There are all kinds of good reasons to save energy in your production facility. Aside from desires to reduce the environmental footprint of a plant, perhaps receiving a tax rebate in the process, saving energy also saves money. Using compressed air responsibly—through the use of Industry 4.0 technologies—is a good way to get started down that green path.
Compressed air is a very common energy source for automation in the life sciences industry—used in particular to activate a wide range of valves and linear actuators in the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), solution preparation, solid preparation, packaging automation, and more. It’s a clean source of energy that is readily available, powerful, and simple. It’s also a great place to look if you want to save energy. It takes significant electrical costs to generate compressed air, so managing the use of that compressed air can be instrumental in a plant’s overall energy consumption strategy. And it’s a common place for waste, where leaks often go undetected.
“The reduction of energy is on everybody’s minds,” said Craig Correia, director of life sciences and process industries for Festo. Speaking recently at the virtual Festo Experience trade show along with Frank Latino, Festo’s global product manager for electric automation, Correia was looking to provide practical, tangible examples of how to reduce energy consumption with Industry 4.0 technologies.
Reducing environmental footprint
He took a hard look at compressed air because it’s not uncommon for a plant to be wasting a lot of energy there. “On a system that’s running at 80 psi, if you’ve got a 1/16-inch hole, you will consume about 5 cfm through that leak,” he said. “Analysis has shown that 20% of air consumption is wasted air.”
To combat this kind of wasted air in a pharmaceutical plant, Correia espoused the benefits of flow measurement. It’s an area that’s long been ignored, largely because of the inaccessibility of the technology. But measuring pressure without measuring flow in pneumatics, Correia said, is like trying to look at electricity by just measuring voltage and no current. “More than five years ago, flow sensing technology was either too large or too expensive, and people generally ignored it,” he said. “But it is critical. And the technology is at a point today where you can incorporate flow measurement today at a much lower price.”
For one customer—a medical device manufacturer whose largest facility makes products for renal care—the driving goal was toward energy efficiency and the achievement of ISO 50001 energy management standards. Tax benefits totaling about $1 million were an added incentive, as was an internal competition to be the first plant to reach efficiency goals.
Using a standalone installation concept that is well suited to brownfield installations, the manufacturer implemented Festo’s E2M series of energy efficiency modules in January 2019. The system provides automatic energy management, leakage detection, optimized system performance, and predictive maintenance. It senses both pressure and flow for compressed air, measuring the real-time flow rate and the volumetric consumption over a defined period.
The payback period from energy savings alone was less than a year, Correia commented. As an added benefit, “areas of inefficiency are identified continually, putting corrective actions in place,” he said.
The benefits of Industry 4.0
Besides the ability to find air leaks and gauge efficiency, flow measurement also provides predictive diagnostic capabilities. Pneumatic cylinders are consumable devices that will wear down over time. Flow measurement enables manufacturers to avoid catastrophic component failure with early detection of worn seals or defective connections. “If your equipment goes down, a technician has to go out and understand that the process is not completing,” Correia explained. “He has to spend time to diagnose the problem to determine that the cylinder has failed. How long will that take? Fifteen minutes? Two hours? Meanwhile, the equipment is down.”
When you see an increase in air consumption, you can not only improve efficiency by finding the air leak, but it could be a predictive indicator that a cylinder is leaking. “On my own time, I can go out and diagnose the equipment,” Correia pointed out. “It doesn’t have to be a complete shutdown.”
The E2M energy monitoring system connects to the cloud through an IoT gateway. The data is sent to the Festo Cloud for processing, and from there can also be distributed to other cloud environments for further analysis. A cloud-based E2M dashboard focuses on both energy management and maintenance. Showing the overall health of the pneumatic system, the maintenance screen can show at a glance which element is out of tolerance, Latino said.
In another case, a top biotech pharmaceutical company that provides production and research in vision care had as its goal a desire to find and utilize effective Industry 4.0 solutions. The approach there was less about how to save energy and more about how to use Industry 4.0 technologies to achieve improved efficiencies.
Their first priority was toward predictive diagnostics and uptime. So in that case, they used the change in air flow as a predictive indicator.
This manufacturer was able to use a fully integrated installation, which enables the implementation of more features of the energy efficiency module. Data is available in the control system, and local dashboards and diagnostic data can be seen from any HMI, Latino mentioned. “The gateway sends the data to an MQTT broker, and it can be accessed from any dashboard,” he added.
The system was just installed in March, so the pharma company will not have full results until later this year. But they are already seeing significant benefits in the reduction of unplanned shutdowns and well as the reduction of energy costs and environmental footprint.
The Festo also solves the Big Data challenge that many companies face, Correia said. “There’s no shortage of data; you can measure just about everything,” he said. “But how do you use that data to actively act on it? We simplify it. We show you here’s the baseline, and here’s how you act on it.”
Festo Experience sessions are available on demand until Sept. 5.