If you are somehow involved in running a manufacturing plant, the odds are that you will be working on at least one Industry 4.0 project. The idea of using data analytics to optimize production, increase efficiency, flexibility and enhance quality is making its way to factory floors around the world.
This need not come as a surprise. Both economics and technology are giving the Industry 4.0 concept a major boost. Economically speaking, it is a major opportunity to increase your value added in an era where margins have come under pressure. By tracking every parameter of the process and continuously tweaking it, costs are kept under control. Predictive maintenance reduces downtime, there are fewer batches out-of-spec, idle time in between unit operations is reduced. Moreover, the ability to adjust processes for nearly every item being produced, allows for the kind of customization customers are willing to pay more for. From the technology point of view, the growth of sensor networks and Internet of Things has given us the tools to effectively monitor and adjust all aspects of production in real time.
When companies embark on efforts to introduce Industry 4.0, they mostly focus on the ‘core’ parameters of production efficiency, quality and cost. This is obviously what drives revenue. There is a strong case, however, to also include energy management in such projects. After all systematically tracking energy consumption, production and costs is a major challenge right now in most industries – and one that has a lot in common with Industry 4.0 thinking.
The time is now The factors driving Industry 4.0 are also paving the way for energy management. In addition there is a growing body of regulation requiring systematic reporting, down to the level of individual batches (so called specific energy consumption or SEC). As a consequence the attention to both themes is alive at the same time. Unfortunately the responsibilities for each of them often reside with different departments within the organisation – so they develop in their own, separate ways.
It is all about data Fundamentally both Industry 4.0 and energy management are about collecting, using and combining data to look for optimization. A typical factory sits on a treasure trove of data – which it does not use. The efforts and investment needed to start mining this information are very similar. Because energy management requires a very specific context and skill set that are not the core business of your average factory, it is not automatically included in projects. For the same reasons many industrial data mining software packages offer no or only rudimentary modules for working with energy information.
Despite the obvious similarities and the huge potential, energy management is not (yet) fully incorporated in most factory digitization projects. Changing this will require two things. First of all we need awareness with plant managers that the two themes are intimately connected. Secondly – and even more importantly – the software tools that are available need a major upgrade. The crux lies in fully mapping energy data on the structure of production processes. There is reason for optimism, though. Awareness is growing quickly with key decision makers in industry. At the same time new software tools are coming online that will fully – and intelligently - tie energy into factory management. So get ready for those Energy 4.0 projects that are just around the corner.