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Going green is not about doing just one thing—reducing waste, reducing energy cost, minimizing the carbon footprint or reusing materials in the production processes. Green practice in process automation is about mixing and matching sustainability efforts, creating the perfect balance at the plant level, not only benefiting end users' return on investment, but also benefiting the environment as a whole.
"It's a bit surprising that sustainability is being treated as something new," said Mark Lee, Coca-Cola's director of commercial product supply engineering at the Rockwell Automation Manufacturing Perspectives event in 2008. "It's really just good business practice."
For Lee and other end-user executives, sustainability in many ways does represent a rebadging of the manufacturing professional's stock-in-trade: a continuous improvement process aimed at increasing efficiency, reducing waste, easing environmental impact and boosting workplace safety.
"Sustainability is part of the relentless pursuit of waste elimination," Lee said. "It's part of being a world-class manufacturing organization."
Siemens Industry's (www.siemens.com/entry/cc/en/) marketing manager, Ken Keiser, adds, "Sustainability is a way to use green technology to help both the environment and the company. Instead of ripping out and throwing away systems, customers can lengthen the life cycle of the equipment they have by just changing a few key components and using as much of what they have as possible."
It's easy to see that the pressure is on to "go green," but the best way to respond to that pressure isn't so easy to discern. Few in the process industries have a clear strategy for doing so. Deciding which green initiatives make most sense for a particular operation, much less how to implement those initiatives is a complex decision. But help may be on the way.
In 2008, the Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com) conducted a survey of manufacturing companies about their specific sustainability initiatives. The findings revealed that the companies that have the best sustainable production performance also tend to have the best performance in other areas such as financial performance.
Rockwell Automation used these findings and partnered with Aberdeen to launch its Sustainability Assessment Tool in January of this year. "This tool allows automation professionals to answer questions specific to their sustainability needs," says Walker. "Not only can a sustainability assessment tool guide industry professionals to view their entire processes at a glance, but it gives them the opportunity to identify their biggest target for improvements. Assessment tools and processes give professionals a guide or starting point towards meeting their sustainability goals."
Walker adds that an in-depth process sustainability assessment can help identify the potential return on investment for many businesses. These specialized assessments help determine whether the initial company involvement requires just a capital investment, a personnel investment or a combination of both. Assessments can pinpoint the duration of the sustainability process and how much capital investment to expect in return.
Control system integrator Indesco (www.indesco-usa.com/home.html), Louisville Ky., has been using the tool to help its customers achieve their sustainability goals.
"To become sustainable in the process automation industry, you can't just change the focus on one single piece of equipment," says K.W. (Bill) Holladay, president of Indesco. "It's not just about that one process. It's about all that can help improve your carbon footprint or become more sustainable," he says. "Rockwell's Sustainability Assessment Tool doesn't tell you that you have to replace this or that component. It doesn't tell you that you have to drag out this new technology, and put it in. What the tool does is help you look at the company as a whole, comparing you to what is going on in the industry and measuring you against other companies that are being successful."
Indesco's vice president of sales, Thad Parrott, says that live monitoring is essential for achieving sustainability goals. "When our customers use live monitoring systems, they know within one month what's working and what's not. The reason they know this is because they have been able to tweak things each week as the process goes along," says Parrott.
As Holliday says, "Monitoring processes is a big thing. You can't fix what you can't see."
Take the case of General Mills. "We were told in 2005 to reduce our energy footprint by 15% in five years," explained Dave Spryshak of General Mills in November of 2009 at Rockwell's annual Automation Fair. "We discovered that the single biggest energy consumer in our plants was the HVAC system."
Spryshak's team discovered that by applying process control principles to the control of airflow in plant buildings, the company could improve air quality indoors and out, and reduce electricity use 17% to 49%. Gas usage was reduced 14% to 63%. In one case, Spryshak was able to reduce electricity consumption 3 MW, and saved $1.5 million in a single year.
The project team used cascading loop control for air volume, an enthalpy algorithm to use the least-cost energy source, multiple room-space recipes, and used CO2 measurement to determine room occupancy and derive airflow requirements.
General Mills has modified 16 plants and is rolling out the changes across the rest of its enterprise.
Ray Zimmermann, of RJZ LLC, a sustainability and energy optimization consultant, who also spoke at Automation Fair, outlined the overall plan for "going green" in a process plant. First, he said, "You have to change the corporate culture to make sure that energy-saving projects will continue to perform properly."