Compressed air is a necessary component of automation in a modern pharmaceutical facility that end users must carefully manage. It is considered a clean, safe, and readily available source of energy for automation and, as such, is commonly used. From an environmental standpoint, electricity is required to generate compressed air and therefore contributes to the environmental footprint. Responsibly using compressed air only as necessary is a best practice for green operations.
From a revenue standpoint, compressed air generation does have an impact on utility costs. However, efficiency and benchmarking use ensure control of future utility requirements over a facility’s lifetime, which is financially responsible. Further savings can be found in ensuring there are no compressed air leaks in your systems that lead to wasted air, equipment maintenance and downtime, and drops in productivity.
The standard convention for monitoring compressed air has been with pressure sensors on the air preparation units. When compressed air pressure drops below required levels, the unit sends an alert to the programmable logic controller (PLC) or distributed control systems (DCS) letting the end user know a problem exists. From there, the system reacts and often shuts down; engineering or maintenance departments examine the equipment, diagnose the problem, and perform corrective actions. From there, production can resume.
However, measuring air pressure only addresses part of the equation. Air flow rates and volumetric consumption have been widely ignored within the industry. A new component, the E2M module from Festo, brings air flow monitoring and measuring capabilities to process manufacturers, furthering current proficiencies and delivering new opportunities for efficiency, as well as enhanced energy and revenue savings.
E2M Module and CPX IoT Gateway
The E2M seamlessly integrates with any existing or new manufacturing equipment requiring compressed air to operate. The unit serves as both a pressure sensor and flow sensor for compressed air, measuring the real-time flow rate and the volumetric consumption over a defined period. Over time, this data can be used to enhance machine efficiency and reduce compressed air consumption.
For instance, in a given manufacturing setting, the E2M shows a system using 27 liters of compressed air at standard atmospheric pressure for a specific, repeatable process, establishing a baseline. Down the road, the E2M shows the same process using 33 liters of compressed air per minute. Though the system hasn’t failed, it’s easy to deduce that the compressed air circuit has been compromised as the system is leaking air; this is also an excellent indicator for predictive maintenance. Often leaks are hidden, causing inefficiencies that worsen over time, which can eventually become an unplanned equipment shutdown. The E2M provides the data required for predictive diagnostics regarding air flow and consumption, stopping manufacturing inefficiencies from growing into catastrophes.
The E2M is also capable of performing leak checks downstream between cycles. The unit will pressurize the pneumatic circuit and measure pressure degradation to determine if air is leaking and the rate of the leak. Further, while the system is idle or shut down, the E2M acts as a master on/off valve, preventing air loss through trickling.
The CPX IoT Gateway integrates into the Festo CPX electrical terminal and brings data from the E2M module, as well as other components and modules, onto a standardized, cloud-based dashboard for monitoring and benchmarking. Trends can be analyzed, early warnings issued, and incident notifications set up.
The dashboards can be securely accessed in a web browser from any device with internet access. Simple traffic light indications, as well as graphic depictions of energy use, performance figures, and historical data are available on standard predesigned dashboards.
The Gateway will automatically discover the E2M on a plant’s Ethernet network. Safeguards for security are taken, such as a manual switch to control data flow to using secure protocols. It will aggregate the data and send it to the Festo cloud using the industry standard AMQP protocol. The dashboard is available by subscription from the Festo cloud and can be shared further to other dashboards.
It should be noted that the Festo E2M module can also directly interface with other third-party clouds, such as Siemens Mindsphere and Rockwell’s Factory Talk/Shelby platform.
Two practical installation concepts
An important attribute of the IoT Gateway for pharmaceutical installations is that it does not receive inputs from the cloud. It is pushing data only, so there is no risk to a validated process or skid. Based upon this, there are two installation concepts:
A Stand-alone Installation—outside the existing PLC/DCS, just gathering and pushing information to the cloud. This is ideal to realize the energy efficiency and preventative diagnostic benefits with no impact to an existing validated process.
In this case, the E2M is installed in front of the process, skid, or plant, usually directly before the air preparation unit responsible for the pressure regulation and filtration of the compressed air. It can be powered directly and is connected to the IoT Gateway (GW) via Modbus/TCP, which will automatically recognize the E2M and configure the data to be pushed to the cloud.
E2M fits directly into existing air preps and filtration units of both new and existing process manufacturing equipment.
The benefits here are in the simplicity of the installation, which does not impact the validated processes and equipment, and it provides an organization with a risk-free way to evaluate data collection on operational efficiencies. Plus, there are no programming or commissioning changes required at the PLC/DCS.
The other option is a Fully Integrated Installation – connecting E2M to the PLC/DCS brings additional functionality to the E2M and, in addition to the cloud dashboard, data is available at the PLC/DCS for local processing and analysis.
Ideal for new designs, this can be set up with an autonomous CPX electrical terminal or with a full-featured CPX terminal that includes operational modules for things like electrical I/O, IO-Link, or pneumatic valves. In the latter case, it is connected to the PLC/DCS using standard industrial Ethernet protocols like Ethernet/IP, Profinet, and EtherCAT. Function blocks (FBs) and Add-On Instructions (AOIs) are also available to quickly access E2M data and capabilities in the control software.
For plants with a decentralized automation concept, having these electrical terminals close to the process is very common. The integration of the IoT Gateway in a new design is not very complicated. The IoT Gateway module fits directly into valve terminals, the Festo I/O module, or a combination of both.
The benefits here are the same as the autonomous installation, with some additions, such as: measurement of pressure changes and automatic shutdown when the system is not in production or process. These are configurable parameters, accessible from the function blocks (FB) or Add-On Instructions (AOI), that allow customization for process requirements. The HMI can also have access to all the energy and diagnostic data for local dashboards and fault handling.
Both the E2M and CPX IoT Gateway work over fieldbus, HMI, local networks, Festo cloud, and third-party clouds. Also, they operate in unison to address manufacturing inefficiencies while providing useful and meaningful data.
Many large pharma companies’ production initiatives—such as generating and using data for Good Manufacturing Practices, energy consumption and conservation improvements, operational productivity and efficiency, and improving revenues and margins—directly correlate to compressed air use.
ISO50001 is a recent standard that defines requirements, with guidance, for an energy management system. The standard is based on establishing, maintaining, and improving energy use. This is being adopted and integrated into most major pharmaceutical companies. The ability to measure, detect, and report air consumption trends and losses is a critical part of achieving this standard and improving the energy performance of a company.
Easy and real-time access to compressed air consumption data paves a smooth path to improving environmental footprints, lowering energy costs, improving efficiency through predictive maintenance, and, ultimately, bolstering bottom lines. Another benefit is that this is a simple Industry 4.0 application for data collection to understand operations holistically. It will help organizations identify and quantify real value and allow further digital strategies and investments to be effectively defined.