I remember covering the beginning of the concern about energy consumption in control and automation. It was only about four years ago. Before that, energy was so cheap, it wasn't a concern. There seems to be a progression. Cut labor costs, improve the efficiency of the process, and then cut energy costs.
This progression brings down the cost of production. Meanwhile, labor costs are rising in Asia and shipping costs are growing. Add it all up and soon it will be efficient to produce goods aimed for North America in North America.
This counter trend has already started. TI and others are bringing more production back to North America. Production aimed for Europe is beginning to migrate to Eastern Europe.
Information about energy usage is definitely now more prevalent when purchasing injection molding machinery. Up to a few years ago, the only real information that was supplied with a piece of machinery was the size of the over current breaker. Machines now come with energy monitoring software as standard components to help manage energy usage. The addition of actual energy efficient hydraulic pumps and servo drives which were used initially in energy expensive Europe are working their way to North America. This is great news for the bottom line.
The in-efficiency of the power grid in China limits the ability to produce product in the country. In a recent trip to Asia, we experienced energy rationing in the city of Shenzhen where the power was shut off to industrial areas on rotating days. This created headaches where we travelled 6000 miles to produce parts, and there was no power to do so. This is another reason to bring production back to the US.
My initial reaction to this article is, "Its about time!" The energy grid is almost universally acknowledged to be arcane and inefficient... by everyone. Except those with a vested interest in its preservation. Close colleagues of mine who have developed high-energy storage flywheels (of the magnetically levitated variety) have been trying for years to penetrate this fortress. Unsucessfully. Despite the President's proclamation to emphasize energy independence, this industry is just to deeply entrenched in corporate and governmental politics to permit change. It so frustrating for those (99.9%) of us who really care.
Yes, this industry is entrenched, but they have also shown a history of breaking through the entrenchment when it means savings. The breakthrough here is high energy prices. That woke up the plant world to changes that can reduce energy consumption.
Another irony here is that automation and control technology is now frequently making the difference between alternative energy that is too expensive to match traditional energy and alternative energy the meets or beats the cost of traditional energy.
Three cheers for you Dr. Jim! Maybe you can help me tell it like it is! When the day comes that "In Plant/On-Site/in-car" modular/scaleable power systems become a fact of life a the true renaissance of creative production will follow. Please help me explain why we need patent office upgrades NOW befor all the creative genious leaves this country.
California State University, Chico was the first school in California to offer an ABET-accredited degree program in mechatronic engineering. Now its California Mechatronics Center works with industry on machinery, robotics, and surveillance vehicles.
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