Soft starters can help boost efficiency, reduce motor wear and tear, and cut preventive maintenance costs.
By Andy Jaap, business manager, Rockwell Automation
Let’s take a page from the lean operating handbook and talk about the simple idea of a waste walk. For those of you not familiar with the buzzwords associated with lean initiatives, a waste walk (Gemba) is a planned visit to a work site to observe what's happening and to note the waste.
Waste is associated with many aspects of production environments, including process inefficiencies, excess transportation/motion, defects, waiting, etc. The point is to evaluate how things are operating and determine what is nonvalue-added work or energy — in other words, waste.
A New Way to Look at Waste
You might be wondering how waste fits into a topic about traditional motor starting, so let me explain.
How many times have you walked around a plant floor just observing automation? The truth is, we often focus on the obvious things that are associated with what we know best, such as making cars or cookies.
But have you ever spent a day with a maintenance person? Performing maintenance activities often is overlooked when searching for ways to reduce waste. Consider the following ways in which equipment wear and tear traditionally are managed:
- Replacing or repairing valves and belts.
- Cleaning or replacing filters.
- Changing fluids.
- Greasing components.
- General cleaning.
What if the frequency of these traditional preventive maintenance operations could be reduced or eliminated with the use of a simple soft starter? Determine the following:
- What is the cost to replace or repair a valve once per year versus four times per year?
- What is the cost of performing preventive maintenance activities four times per year versus of 12 times per year?
- How much time is spent adjusting belts and drive train components every year?
- How much does it cost to replace/rebuild a pump or motor?
- What is the environmental impact of handling and disposal of grease/oils/lubricants?
Soft Starter Usage and Your ROI
Using soft starters in these applications can be an easy way to reduce waste by minimizing the time and expense associated with servicing the equipment, allowing maintenance the opportunity to focus on other potentially more productive activities.
Additionally, using a soft start instead of a traditional starter solution can help reduce the amount of wear and tear on motors and equipment by reducing the energy supplied to the motor during startup. In many cases, this is nonvalue-added time and energy by itself.
Last, when you look at a typical industrial production machine or process, 90% of the motors controlling those applications are less than 10 hp (7.5 kW), and 82% of those are associated with pumps, fans and compressors.
For most applications involving motors of this size, soft starters are compact enough to fit in the same space occupied by traditional starter solutions, allowing you to reap the benefits of a soft starter while maintaining the same footprint.
Now consider the waste walk concept again. Looking for waste related to wear and tear is a great way of identifying the financial levers needed to calculate a real return on investment (ROI).
By putting yourself in the shoes of a maintenance person for a day, you’ll find some obvious — and maybe not so obvious — ways to avoid waste through the use of soft starter technologies.
The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.