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Sensors
 and utilities savings

The production line of an industrial or a manufacturing or any other type of company is one of the most energy consuming areas and in many cases the least energy efficient. In small or large production lines there are always energy “hungry” equipment or machinery that in many cases do not run at a optimum way. A production line can also be one of the areas of a company that if not properly operated can immediately affect revenues and therefore profits. A production line halt due to equipment failures can have an immediate impact on many different areas of a company such as logistics and supply chain and sales and marketing. So looking at the operation of a production line, one has two serious issues to tackle: high overall energy consumption and high dependability on equipment and machinery reliability.

A production line can be very diverse as it usually contains different types of equipment and machinery, all required to operate reliable at an optimum and efficient way. From its lighting system to its motors, belts and fans, to air compressors and refrigeration systems, to hydraulic and steam systems, a production line is also a very complex environment. It uses raw materials to produce products that are sold to produce profits to the company. Minimising or optimizing its operational costs can increase profits as theses are directly related to production costs. To do so the two issues noted above must be dealt with a way that ensures both production line operability at the rated production capacity and with a safe way for the employees and with minimum cost and effort.

The first issue of high energy consumption can be dealt with by trying to decrease the consumption and therefore costs. But his cannot be done in the expense of production capacity. So one of the easiest way to do it is to see whether equipment are run in an energy efficient way and to introduce energy management processes. The second issue of equipment reliability has to do with the way and the rate of equipment fail. This is directly related to maintenance and how is this applied. But maintenance can also help solve the first issue as well as well maintained equipment of good operating condition are the most energy efficient ones. Therefore by applying proper maintenance activities along with the application of an energy management process can solve both problems in hand in one go.

Maintenance can be a costly activity even if it can save money and cut down costs related to equipment failures and their energy efficient operation. Therefore a maintenance strategy is required that is low cost and easy to be implemented. Currently there are three (3) major maintenance strategies or models that can be used to achieve the previous mentioned goals:

  • Preventive Maintenance or Time Based Maintenance
  • Predictive Maintenance or Condition Based Maintenance (CBM)
  • Reliability Centered Maintenance (Pro-Active or Prevention Maintenance)

It is evident that the highest savings per power and year can be achieved by applying the third strategy which is focused to pro-active maintenance. Even in this case the maintenance activities can still cost money. But there is a solution which is low cost, easy to implement and it does not require human intervention. Technological developments in recent years have enabled the combination of wireless networks with sensor technology to produce Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN). These networks are used to monitor physical parameters of a critical part of an equipment or a machine and produce data that can be used to a) identify whether the equipment or machine runs at an energy efficient way and b) to predict whether the equipment or machine will fail.

Given all that is noted above, cutting down costs in a production line, that come from either energy non-efficient operation of equipment or from unreliable equipment operation, can be achieved by applying a proper designed maintenance strategy using wireless sensor technologies.