Water. Air. Gas. Electricity. Steam. (WAGES). These energy resources are the heartbeat of every process and manufacturing facility. While energy is critical to productivity and accounts for a significant percentage of total costs, companies typically invest in their utility plants only when there is a compelling reason to do so.
Most companies have instituted energy programs focused on efficiency and compliance in line with corporate sustainability goals and regulatory mandates in recent years. And more than 90% agree that sustainability and energy efficiency are critical to success and profitability in the future.
But most producers continue to approach utility and plant operations as disparate systems. Many have yet to invest in ways to better capture the wealth of utility data available – and integrate it with production processes to achieve best-in-class operations.
As a result, they are missing an extraordinary opportunity not only for better energy efficiency, but for higher levels of productivity as well.
How Limited Energy Visibility Impacts Productivity
In any plant, achieving an optimal balance between energy supply and energy demand is an ongoing challenge. Of course, any disruption in energy supply can have a negative effect on productivity. Yet, without visibility to utility information, process operators can often do little to mitigate that impact.
For example, a typical chemical plant’s utility system will produce electricity, steam, chilled water, compressed air and more. Suppose a gas turbine trips offline and steam pressure and supply drops abruptly. What remedial actions can or should be taken in the processing area to minimize any disruption to production?
With limited or no visibility to utility operations, the options may be inadequate – and might even lead to emergency shutdown procedures. However, proactive utility operations alerts within the plant control architecture could keep process personnel better informed on conditions outside normal parameters. And enable a more measured and efficient response.
Cost-Effective Steps Toward Digital Transformation
Without doubt, the digital technology transformation – and the convergence of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) – have made the data ecosystem in most industrial utility and process plants more integrated.
Fortunately, automation and information solutions are available today that can help better capture the value of that digital investment – and integrate utility and industrial process systems that are often worlds apart.
For a strategic approach to better resource management and productivity, consider these three steps:
Step 1: Assess
The first step in improving any system is an assessment. Start by defining your WAGES system, industrial process area, field production units and physical elements. Try to keep it simple, with a focus on your inputs, outputs and any constraints.
Also, be sure to define your key performance indicators (KPIs). What’s most important – cost reduction, resource optimization, production efficiency? And how will you measure success – after one, three or five years?
Step 2: Enable Better Visibility
Next, evaluate methods and tools that can help you integrate power plant and process data. Keep in mind there are many ways to enable better system visibility – ranging from complete system unification on a common control architecture to the incremental integration of monitoring and other software applications.
For example, energy intelligence software, which includes data collection, visualization and analytical tools, help fill the gaps between disparate utility and process systems.
Energy intelligence software provides a quick return on existing infrastructure and capital investments by using your automation devices and systems to gather both production data and WAGES data. And then shares that information and analytics with key stakeholders for informed decision-making. This collaboration turns “big data” into “smart and intelligent data.”
Step 3: Close the Supply-Demand Loop
Of course, better utility visibility is just one component of the equation. As part of a resource management strategy, energy intelligence software can provide access to operational, emissions and energy consumption data at the unit, asset and load level.
Analytics can correlate this information with production and business-level data including energy costs, emissions limits and more to create interactive operations for greater profitability and sustainability.
The result? A higher level of energy awareness. And a better way to identify and prioritize opportunities to reduce energy consumption while optimizing production efficiency and product quality.