Interested in what top industry executives are saying about the role of energy management in manufacturing? I had the opportunity to speak with Schneider Electric’s Executive VP, Industry Business, Clemens Blum, and Mary Ramsey, Senior VP of U.S. Industry Business on Monday, Sept. 10.
Ramsey observed how much more keenly Americans are focused on energy management and sustainability now than they were only a couple of years ago when she left to spend two years in Europe. “Before I left, people were talking about gas prices, and a little about wind power, alternative energy … We would go into a manufacturing facility to talk about energy management and they would say, ‘no, I want to talk about downtime, I want to talk about productivity …’
“Now almost everyone is talking about energy, energy management, sustainability, carbon footprint, reducing waste. It’s pervasive. Now, it’s about finding the hidden costs in their operations to help them be more productive.”
Blum maintains that the first step in energy management is creating awareness, which he said can be achieved with software and monitoring systems. “When people are concerned about sustainability and energy consumption, they want to understand it. You have to give it transparency and visibility. That’s the most important step.
“For sure, there is room for improvement in machinery and equipment, but the biggest improvement you can make is just by changing the attitude of the people running the facility, who are in charge of the operations. You can change a lot just by focusing on the energy consumption.”
He offered an example in which energy consumption might vary from shift to shift by 20 percent in the same plant. “When you start to monitor it, meter it, put it into dashboards, you can put it into a meaningful context. Then you can start to ask questions. Why does Shift One use 20 percent more energy than Shift Two?”
Blum said the data captured is useful to manufacturers with multi-site operations also. “Because when you have this, you can start to benchmark; you can actually cause changes in your processes. ‘Why does the body shop in one facility use 10 percent less energy than the body shop in another location?’ And that is very rich information, because then they can see that there is an improvement potential they can start to dig into it. They can share best practices, and can reapply them into other areas of their enterprise.”
Blum said that the next stage of energy management, particularly in manufacturing operations, is to normalize energy consumption. “The interesting stuff starts when you put that into clear context, meaning you have to get it into the context of the output you are producing in your plant.
“For example, what is the electricity consumption per car body produced in your plant? What is your gas consumption? When you combine that with your process in detail, then you can see how your energy consumption changes with each step of production.”
"Based on your production forecast, you can start to forecast your energy consumption accurately. You can take a very different stand in the negotiations with the utility. Then you can really talk about demand management.”
Ramsey explained the progression that manufacturers can take in approaching energy management: “It starts from the very beginning, a line item you actually care about–energy—and knowing what your total energy spend is. And then it’s working through and looking at the supply side and then onto the demand side—monitoring and measuring it, and then identifying key areas to proactively make corrective actions to.
“So, you’ve got to start at a high level, and then work your way down around the wheel until you get to the execution of it.”
The company works with manufacturers on active energy management in their processes, as well as with building management, the smart grid, and the infrastructure side of the building, she said.
“When you look at a manufacturing site, you’ve got the demand side—facilities using building management solutions; you’ve got operations, which is your process management side of the business; and then you’ve got your power grid or your power houses from the supply side, and integration. So you work on the inside, and at where your supply is coming from. We take a holistic approach.”
“So instead of looking at it a piece here, a piece there, we really take a comprehensive view in helping customers understand their full proactive, active energy management solutions—that’s where we can actually make improvement."