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Machine efficiency and automation will lead industrial sustainability efforts

March 7, 2024
The standardization of energy management data, energy monitoring and compressed air conservation and effective data processing and storage are primed to also make sustainability profitable

Many different environmental regulations are affecting manufacturing, namely driven by U.S. commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement or Paris Climate Accords, which pledges to achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHS) emissions by 2050. This will be an immense challenge for industry, driving sustainable options to become more standard in machinery. But first, to improve sustainability, manufacturers must measure energy usage and standardize energy management data.

Many machines depend on pneumatic power as much as they do on electric power, and compressed-air conservation will also play a large role in making machines more sustainable.

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Manufacturing operations are already supporting these efforts in many ways with communication protocols for energy metering, strong supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) foundations and fieldbus connectivity that brings data to the device level.

One truth to measurement

To improve sustainability, it’s imperative to first measure the machine’s energy usage. Tracking usage opens the door to being able to identify areas of waste and opportunities to reduce usage of limited resources, such as through turning off unneeded equipment automatically, says Steve Fales, director of marketing for ODVA. There is a significant opportunity to make achieving sustainability not only possible, but profitable, he says.

To support these efforts, ODVA is participating in a joint consortium to standardize power consumption management and develop a new OPC UA interface standard to acquire energy consumption data in industrial manufacturing. The joint effort is being co-developed by ODVA, the OPC Foundation, PI North America and VDMA. The initiative is designed to optimize energy usage and thereby reduce the detrimental impact on the environment from waste, explains Fales.

“The Power Consumption Management collaboration will help ensure end users have a highly standardized and interoperable means to reach their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals,” Fales says. Work began in 2022, and the group is actively working to develop the specification.

Standardization of energy usage data will enable greater adoption across automation industries. “Having data labelled in the same way and measured in the same scale will allow for greater benchmarking and comparison across industries as well,” he adds.

ODVA is also working to contribute to sustainability efforts in industrial automation through CIP Energy, a network extension for EtherNet/IP. “CIP Energy provides a family of objects and services for the optimization of energy usage (OEU) and allows scalability of implementation within the device from basic energy awareness to more advanced functions for control of energy, aggregation and reporting of energy information or dynamic demand-response,” says Fales.

“CIP Energy allows systems to monitor energy usage and manage energy for efficient energy consumption through dynamic control of energy state and analysis of energy information,” Fales says. Repeatability, consistency and simplicity are the key factors to making this protocol scalable, he adds. CIP Energy identifies the key energy usage attributes that are consistent across EtherNet/IP devices, and the information is stored in energy objects for easy access, management and reporting.

“The idea is to be able to use devices fully when they are needed as a part of the process and to be able to reduce power usage when they are not. Additionally, understanding power usage across a process can allow for identification of areas where waste can be reduced,” Fales says.

“Protocol-neutral energy attributes allow for flexibility in the propagation of energy information via multiple protocols to facilitate an e-business model, such as capturing energy requirements as a line item on production bills of material or to implement demand-response mechanisms for dynamic energy transactions,” he adds.

This is supported by the work done by the Power Management Consumption consortium and the developing OPC UA interface standard. “Business reporting will be much easier knowing that energy data from multiple communication protocols will be formatted in a consistent way with the same labelling and scaling. CIP Energy is one of the existing standards that will contribute to the new OPC UA interface standard,” Fales adds.

With dynamic demand response, a machine device could go into low power when not needed. On a larger scale, demand response can balance energy generation, distribution and usage through planning, analytics and utilities/end-user cooperation. “Power generation and distribution utilities are looking to predict a stable amount of energy usage over time to be able to deliver power when and where it is needed efficiently. End users are trying to minimize energy usage to the extent possible, while also working with utilities to use a consistent amount of power at given times per contractual agreements and pricing incentives. The combination of pricing incentives and agreements also works to reduce grid usage at peak operating times. Additionally, utilities work to make sure that they are delivering power optimally by delivering intermittent power loads when and where they are needed the most to ensure that the grid is stable and end users don’t see disruptions in critical processes. End users having devices that can optimize power either based on usage or time can aid in cooperating with utilities on energy usage,” Fales says.

Under pressure

Pneumatic systems are among the biggest energy wasters, and the inherent inefficiency of compressed air also makes it expensive.

“Monitoring is key to all sustainability efforts,” says Jon Jensen, energy efficiency team manager at SMC. “At the machine level, we see trends toward monitoring the pressure, flow, temperature and dewpoint of compressed air, allowing for data-driven decisions. There is also a growing importance for sensors that use little power, are easy to install and can even communicate wirelessly. Machine builders and system integrators are asking us to produce components that use less energy to operate, both electrically and in their compressed-air consumption. There is specific interest in innovative technologies that use less compressed air than traditional components. Additionally, these customers are asking for more advanced monitoring systems to identify opportunities for even more energy savings.”

Jensen says increasing sustainability standards are driving industrial machine design to be more automated or semi-autonomous. “Automated machinery will soon be expected to have the monitoring necessary to reduce air consumption whenever and wherever by controlling pressure and flow,” Jensen says. “Machines will also be expected to have capabilities for self-diagnosis. For example, continuous monitoring of flow can be used to predict the failure of pneumatic components; an increase in flow can be attributed to a leak, which is a sign of wear. Mapping the flow profile against the motion profile of a machine can isolate the location of a leaking component to a specific circuit.”

With the motion profile already in the machine’s sequence of operations, software can compare the flow profile—peaks and valleys—and correlate to actions in production. “For example, let us say that the flow 20 seconds into the machine’s cycle is normally 10 standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM). After some time goes by, the software notices that the flow at that timestamp is now 15 SCFM. If we also have the machine’s sequence of operations, it could be determined that Cylinder 3 is retracting at that point, which narrows the problem down to just a few components in that part of the circuit—the cylinder rod seal, a fitting or flow control and the tubing between the directional control valve and the cylinder,” Jensen says.

Ultimately, a focus on sustainability will involve designing systems to enhance operator interaction and engagement with energy management. “Real-time monitoring will provide insights and data that empower individuals to make energy-efficient decisions; it will bridge the gap between emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, sensors and regulatory procedures, emphasizing the importance of human resources in future energy management,” Jensen says.

Strong SCADA

Mitsubishi Electric also sees strong end user interest in SCADA systems for better monitoring capabilities on the overall industrial process, individual machines and components. “SCADA also becomes the foundation for other data analysis by creating historical stores of data to be mined by layered artificial intelligence (AI) applications,” says Patrick Varley, product marketing manager at Mitsubishi Electric.

While many are embracing sustainability, some still have investment cost and profitability concerns.

Part of a well-designed system means selecting the most suitable equipment, without over-specifying. “Often, there is a tendency to select more powerful motors, robots and controllers than needed. This means that companies may be overpaying and underutilizing their equipment, leading to energy inefficiencies and unnecessary costs,” Varley adds.

Sizing a motor, for example, will depend greatly on the application and specific motor manufacturer’s specifications. “One significant area of energy reduction will be supported by the use of an inverter to drive the motor. Inverters offer the ability to drive a motor with just the energy needed for the application,” Varley says.

As they operate non-stop for years at a time to support production lines, the impact of reducing the energy consumption of drives, controls, robots and other factory automation devices, even by a fraction, can be significant, says Varley. “Extending their lifecycle can help cut waste of materials that cannot be recycled or repurposed. In both cases, companies can benefit from reduced total cost of ownership, which, in turn minimizes CAPEX and OPEX,” Varley adds. “By designing the production machines with enough flexibility to be able to be modified for the needs of future iterations of the end product, you can extend the life of the equipment used on the manufacturing floor.”

Fieldbus connectivity

More original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are looking for monitoring capabilities with fieldbus connectivity, says Jason Demicoli, product line manager switches for the Americas at Carlo Gavazzi. “With Industry 4.0 mentality, it’s not just expected that field devices switch the load, but the need for more data down to the field devices is becoming almost a default,” he says.

In more complex machines, such as plastic extruders, injection, thermoforming or semiconductor equipment, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) must manage sometimes hundreds of components, says Demicoli. “If we can interconnect all field devices back to the main brain, then the possibilities of increasing the machine capabilities are endless,” he adds.

Fieldbus connectivity down to the component level is an important controls step for sustainability efforts and the need to measure, monitor and adjust, explains Demicoli. “Supervisory controls/monitoring can give you a general understanding of the machine behavior, but, in the era of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), more detailed data is required,” Demicoli says. “When analyzed properly, this detailed data can help machine builders have a better process control but also can help them improve future designs. Data collected from field applications can start becoming an asset to monetize since different models for machine learning can be created.”

It is also important to be compatible with the different industrial protocols, such as EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, Profinet, Modbus TCP, IO-Link, he says.

Heating elements and more in plastic injection machines

Carlo Gavazzi’s NRG Smart Solid State Relay with built-in monitoring and fieldbus communication is used in plastic injection machines to measure energy consumption. “In sensitive heating processes, such as plastic injection machinery, the monitoring of heating elements is critical to ensure a consistent process that yields a high-quality product and make sure that, if a heater breaks, countermeasures are taken instantly to avoid costly damages to screw feeders, as well as the high scrap cost,” Demicoli says. “Additionally, variations in the heating element resistance, especially in an open-loop system may also result in high energy consumption.”

In order to maintain a precise temperature in the mold zones, the plastic injection machines can benefit from fast switching of the heating elements via the solid-state technology, says Demicoli. Electro-mechanical contactors and relays could also do this, but frequent switching leads to frequent field replacement, he adds.

“This is more a lifecycle cost issue. A solid-state relay’s lifetime is measured in millions of cycles, which means less scrap, lower lifecycle cost and less need to throw away faulty components when they reach their lifetime,” Demicoli says.

Blown film extrusion processes use infrared heaters strategically along the extrusion line, to maintain the required temperature for proper melting and processing of the plastic material. “Through a soft-start function, the inrush current of the heaters is eliminated thereby avoiding temperature shocks to the heaters but also avoiding possible temperature overshoots,” he adds.

Demicoli also says that monitoring energy consumption (kwH) between equivalent machines in a production facility can also identify areas for implementing energy-saving initiatives.

Voltage sags can also greatly affect open-loop processes and are typically related to the power network quality and/or a fault on the power network. Voltage compensation features can automatically correct the output power to compensate for voltage sags. “In the case of a process involving open-loop heater control, voltage compensation mimics the functionality of the PID loop with an instantaneous reaction,” Demicoli says.

Energy-management communication protocols

Sustainable practices for each manufacturer may also extend beyond its shop floor, up and down the supply chain, and more end users may soon be asking for data about the environmental impact of materials and processes.

“Standards are also coming into play as we evaluate the carbon footprint of our manufacturing supply chain and supply our customers with the data they need to evaluate us as part of their supply chain. We are already starting to publish data about the product environmental footprint (PEF) of our products such that customers can complete this evaluation,” says Lou Grice, vice president of digitalization and government relations at Phoenix Contact.

“In B2B environments, companies should consider that their downstream customers may require some statement of the environmental impact made by their suppliers,” Grice says. “In general, this means that data provided by suppliers about products and services should be expanded to include data linked to sustainability concerns like PEF. Depending upon the product, the PEF will account for various value chain items, including materials and manufacturing process used to make the product as well as product distribution, use and end-of-life,” he adds.

As example, the PEF for a Phoenix Contact feed-through terminal block shows the material composition, environmental considerations for product manufacturing, customer distribution, use phase and end of life. Emissions data and calculations from general databases and emission reports from its suppliers were used to calculate the product environmental footprint.

Phoenix Contact also uses green energy, such as solar power, wind generation, energy storage and hydrogen gas, and its EMpro energy monitor supports sustainability efforts at its manufacturing facilities. “When we have a need to monitor multiple circuits with mixed voltage levels, we use a solution with our PLCnext controller and our Axioline power measurement modules,” says Russell Kolacek, building automation engineer at Phoenix Contact. “For data collection, we use common data manipulation protocols such as representational state transfer (REST) application programming interface (API) and message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) to gather and share data. We store meter readings in a time-based database, which we can review and analyze later.”

He says REST API was used because the energy meter was supporting direct polling of live values. The meter’s implementation was also well-documented, which allowed the backend programming to be created.

“Using both REST API and MQTT as open communication protocols means our internal application can have long lifecycle, as it is not dependent on a proprietary protocol or communication that is burdened by a license. We can maintain and adapt this code base as necessary. It is also lightweight and well supported by many IIoT frameworks,” Kolacek adds.

Time-based databases are efficient when working with energy data, Kolacek adds. “We are concerned here with the efficiency of storage both in the speed of read/write of the data and in the amount of storage it occupies,” he says.

Phoenix Contact is working with machine builders to design the power meter into the main cabinet of machines.

For a time, many machines will need to be retrofitted with energy monitoring solutions. With at least one control cabinet and available space, monitoring meters can be installed on machines with minimal considerations, Kolacek says. For installation, consider the power distribution layout for the machine and the available space needed for the energy meter.

“Installing in the field requires an additional electrical enclosure and planning for a machine power outage. We typically will locate the energy meter at the delivery point of power for the machine, so we must find space to locate this additional panel. Using a machine built with energy monitoring included, we simply have to bring data monitoring to the machine, making installation much simpler,” Kolacek says.

About the Author

Anna Townshend | Managing Editor

Anna Townshend has been a writer and journalist for 20 years. Previously, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review, until she joined Endeavor Business Media in June 2020. She is the managing editor of Control Design and Plant Services.