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Creating an Energy Management System

With the help of Mitsubishi Electric technologies, automation and engineering company Versatech has developed a system to collect and visualize real time plant-wide energy consumption that can be accessed remotely.

A control cabinet created by Versatech for Agri-Fab featuring Mitsubishi Electric technology.
A control cabinet created by Versatech for Agri-Fab featuring Mitsubishi Electric technology.

Versatech, a multi-faceted engineering company based in Effingham, Ill., continually expands its offerings to meet the needs of its customers with automation, robotics, work holding, machining, contract manufacturing, and lean manufacturing consulting. Recently, Versatech has focused on offering energy management systems among their data management solutions.

As an authorized systems integrator for Mitsubishi Electric, Versatech uses Mitsubishi Electric technologies to deliver turnkey energy management solutions. The energy management offerings from Versatech can be used to perform ASHRAE energy assessments; provide in-depth analysis and reporting; identify specific energy conservation opportunities; and help design, integrate, and install energy saving hardware and software that deliver both immediate and ongoing savings.

The company’s energy management offerings are already providing significant cost savings for large industrial facilities.

Cost reduction via better energy management
Energy costs around the use of water, air, gas, electric, and steam represent a large portion of the operating expenditures for most manufacturing facilities. They also represent a huge savings opportunity. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that energy management efforts at large American manufacturers have saved about $2.4 billion in the past five years alone. And this figure comes from facilities representing only a tiny fraction of the country’s overall manufacturing energy footprint, meaning that there are likely savings representing tens of billions of dollars more yet to be achieved through smart energy management solutions.

“Many times, companies assume that high energy costs are just a cost of doing business and that not much can be done to reduce them. This is simply not the case,” explained Greg Gillespie, data program manager at Versatech. “Measuring energy costs is the first step in reducing them, and that’s where Versatech and Mitsubishi Electric come in.”

Agri-Fab uncovers hidden energy drains
As leader of Versatech’s Energy Management Solutions offering, Gillespie is working to open the eyes of manufacturers to the significant results that can be achieved. A good example of this can be seen in Versatech’s work with lawn equipment manufacturer Agri-Fab, which asked Versatech to perform an energy assessment in its plant. Based on the resulting suggestions, Agri-Fab had Versatech install a customized energy management system to monitor its production equipment.

Versatech specified Mitsubishi Electric energy management components for this system, including the high-speed, high-accuracy Q Series programmable logic controller and the EcoWeb- Server III, an easy-to-use, scalable system that collects energy consumption data throughout the plant and provides snapshots and trend data to be viewed in graph form in real time, 24/7, from anywhere using a standard web browser. This web-based visualization method eliminated the need for a server and related management and maintenance costs.

Since Agri-Fab did not yet have any networked metering devices in place on its equipment, Versatech installed several networkable meters, including four Mitsubishi Electric meters, allowing for the capture and storage of equipment energy usage data.

Not long after Versatech installed the system, Gillespie said they received a call from Agri-Fab indicating the energy management system was malfunctioning. Agri-Fab thought the system was generating incorrect consumption data, but that wasn’t the case.

“We investigated right away and found that the energy management system was operating just fine. It had discovered a significant energy drain that Agri-Fab probably wouldn’t have found otherwise,” explained Gillespie.

The source of the energy drain was Agri-Fab’s paint curing ovens. After a recent maintenance procedure, the ovens weren’t reset properly, causing them start up for brief periods after hours when no one was likely to be in the facility and wasting significant amounts of energy.

Fixing this issue alone immediately led to annual energy cost savings of nearly $70,000 for Agri-Fab.

But that was only the beginning of the fast and easy energy savings generated by the Mitsubishi Electric technologies in the Versatech system. For example, an anomaly was discovered in air compressor use at the plant. Correcting this issue led to an estimated additional $50,000 in annual energy cost savings.

As with the paint curing ovens issue, Gillespie said “there was probably little chance of the air compressor issue being discovered without the Versatech system in place.”

Gillespie believes that there is much more savings yet to come with Agri-Fab continuing to monitor energy consumption over time.

“This is a continuous improvement tool that allows customers to benchmark, monitor, and continue to reduce their energy costs,” he explained. “We provide training so that our customers can be self-sufficient in getting the most out of it, and we are also always at their service to provide any additional support that they might need.”

Other parts of the Mitsubishi Electric energy management product line carried by Versatech include the MC Works software with analytics package, which gives users highly customizable dashboards and reporting capabilities, and MES Interface IT—a unique tool that allows the consolidation of data from nearly any brand of network equipment into a single database without the need for a PC.

“MES Interface IT is a great product,” said Gillespie. “The integration is fast and seamless, with nearly no coding involved. And you avoid the hassles of a PC, alleviating the need for firmware upgrades and the threat of a computer crash or of the computer choking on the data flow. Once the MES is installed, it just sits in the rack and does its job very, very well. It’s the most robust solution out there.”

Getting started with energy management
No matter what system is ultimately chosen by a user, Gillespie says the most important step is to start the measurement process so that sources of wasted energy can be identified and addressed.

“Energy management is not a complex concept. You collect your data, establish a baseline, and act on the information to effectively save energy and save money,” he explained. “Mitsubishi Electric products help give us the capability to do that very successfully for our clients—and they’re excellent products at very reasonable prices.”

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