Energy conservation and efficiency are subjects that seem to come and go, at least in the minds of consumers. But in industry, they're issues that are always front and center. And they will be all the more prominent in the next few years, according to engineers contacted by Design News editors.
The automotive and electric motor industries are leading the way with development projects that aim at producing breakthrough energy-conservation technology on several fronts. For example, the move toward 42V electrical systems for cars could very well result in major fuel savings. Likewise, fuel cells, originally developed for aerospace applications, could soon find their way into the family car, bringing with them even greater energy savings. And the motors that drive factory equipment and other products are getting more efficient all the time.
Indeed, several studies show that motor-driven systems consume more than 60% of the energy used in industry. Suppliers of those systems are working hard to lower that number:
Baldor, for example, is now offering energy-savings workshops to teach engineers how to control their energy costs. The company labels its Super-E Premium Efficient Motors with an energy guide sticker to let users know the energy the motors use, and provides customers with software to calculate their energy savings. Company President John McFarland says the Super-E motors can cut electricity usage by 9% per year.
Rockwell Automation is combining variable-speed drives with motors to cut motor speeds and energy costs. Recently, the company demonstrated for U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta a 1,600-hp motor with superconducting coils that's designed to cut energy costs by 50%. Says Rick Payton, Rockwell's lead engineer for energy-efficient motor systems: "Engineers have to look at each component of the motor system—motor, drive, and reducer—to truly save energy."
Regal-Beloit President Gary Schuster agrees with that holistic approach, and has several energy-efficiency initiatives underway at the Rockford, IL company. Regal-Beloit makes motors and generators for driving pumps, conveyors, machine tools, and other devices.
Energy efficiency is coming to be seen as a must rather than a nicety. The updates on the following pages will show you what to expect in a few important applications.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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