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The need for plant operators to strike a balance between reducing carbon emissions and optimising cost efficiency is currently a key driver for product development in the electrical industry, says Jarkko Aro, sales and operative director, I.C. Electrical, part of VEO Group.
However, with the reality of fully-automated plants on the horizon, it is essential that operators seize the opportunity to invest in intelligent systems. Getting the right expert advice could help them to realise value from their investments while improving energy efficiency levels across the entire plant.
In recent years, pressure for plant operators to comply with ever more stringent emissions standards has filtered down the supply chain, creating the need for innovative methods of improving products’ energy efficiency levels. Similarly, a growing tendency for operators to make fewer, high-value machinery investments has resulted in a greater push towards quality and the need to extend lifespans across a range of product types.
One area which has recently seen significant leaps forwards in terms of energy efficiency improvements is in the development of drives. Running motors and drives accounts for almost two thirds of the electricity used by UK industry, so operators making upgrades in this area could stand to make significant efficiency improvements.
Variable speed drives, also known as variable frequency drives, are pieces of equipment used to control the speed of industrial machinery. Where this technology is up to date, it can help operators to minimise wasted electricity, while keeping their running costs down. Operators with drives installed 10 or more years ago may wish to consider embarking on a modernisation project, which involves working with an expert contractor to assess where energy savings could be realised across the plant, and replacing outdated drives.
Advancements in technology are creating components which are smaller in size, while still capable of operating the same power levels. By adopting an intelligent approach which considers the whole grid, the overall cost of such electrical systems can gradually be brought down. This means that cost is no longer an excuse for operators not to improve their environmental credentials. By seeking the support of an experienced electrical contractor, operators can assess areas for energy savings across the plant, allowing them to replace outdated electrical equipment gradually and minimise any potential disruption to production schedules.
Industry requirements for performance management solutions and power analysis are also making the development of solutions for identifying load shedding and fault detection more important than ever before. Having smart, cloud-based systems in place which can offer real-time insights into capacity, load and operational status, as well as offering remote control, intelligent motor starters and more accessible predictive maintenance, gives operators and management an enormous amount of data from to glean insights into their systems.
Another key trend set to define electrical manufacturing in 2020 is the move towards combined heat and power plants (CHP) and district heating and cooling solutions. The use of such technology is already established in Nordic countries, where water heated by power plants is used within residential housing, replacing conventional oil/gas heating systems. While the UK is still several years away from utilising this opportunity fully, progress has already been made in this area by making high-performing district heating and cooling systems available that meet customer needs, and have a positive impact on reducing emissions.
By working closely with experienced contractors, operators stand the best chance of improving energy efficiency levels across their plants and investing in smart electrical systems in a cost-efficient way. By aiming for full power plant optimisation, they can react to the trends defining electrical manufacturing and boost the profitability of their plants for years to come.