motor all the time, only when it’s necessary. That’s a loose comparison, but it’s something that people can think about in their process.

This story originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

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