If you run a factory and have ever had an energy audit done, one of the recommendations you may have seen in the final report was probably advise to get an energy management system (EMS). But what really is an EMS? And why should you bother getting one?

Simply put an EMS is a system that lets you track your energy consumption as it happens, and provides you with the tools to take action to reduce wastage. No longer do you have to wait until the end of the month to find out how much your electricity bill is. You can get reports of exactly how much electricity you have consumed every day, giving you the power to regulate your usage and thus to control your expenses.

Where an EMS really comes into play is in reducing wastage. There are dozens of ways in which electricity is wasted around a factory. For instance, an operator might leave an energy guzzling machine running idly for an hour and go to lunch. Or a motor might develop problems, drop in efficiency and start consuming much more electricity than it used to before. You would never catch any of these issues in time if you only looked at the monthly electricity bill. What you need is an energy monitoring solution that shows you exactly which machines are running, how much power they are each using and how much power the whole plant is consuming on a rolling basis. More over, you need this information in real time to help you adapt to any situation as factors constantly shift on the factory floor. Staying on top of things using an EMS system can result in substantial energy savings as traditional sources of wastage are quickly identified and rectified. In the long run, an EMS can engender a culture change making a factory safer, less wasteful and more productive through continuous operational and behavioral improvements.

The status quo in many industries is that kilowatt-hour readings from energy meters are recorded periodically using pen and paper. These readings have to be taken before and after every shift so as to calculate how much electricity has been consumed during a production cycle. That information is required for various things, most importantly pricing of the produced commodities. A typical factory has dozens of machines, many of which are separately metered in addition to the mains meter. The manual process of moving around a factory floor from one energy meter to another taking readings then later transcribing those readings to a spreadsheet so that they can be calculated against the last  recordings, is a dreary task which suffers greatly from human error. It is also prone to fabrication of readings as employees seek ways to escape the drudgery of the chore. The logistical challenges of regularly collecting energy consumption data is clearly exemplified by the fact that even utility providers sometimes estimate their customers bills due to not being able to physically visit the premises every month. The same problem occurs in energy monitoring in factories due to the scale of the task and its monotony. If the above scenario describes the modus operandi at your company, then you need to get an energy management system.

One of the biggest advantages of an EMS is that it automates the whole energy monitoring process described above. The data from energy meters is sent to an online platform free of error and in real time through smart meters which do not require any human interaction. This  decreases labor costs significantly as the time wasted by employees moving from one meter to another recording data is now conserved and available for more productive work. It also reduces the path the information needs to take making it arrive faster to those who need to see it. No middle men are required to type it into a spreadsheet or perform any calculations on it. Nor does the information need to sequentially move from the factory floor to the accountant to the CEO. The entire information chain is radically disrupted and as a result a lot of employee time is conserved.  Simultaneously the unmodified information from the source is made available to all stakeholders in a secure tamper-proof manner. An EMS therefore enhances transparency in information handling compared to traditional methods.

Aside from the above, and including mobile viewing and alerts, an EMS has  a variety of features that are all designed to make your factory more efficient with regards to how electricity is used. An EMS however requires to be accompanied by an information utilization culture within the organization. If this culture does not exist then it needs to be fostered. Decision makers in particular need capacity building to learn how to use the information from an EMS in strategic ways to improve their processes. A good EMS is therefore more than just a piece of technology that is installed, it is a full package comprising the technology, the users, the capacity building and the technical support. This rounded package is what makes for an effective EMS.

Similarly, an EMS does not operate in a vacuum. While immensely important in its own right, its full potential is unlocked when it is combined with other complementary systems. For instance when water management systems, fuel management systems and others are jointly used with an EMS, then a more holistic picture of the production plant becomes visible. This integration of previously disparate information systems in order to take industrial efficiency to the next level is the essence of the fourth industrial revolution. Given the importance of electricity in manufacturing, an EMS system is typically the first port of call for those embarking on an Industry 4.0 journey. However other monitoring systems will become critical in the future thereby requiring that a comprehensive information strategy be at play from the beginning when deploying an EMS. Best practice is to plan an EMS deployment within a higher Industry 4.0 strategy that envisions the full spectrum of information systems deployed in time. When this done, the benefits from an EMS system are more tangibly felt and become sustainable over the long term.



Pima Smart is an information partner providing technology, training and consultancy to bring companies into Industry 4.0. Talk to us if you’d like to learn more about how to begin your Industry 4.0 journey. We are the partner you need as you embark on this adventure. Visit www.pimasmart.com for more details.

Kennedy Nganga

Analyst, Technologist and Writer. Founder: Pima Smart

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