Can you make an old plant run with improved energy efficiencies? Tweaking the machines with a dab of digital overlay may bring aging equipment up to 21st century energy efficiency standards.
Plant assets requite a deep capital investment. Most companies want to measure the usefulness of their equipment in decades, even if that means using old-world machinery to produce new-world products. Even more of a challenge is the attempt to bring up-to-date efficiency to the equipment. While there may be a clear ROI argument for new equipment, many plant managers seek their savings by making their existing equipment run more efficiently.
We tend to think of older equipment as inefficient energy-wise, much as older cars get poor gas mileage. That analogy may not hold with plant equipment. “It is a common misconception that only new equipment can be energy efficient. Legacy equipment, and older equipment no longer supplied by the original equipment manufacturer can be adapted to reduce energy consumption in the supply chain,” Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at obsolete industrial parts supplier EU Automation, told Design News.
Bringing Connectivity to Older Equipment
Wilkins notes that connectivity can reduce the energy consumption of older equipment. “Connected technology made possible by the Industrial Internet of Things has drastically improved visibility in manufacturing,” said Wilkins. “Manufacturers now have access to real-time data to see how the assembly line is running.”
The data coming from machine connectivity can be used to tweak the system toward efficiency. “Manufacturers can use this real-time data to find areas where equipment is not running at maximum capacity, or is consuming more energy than required,” said Wilkins. “Manufacturers must then decide how to optimize this equipment to improve productivity and reduce energy consumption.”
As well as fine-tuning the equipment to improve efficiency, plant machines can be enhanced with advanced motion technology. “There is some equipment that can be added to the supply chain once the inefficient machine has been located,” said Wilkins. “Variable speed drives, for example, can be added to equipment that uses motors, controlling its speed so it will only use the energy necessary to complete an action.”
Benefits of Added Efficiency in Uptime
As well an improving energy consumption, enhanced plant equipment can also prevent costly interruptions in production. “If equipment is consuming more energy than required, it can easily overheat and break down. That leads to unplanned, expensive downtime,” said Wilkins. “Installing equipment that optimizes energy efficiency also means the machine will require less energy to complete its actions, increasing its lifespan.”
The machine connectivity can also provide the data necessary for a shift to preventive maintenance, which will extend uptime and decrease unplanned interruptions. “Using real-time data can assist in improved productivity by encouraging proactive maintenance. This will ensure that assembly-line problems can be prevented, thus reducing the risk of overheating from excessive energy consumption,” said Wilkins. “The equipment and assembly line itself will no longer struggle and depend on more energy to produce goods at the required rate.”
Keeping Obsolete Equipment Working
Reducing energy consumption lowers production costs as well as bringing plant operations in line with low-energy standards. “Energy efficiency helps manufacturers reduce the carbon footprint of the facility while reducing the cost of energy. This lowers the cost of producing goods,” said Wilkins. “Manufacturers can then spend money elsewhere to improve productivity. As machinery becomes more advanced, it will optimize productivity, leading to better accuracy and faster job completion.”
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Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
Image courtesy of EU Automation.