Sustainable Manufacturing: Seismic Shift or Cost Reduction?

From its beginning, Automation World has covered energy management.

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The early topics from 2003 through 2005 focused on reducing electricity usage by installing efficient motors and variable frequency drives. Pretty mundane stuff—except to electrical engineers and cost managers. Then, all of the sudden, “green” as a topic for manufacturing moved from the fringes of the environmental movement to center stage. The term could have dual meaning in the United States as both environmental awareness and U.S. currency (as in reducing expenditures).

Perhaps green had too many political overtones, but recently, the term of choice for companies in their annual reports and marketing messages has been sustainability. This is a sufficiently vague term that allows chief executive officers to tell analysts and shareholders that they practice sustainable manufacturing or sustainable business practices—sometimes gaining perceived market mojo without the messy business of defining just what they mean. The term also lends itself to technology suppliers as they race to bundle existing products and services into “sustainable solutions” offerings. Once again, the term is encompassing enough to fit a variety of suppliers who serve different parts of the automation market.

Automation World recently engaged Phil Kaufman, business manager, power & energy management, and Marcia Walker, program manager, sustainable production, of Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based automation supplier, in communication about what constitutes sustainability in the automation market. They have collaborated on a white paper on the subject to lay out their thinking.

They believe that attitudes related to industrial energy consumption are undergoing a “seismic shift,” and they propose a different way to view it. “Traditionally, energy has been viewed as a cost, a bill to be paid and an expense to be controlled. Those who are ready for the future, however, have matured into a new perspective toward energy and are shifting their operations, especially their manufacturing, to capitalize on the full value of energy as a ‘raw material,’ a resource that can be applied to grow and sustain their businesses into the future,” the pair say in their white paper. “Large and small companies alike will need to know exactly where that valuable energy is being used, to the point of tracking it as an ingredient in their recipes or a tangible component in the product assembly—and capturing it as a line item on the production Bill of Material, or other similar tracking methods, such as Giga Joules or BTUs per ton of product. Managing this information in real time gives them the means to manage it carefully in order to sustain a profitable business.”

Backing up this new point of view is Aimee McKane, senior program manager, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who says, “Electricity is an input to production much like materials or labor. It is imperative that firms balance the needs of production and revenue generation with the costs associated with each input.”

Kaufman and Walker have devised a model for energy management capability. It includes seven “pillars,” namely:

•    Facility Monitoring—Understand facility-level energy consumption to make better equipment runtime decisions
•    Production Monitoring—Understand machine-level energy consumption of the plant floor in real time
•    Capturing Energy on the Production BOM—View energy as a manageable input that can be documented on the production bill of materials
•    Modeling—Use modeling and simulation solutions that factor in energy as a variable for optimizing profitability
•    Controlling—Enable configurable automated optimization of production with energy as a variable
•    Responding—Enable response to external market factors to optimize according to real-time supply
•    Scorecarding—Extend the infrastructure to provide energy ‘scorecards’ and optimize the supply chain with energy as a consideration.

Perhaps these ideas will help manufacturers figure out how to address sustainable manufacturing and energy management.

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Editor in Chief of Automation World

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