Using Existing Software to Track and Reduce Utility Use

Apr 19, 2010

The green movement promises to make life-sciences manufacturing processes more environmentally friendly. Manufacturers who believe green initiatives are the right thing to do—for the environment and for long-term business sustainability—are embracing the chance to reduce their carbon footprints by switching to renewable energy sources and decreasing water and energy usage. Industry leaders are starting to monitor energy usage better and evaluate ways to conserve natural resources whenever possible without sacrificing product quality.

Better measurement and reporting
Before setting goals for reducing energy consumption, manufacturers first need to have a baseline measurement of current use to help establish realistic goals and report improvements with confidence. Analytical software can improve the measurement and reporting of criteria such as how much energy was used to produce a unit of product. From an economic perspective, this information lets manufacturers normalize spending comparisons on an energy-cost-per-unit basis. Companies typically think of energy use in relation to time, but that perspective does not aid in decision making because the level of manufacturing output within a plant can vary greatly.

With the right software, it is simple to analyze the amount of energy used to manufacture a unit by comparing baseline measurements with energy-measurement parameters obtained from existing control systems. A data-integration platform such as Aegis Analytical’s (Lafayette, CO) Discoverant is useful, as are process-data historians like OSIsoft’s (San Leandro, CA) Pi System, or process-control systems from Emerson (Austin, TX), Foxboro (Plano, TX), or Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee).

Compare equipment and site energy use
Once a company has set goals and is measuring energy use in relation to the units produced, software tools help compare various operating units to evaluate the energy use and cost of similar equipment at a given site. For example, an active pharmaceutical ingredient may be processed in two dryers that perform similar operations but are made by different manufacturers. The drying operation offers a good starting opportunity to save energy through monitoring because dryers consume a lot of energy and include multiple components that can cause inefficiencies.

Analysis might show that one dryer uses considerably more energy than another. Rather than examining only the initial costs of the dryers, a company can compare them by assessing their actual operating costs per unit. It may be necessary to add or modify a specific energy-use measurement to the device (e.g., steam usage for heating the dryer). A company also might compare the cost per unit produced of two process trains. Operators might, for example, try to determine why one train exhibits higher absorption rates on a product and uses valuable energy. Ultimately, such information allows the company to make green equipment purchasing and operating decisions according to data-based comparisons that identify the most energy-efficient equipment vendors.

Another useful application of analytical software is monitoring the effect of maintenance events on energy-use reduction. A company might choose to track the cleaning process for a heat exchanger in a production line. In theory, the cleaning will increase the heat exchanger’s energy efficiency and, thus, reduce the amount of energy required to do a given job. A company can monitor energy usage to see whether cleaning has this effect. If it does not, the company might be wasting valuable maintenance and personnel time without gaining a return.

Similarly, a company can make site-to-site comparisons to investigate why a process consumes more energy at one location than at another. An analysis of groups of equipment can enable a comparison of sites’ costs. An older plant with inefficient equipment may be in a location where energy is cheaper. Taking into account the cost of energy as well as the use of energy can help the company take actions consistent with its overall green goals. Will the company first replace inefficient equipment at a site where energy costs less or more?

Gathering and analyzing the right data can help companies set goals and monitor processes to better understand and reduce energy usage and expenditures at manufacturing facilities. By adding a few parameters to software based on utility usage and integrating that information with supply-chain and process data, manufacturers can get a better handle on where they currently stand and discover specific ways to reduce their energy waste and costs.

Randy Tatlock is senior applications specialist at Aegis Analytical, 1380 Forest Park Circle, Suite 200, Lafayette, CO 80026, tel. 303.625.2100,