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Will modern equipment reduce commercial energy costs

As a sector, manufacturing is responsible for using millions of megawatts of energy daily, long since a concern for anyone managing production and even more so in a period when commercial energy costs are heading upwards.

With energy prices rising at an unprecedented rate, it has never been more critical to consider ways to streamline business processes and reduce costs.

What can you do to stabilise the cost and avoid passing it onto your customers?

Production relies on machinery – which relies on energy

The equipment used in manufacturing often works around the clock, constantly drawing on energy to operate, becoming one of the main energy users.

While you can’t fully remove the need for power, there are many ways to ensure you use it efficiently.

Start by asking yourself these primary questions about your machinery:

Is it up to date?
Is it operating efficiently?
Is it providing a return on investment?

Answering no to one or more of these questions means it’s time to review your equipment.

Do you need to upgrade your manufacturing equipment?

Most new technology is designed and built with efficiency in mind, so an upgrade could reduce your energy use.

That said, your current equipment might still be fit for purpose for years to come, and you probably don’t want to invest in replacements if you don’t need to.

If you are using older machinery, it is imperative to monitor it to ensure it works efficiently and provides an ongoing return on investment. There are several parts to a machine that require constant review, and simple processes to implement as part of your strategy to establish machine efficiency.

1 Motor and drives

When it comes to the production line, motors and drives are typically the largest energy consumer, accountable for around a quarter of your site’s power. But are they operating at their best?

A common myth is you should keep your motor running when not in use, as stopping and restarting consumes more energy. This is not the case. You should always turn off any system that draws on energy when it isn’t needed – it saves on energy and makes your facility safer.

Size: Motors are often larger than the machinery requires, causing it to use power excessively. Check if you can install a smaller motor to do the same job and reduce your energy consumption at the same time.

Software: Many systems are available to help customers manage their equipment, constantly looking for faults or ageing parts. Using a predictive tool to monitor equipment and alert you to when a failure is likely enables you to replace machine components before they become an issue, preventing unnecessary energy drain.

Maintenance: Like most equipment, motors require care to remain operational and safe. Due to their high use, motors and drives are particularly prone to burnout. They require a rigorous maintenance program to prevent them from failing – use quality lubricant and cleaning fluid to optimise their lifespan.

Note that modern motors are built with energy efficiency in mind, and it may be that a replacement part is more cost-effective than a maintenance plan.

A Variable Speed Drive will make a motor work more efficiently and cut energy consumption by around 50%. Motors themselves are now more energy-efficient too, with modern motors taking giant steps forwards in terms of energy use and loss, running temperatures and expected lifespan.

2 Compressed air

While some equipment can’t operate without compressed air, it is often over-used in factories and causes unnecessary costs to the manufacturer, which are easy to avoid.

Simple ways to save on the cost of compressed air include:

• Cleaning your machinery – use a low-pressure blower or vacuum to clean down equipment.

• Check for leaks – regularly run a solution through the pipes to assess if air is escaping and wasting energy.

• Use cold air – denser than warm air, cold air takes less time and energy to compress, saving on its cost.

• Remember that compressed air is a hazardous substance that must be used and stored safely.

3 Ovens and dryers

In food production, ovens and dryers are often used repeatedly – sometimes around the clock. Regardless of their continuous operation, you can still find ways to save on the cost of energy:

• Maintain your equipment and regularly check for broken seals, clogged filters, leaks or damaged insulation.

• Use software to scan for faults and repair broken parts before they fail.

• Only use ovens when you have a full load – or wait until you do.

• Recover and repurpose waste heat to warm rooms or water.

4 Vehicles: forklifts and cranes

Many factories have at least one forklift in operation – some have several, not to mention other specialist vehicles such as cranes, each reliant on energy. Two tips to ensure you are minimising energy used for operating vehicles are:

• Re-charge forklifts when the energy tariff is low (usually overnight).

• Automate your warehouse to require less storage space and reduce the need and frequency of vehicles.

How else can you reduce your commercial energy consumption?

Equipment is not limited to the machinery you use to manufacture products. To become truly efficient, you need to take a holistic approach across your entire facility.

When you’re reviewing energy consumption, consider the following five areas:

Lighting

Nowadays, there are many lighting products available that outperform their predecessors. Still, many factories continue to waste energy operating on old, inefficient lighting systems.

Installing low energy LED lighting saves on consumption and cost – typically with a 3 to 5 year ROI. It can also increase productivity by creating a more suitable working environment for your staff.

Heating

High ceilings, large doorways and big open spaces (common within manufacturing plants) are all culprits of driving heat loss. An effective way to minimise costs associated with heating your building is to set thermostats according to use – with a higher temperature where staff are always present (such as an office) and a lower temperature where machinery takes precedence over people.

Ventilation

Many factories cannot avoid the need for ventilation to keep workers safe. Yet excessive ventilation is a key cause of energy loss, and it needs to be set according to activity. Linking timers and automated occupancy sensors to machinery ensures ventilation starts only when necessary, reducing your consumption and costs. Aim to use ventilation only in areas where it is required and fit draught shutters to stop air from blowing elsewhere.

Building

It is just as essential to maintain your building as it is to maintain your equipment. Rather than waiting for an issue to occur, check your roofing, gutters, windows and doors regularly to prevent energy escaping unnecessarily and driving costs through the roof (literally).

Voltage optimisation

Reducing commercial energy costs through voltage optimisation is almost a given with any new factory installation. However, many older sites can also benefit from implementing this system, cutting energy consumption and carbon emissions by 20%.

Will installing modern equipment reduce your commercial energy costs?

In some ways, yes. Modern technology is designed with cost-efficiency in mind and can significantly reduce consumption.

However, if you are not yet able to replace old with new, there are lots of small steps you can take to implement an efficient workspace. These extend beyond your manufacturing equipment to your wider facility and the resources used in its everyday operations.

At AES, we’re committed to doing our bit for the planet and helping our clients reduce their energy use.

As part of our mission to collectively reduce carbon emissions and energy costs, we offer free energy reduction audits to manufacturers.

You’ll receive a full report detailing where energy consumption savings can be made and the cost savings to your business.

We also offer energy reduction services such as installation of low energy lighting solutions, voltage optimisation, energy-efficient motors and variable speed drives.
If you’d like to start your journey to energy efficiency, get in touch to find out how AES can support you.

If you want to keep a track on ongoing commercial energy costs the best place to keep your finger on the pulse with wholesale energy prices is here.

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