Six ways to maximize efficient manufacturing with minimized energy

There are several practical strategies and initiatives that can help manufacturers overcome energy cost challenges.

By Jeremy Whittingham July 26, 2023
Courtesy: Brett Sayles

Sustainability insights

  • Manufacturers are feeling the pinch to become more energy efficient from a cost and cultural standpoint more than ever.
  • Manufacturers can overcome some of these challenges by conducting an energy audit, implement smart manufacturing into their operations, optimize production and more.

Rising energy costs have become a significant concern for many manufacturers in recent years. According to a recent survey by Make UK, six-in-ten manufacturers believe that the severity of these rising energy costs threatens their businesses. In such challenging times, it becomes crucial for manufacturers to find innovative ways to reduce energy consumption and lower their operational costs. Consider these six practical strategies to overcome this challenge.

1. Conduct an energy audit

The first step towards reducing energy consumption is to conduct a comprehensive energy audit, looking at energy usage patterns, equipment efficiency and overall building efficiency. In the industrial sector, the most energy-consuming position is the process energy use, such as high-power appliances like electrical welders, machine tools, steel melting furnaces or wood drying chambers. By assessing the current energy usage and identifying areas of inefficiency, manufacturers can gain valuable insights and develop targeted energy-saving strategies. Engaging a professional energy auditor can provide expertise and recommendations tailored to the specific needs of the manufacturing facility.

2. Invest in energy-efficient equipment

Replacing outdated machinery and equipment with energy-efficient alternatives can significantly reduce energy costs. According to ABB’s 2022 Energy Efficiency Survey Report, replacing the world’s 300 million industrial motor-driven systems with optimized, high-efficiency equipment could lead to a 10% reduction in global electricity consumption. This reduction is equivalent to more than 90%of the European Union’s annual consumption. Manufacturers wanting to invest in energy-efficient equipment should look for equipment with best-in-class efficiency ratings, like IE3 (premium efficiency) or IE4 (super premium efficiency) for motors, or advanced technology, such as variable speed drives combined with electric motors.

3. Implement smart manufacturing

Embrace the concept of intelligent manufacturing, where advanced automation and data analytics are utilized to optimize energy consumption. Implementing sensors, controls, and monitoring systems can help identify energy waste and enable real-time adjustments to optimize energy usage. For example, Colgate-Palmolive is using innovative flow pneumatic sensors and IIoT-enabled software architecture to monitor compressed air flow in real-time to identify leaks, optimize pneumatic processes and improve airflow efficiency in its product packaging facilities – by using these technologies. The company has already seen a 15% reduction in energy usage on its packaging lines. Manufacturers can gain valuable insights into their energy usage patterns and make informed decisions by collecting and analyzing data.

4. Optimize production processes

Streamlining production processes reduces energy consumption and improves productivity. Identifying bottlenecks by closely analyzing the production workflow helps companies take proactive measures to resolve them, using methods such as reorganizing workstations, redistributing tasks or implementing automation technologies. Eliminating unnecessary steps is another crucial aspect of streamlining production processes and reducing energy consumption — many manufacturing workflows tend to have obsolete steps that consume energy without contributing to product quality or functionality. Implementing lean manufacturing principles is another effective strategy to reduce waste and minimize energy-intensive processes. Lean manufacturing focuses on identifying and eliminating non-value-added activities or practices within the production system. This approach emphasizes continuous improvement, waste reduction, and the efficient use of resources.

5. Embrace renewable energy

Consider integrating renewable energy sources into the manufacturing facility. Installing solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal energy can generate clean and sustainable power, reducing reliance on grid electricity and increasing energy security and independence. By generating power on-site, manufacturing facilities become less reliant on external energy suppliers and are less vulnerable to fluctuations in energy prices or supply disruptions. Although the initial investment may seem substantial, the long-term savings and positive environmental impact make it worthwhile. Over time, the cost of generating renewable energy can be significantly lower than purchasing electricity from the grid, especially considering potential incentives from government sources, tax credits, and reduced operational costs. By investing in renewable energy infrastructure, manufacturers can stabilize their energy costs and potentially generate additional revenue by selling excess energy back to the grid.

6. Foster a culture of continuous improvement

Make energy efficiency an integral part of the company culture. Encouraging regular communication and feedback among employees regarding energy-saving ideas and initiatives and implementing a way of sharing best practice knowledge for the processes and machines within the facility means that energy-saving can be a company-wide initiative in which all employees are invested. By defining and implementing key performance indicators (KPIs) related to energy consumption, such as overall energy consumption per unit of production or percentage of renewable energy utilized, manufacturers can monitor their progress and identify areas for improvement. Manufacturers can create a sense of ownership and encourage continuous improvement by fostering a culture that values energy-saving efforts.

The rising energy costs in all industries can threaten businesses, but it also allows manufacturers to embrace energy-saving practices and drive positive change. Implementing energy-saving measures will lead to substantial cost savings and demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. Saving energy benefits individual businesses and contributes to the greater goal of a sustainable future for everyone.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website.

Author Bio: Jeremy Whittingham is an industry consultant and a member of the Advanced Engineering team at EasyFairs.