Cleaning up manufacturing – it’s easy if you know how

This editorial was first published in the April issue of Machinist magazine.

This editorial was first published in the April issue of Machinist magazine

By Anil Kumar, General Manager, Inovance Technology India

For us at Inovance, sustainable manufacturing means manufacturing in a way that doesn’t harm people and the planet. The most obvious way to do this is by using less energy in the production process. Other ways include things like cutting material waste, and improving safety procedures. It’s clear that we’ve all got to play our part in the drive to sustainability. And, as individuals, we are all feeling more and more pressure to be ‘green’. But we cannot do this alone. The fact is that manufacturing companies also need to play their part. 

Sustainable manufacturing – The business case

Luckily, there’s a business case for sustainable manufacturing to go alongside the ethical case. After all, energy is expensive, and so are raw materials, if you could save money on these things, why wouldn’t you? Not to mention the growing band of highly aware consumers who look out for sustainability not only in the products that they buy, but also in the manufacturing processes of those products. Another consideration is government policies – these are getting more stringent all the time. If you can proactively cut your factory’s energy use in advance of regulation, that’s a good deal easier than having to do it reactively when you are told to. 

Industrial automation is a key part of sustainability

The most obvious way to get sustainable is to save energy. And, when it comes to factories, there’s one often overlooked industrial automation component that does more than almost anything else to achieve this. I’m talking about variable speed AC drives.

Industry uses a huge portion of total global electricity. For example, in 2020, the US Energy Information Administration reported that US industry used 33% of total US energy. And I’d be willing to bet that over half of that was used to power electric motors. The situation is pretty similar in most countries, including India.

So, what’s the solution?

For many factories, adopting more variable speed drive technology is the easiest way to save energy and money. Let’s take fans as an example. Even today, many factories just run fans with direct on line motors. This means the motor is running all the time at full speed, even if the fan is only required for (say) 20% of the time. It happens often, because factories can’t be sending someone round to switch fans on and off all the time.

These days, there’s really no excuse for it. A simple variable speed drive fitted to an application like this can easily slash energy usage by 60-80%. Simple applications, such as fans, pumps, and compressors often represent the ‘low hanging fruit’ in terms of saving energy. But even highly sophisticated manufacturing machinery can easily improve efficiency with, for example, an advanced AC drive that uses the latest energy-saving common DC bus technology.

Looking beyond drives

Looking beyond drives, there are many other ways that sophisticated automation solutions can slash wastage and improve production efficiency within factories. Intelligent PLCs can run the latest Industrial IoT software to optimize your machines and production lines, ensuring that all equipment on your shop floor is being used efficiently and that nothing is wasted. Alternatively, advanced CNC cutting solutions will not only reduce your material waste, but also work far faster, again, a major energy saving.

I’m certainly not suggesting that industrial automation technology is the silver bullet to sustainable manufacturing. But it’s a very important piece of the puzzle.

To continue the conversation about using automation solutions to implement sustainable manufacturing, contact Anil today: Anil.Kumar@Inovance.Ind.In