While the new frontier of fully-automated, lights-off manufacturing is a goal (and a possibility) for many manufacturers, all is not roses and rainbows on the other side of the robot revolution. 

Automation is expensive to set up, true. The calibration process can be long and arduous, and mistakes and errors can end up costing untold amounts of money in labor and repair fees. But there’s one more hurdle to leap over, and it’s one that has a tendency to be forgotten: power.

Any factory or manufacturing plant draws a lot of power, but even partial automation can have rows and rows of machines sucking up electricity all around the clock.

So how do we achieve seamless and smooth automation without racking up a staggering electrical bill? And how do we do it safely and responsibly for our own businesses and the environment?

1. Start with the Computers

The more automation in your factory, the more computers — there’s no escaping that fact. And if around-the-clock automation is the ultimate goal, the industrial computers you deploy have to be much tougher and more rugged than your standard delicate consumer model.

But what you also need are computers that draw less power, especially if they’re going to be on all day and night. Luckily these two needs often coincide — rugged mini PCs are often built fanless, so make sure you choose a model with fewer moving parts for your factory floor. Power over Ethernet, or PoE computers, are another option if you need a display or control panel.  

Why fanless? Fanless mini PCs are designed to cool the system without air cooling — which not only draws a lot of power but also tends to suck in every piece of grit and dirt the factory floor has to offer. But because these industrial computers are built without fan cooling in mind, they use low-power components that generate less heat, which can lead to a huge energy savings over time. 

2. Keep a Sharp Eye on Your Power Use

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “measure twice, cut once” used in carpentry — and you’ve ever not listened to that age-old wisdom — you know just how important accurate information is before you make a costly choice. 

You can’t hit your energy goals if you don’t know where you’ve been. And while staring at your power bill may give you an idea, it’s not accurate or granular — you have no idea what’s drawing the most power, when it’s drawing it, and where the worst inefficiencies are coming from. Instead, consider smart power monitoring equipment to get the most accurate and actionable reading possible.

Before constructing a coherent power-saving strategy, all relevant devices on the factory floor (or in the construction yard, or anywhere heavy industry and automation is going on) need to be outfitted with some kind of smart power sensor, gate, or reader. Most of these modern voltage sensors are connected in some way, usually to a wifi network and controlled from a central computer.

The computer then monitors all attached devices, and will collect a long view of what devices are using power, how much, and where unusual spikes or leaks occur. If you have five industrial robot arms putting cars together and one of them is drawing three times the power as the others, you now have a great place to start. 

Perhaps the arm hasn’t been greased properly and is putting more strain on the motor, perhaps a feature is on by accident on the arm that isn’t on the others, or perhaps the outlet itself has a wiring issue. 

But you can’t solve a problem without data, which is why these industrial internet of things devices are so important for power saving strategies. 

3. Create and Empower a Smart Energy Team

If you’re serious about lowering the energy costs of your industrial operation, you’ll have to create a team of employees who can monitor, review, and enact power-saving strategies based off real information. 

It’s best to pull this committee from every facet of your business. From executives to managers to engineers and HMI interface operators, the more diversity in the committee the higher chance of seeing the entire picture. 

This team should be given access to the data being drawn from the smart voltage sensors, and they should review this data at least once a week (especially in the beginning of the process). Once that data has been collected — and potentially cleaned up through machine learning or other smart algorithm — the committee can now act on the problem.

Is one air compressor drawing tons of power? Have an engineer or mechanic check the hoses for leaks — the more air is leaking, the more the compressor has to run, the more power it uses, etc. Then the committee could set a tighter maintenance schedule on the compressors, perhaps a monthly or bi-monthly hose and fitting check for every air compressor in the business. 

And you can see where this idea spreads. Now executive and manager-level employees understand the importance of new hoses for the compressors when they get old, and can make budgetary decisions to perhaps decrease the time between replacements.

At the same time, if the committee finds a grouping of machines or equipment that draws less power than expected, the replacements and maintenance for that can be adjusted to suit. 

But you can’t solve a problem without data, and you can’t act on data without dedicated minds and the power to make the decisions the factory needs. 

Power is Money

Whether you’re looking to use less power to save the environment or your bottom line, it really doesn’t matter. Energy efficiency is a wonderful thing, reducing waste across the board. 

Want to learn more about how industrial computers can help enact a strong power-saving strategy? Contact the experts at Cybernet today to learn about equipment, previously successful energy-saving projects, and any other manufacturing questions you may have.