The drive to improve energy management has become so urgent that efficient installation and reliable operation have become imperative. Fortunately, there are many well-publicised technologies available to help. Here John Browett, general manager (Europe) of the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) explains how Industrial Ethernet is playing a key role in providing efficient and reliable solutions.
Just a few years ago, energy management was little more than a nice optional extra; then the growing awareness of global warming moved it up the scale. Later the introduction of carbon targets made it a serious matter; more recently rocketing of fossil fuel prices made it imperative. Finally, the sudden move away from nuclear power in many countries is making it a more acute topic than ever.
An additional set of issues has arisen with the downturn in the international economy. Now senior executives in all types of organisations are focusing on control of all costs, including energy. Companies are finally realising that energy is a raw material just like cement, steel or wood, and efficient use of it is simply good business sense. Moreover, a reduction in energy consumption is good for both the environment and the bottom line!
There is now a heightened need to monitor power systems (both generation and consumption) for efficiency and waste, and a desire to control operation in real time so that performance can be constantly optimised. If new equipment is being installed on a greenfield site or if a project calls for all new equipment, it is relatively easy to choose the most efficient solutions. However retrofitting energy saving equipment into existing plants and systems can sometimes prove very tricky. The difficulties usually arise when integrating new equipment into an existing control network, as there may be issues with compatibility and interoperability. There are several potential solutions that allow free communications between various pieces of equipment, but selecting the right one for a given job can be more involved than expected.
Automation engineers have been making decisions about networking solutions for many, many years. In the last five or so years Industrial Ethernet has been proving increasingly popular because it is almost universally compatible with both existing and new equipment and is now robust enough to stand up to the harshest working conditions. Standard Ethernet has been the communication tool of choice for information technology systems integrators for many years, but for a long time it was not robust or dependable enough for factory floor applications. That has changed over the last few years with the development of deterministic, industrially hardened versions of Ethernet, and all the advantages of Industrial Ethernet are now coming to be recognised.
The CLPA’s Industrial Ethernet offering is CC-Link IE, the only open 1Gbps technology, that enables real time control of the multiple field devices that are connected into an industrial system. CC-Link IE’s capabilities have now been extended with the addition of a new, specialist protocol extension, CC-Link IE Energy. This allows managers to easily monitor energy consumption of individual machines or processes over the same networks they are already using for general control purposes. Manufacturing plants, for example, typically include many energy consuming devices. These could be controlled with a network that incorporates the new CC-Link IE Energy protocol, which would then provide the ability to monitor all of the devices individually and in real time. This would allow optimisation of each device to be achieved. Without CC-Link IE Energy, collecting data from each device and determining how to optimise it would be complicated and in many cases impractical. Instead production managers would only be able to consider overall energy consumption and be unable to focus on achieving true optimization in all areas of a plant.
Moreover, Industrial Ethernet is both cost effective and well supported by equipment manufacturers, suppliers and qualified installation and maintenance engineers. Significantly it is ‘open’ meaning many control engineering companies make CC-Link IE compatible products that can be ‘mixed and matched’ within a system. This means that users will not find that they are tied into one particular device manufacturer; instead they can choose best-in-class equipment, or redeploy equipment from other systems, or connect one system with another.
Once a CC-Link IE Energy system is in place, it will make maintaining the optimum performance of a system straightforward. This is done through constant communication between all necessary controllers, devices and supervisory systems. This then makes it easy to adjust settings to adapt quickly to changes in demand, whether they are environmental factors, production issues or feedstock changes. Hence companies will be able to ensure that their use of energy is as efficient as their use of other raw materials and that all cost and regulatory requirements can be met.