Boosting Energy Efficiency With Data From Connected Motors

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With ambitious Net Zero targets being set by governments while energy costs are at an all-time high, industrial energy efficiency is an attractive prospect for businesses as it has potential to cut both CO2 emissions and costs.

This is reflected in the findings of a recent survey of 2,294 industrial businesses around the world. The survey revealed that 97% are already investing in energy efficiency or are planning to do so. In addition, 91% see energy cost as a threat to profitability, which is unsurprising as energy is a significant cost for most of the businesses surveyed. 

It's clear that survey respondents believe that there’s a lot to gain by saving energy and cutting costs. However, they need solutions that are straightforward and low-cost to deploy. In addition, they want to avoid downtime, especially on mission-critical lines. 

Making energy appraisals accessible

It’s always been possible to evaluate the energy efficiency of motors. However, only 51% of survey respondents indicated that they are planning to do this. 

This may be because traditional energy efficiency appraisals are costly and time-consuming as they require manual data gathering and analysis by specialist consultants. With limited budget available, operators typically restrict this to just a few of their largest motors. 

However, new developments in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology have made energy appraisals more accessible for entire fleets of motors. It is now possible to deploy sensors and gather data from VSDs from large-scale fleets of motors without spending a fortune. 

Once analyzed, this data tells a story about motor performance and health, both at the level of individual units and across an entire operation. With the help of an energy efficiency expert, this data provides insight into how efficiently electric motors are operating.

Plant managers can also use other data gathered the same way to plan maintenance more efficiently, for example by ordering replacement spare parts and scheduling planned outages. 

An operator’s maintenance team can install the sensors and connect VSDs itself, avoiding the cost and logistics of engaging a contractor to do it. Meanwhile, the energy efficiency specialist no longer needs to visit site personally to oversee data gathering. Instead, they can focus completely on the high-value activities of analyzing the data and providing costed recommendations.

Abb Waggeryd Cell 6ABB Motion

Aiming to save 50 GWh per year

One operator that is using the technology to save energy is SCA Group, a kraft paper business that produces 400,000 tons of packaging material at its mill in Munksund, Sweden.

The site is already 95% fossil-free as it uses its own bioenergy to generate electricity. However, the process is energy intensive and the plant has more than 2,400 electric motors, which SCA saw as having energy-saving potential. 

 “SCA’s objective is to improve energy efficiency through efficiency enhancements of at least 50 GWh per year based on the company’s energy consumption in 2020,” said Anders Kyösti, SCA Munksund’s Technical Manager. “Electrical motors account for a large part of our electricity consumption. Given higher energy prices and the trend towards electrification, optimizing energy use will become even more important in the future.” 

To achieve this goal, SCA deployed technology to gather data on motor temperature, speed, operational patterns, vibration and magnetic field strength. This provides insight into active and reactive energy.

SCA’s team is using data to understand and improve long-term performance in terms of reliability, uptime and predictive maintenance and energy efficiency. An external expert monitors the data and provides a regular cost-benefit analysis.

As a result, SCA can decide whether to upgrade particular motors to high-efficiency models, add VSDs or change the operating regime to save energy. 

Energy efficiency as a secondary benefit

Other operators may find that a digital energy efficiency appraisal is a secondary benefit to a condition monitoring solution. This is illustrated by Waggeryd Cell, a pulp mill in southern Sweden, which produces 190,000 tons of pulp per year from a site that has an installed base of more than 450 motors. 

In recent years, Waggeryd has invested in a digital condition monitoring solution to collect and analyze data from nearly 100 motors on a critical line.  It provides early warning about potential issues and operational trends – for example steady increase in vibration may show that a bearing is near to failure. 

However, the data has also identified energy-saving opportunities. An initial report in early 2022 identified 10 motors with low operating efficiency, as well as others that are either oversized (and therefore underutilized). Using this insight, Waggeryd decided to prioritize upgrade of six of these motors. 

Andreas Råvik, Mill Manager at Waggeryd Cell, said: “We have improved our energy efficiency by working with ABB. By using their energy reports, we can identify assets like incorrectly dimensioned motors, or old motors with poor efficiency and replace them. The power of digitalization has also resulted in fewer unplanned production stops, as we can rectify potential errors well in advance of a breakdown. The most important thing for us is that the factory runs every hour of every day of the year, with very few unplanned stops. When we achieve a high production level, then we are truly energy efficient.”

Low cost and scalable

While these examples are both from the pulp and paper industry in Sweden, this new breed of digital powertrain service can be applied to any industry, anywhere. They are low cost and scalable, making it possible to monitor large and small fleets of motors.

In addition, being based on wireless connectivity, they can be installed or removed simply and can provide insight into motors that are difficult to access. 

While some operators have been resistant to remote data analysis, we’ve seen a change in attitudes due to the pandemic, when we saw a step change in demand for digital services. We’re also seeing that operators are increasingly hiring people with digital skills in preparation for IIoT technologies. 

Data unlocking real-world benefits

Digital services can unlock real-world energy and emissions savings and enable businesses to target investment where they can get the most benefit. It’s important to remember that the focus should be on making sense out of data so that industrial companies can make better-informed decisions.

Learn more about digital energy appraisals and read the report from the recent energy efficiency survey

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