The electricity environment

Feb. 21, 2023
Sustainability maxi-series 2023—Day 6—Matrix uses sustainability equation to optimize boiler performance, steam production and energy consumption for packaged food and vegetable oil manufacturers

Some of the lowest-hanging fruit on the sustainability tree is doing what should have already been done, namely increasing efficiency and reducing energy consumption. Luckily, many of these efforts were underway even before sustainability became more of a priority. In recent years, energy went from being an accounting function to being a process variable that could be monitored and optimized at increasingly granular levels in many facilities, processes and devices.

“Our space is primarily energy and controlling it, so our role in sustainability is reducing energy costs. We’re presently working on multiple projects to add more meters to monitor electricity, natural gas, steam and water flows,” says Doug Medley, technical project manager at Matrix Technologies Inc. in Maumee, Ohio, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). “Clients want to know why one plant’s production costs are lower than another, so they’re doing more overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) studies, and realizing they can add energy to those calculations.”

Sensing + data + context = understanding

Medley reports that improvement for Matrix’s clients always starts with understanding their processes. This typically means adding metrology and data collection systems to monitor how the process is running, as well as energy and raw material consumption. He adds that no process can be controlled unit all the variables are known. In a process controls environment, this means collecting data from as many sources as possible, historizing and trending data, looking for patterns and find opportunities for improvement.

“Five years ago, we did a job for a pre-packaged, lunch food manufacturer in Cleveland that wanted to improve boiler efficiency. The boiler was only used to heat water for sparging steam for a clean-out-of-place (CoP) vessel that they used to sanitize equipment overnight. We initially suggested that a water heater would be more efficient, but if the mechanical action of the sparging is removed, then more hand-scrubbing and labor would have been needed. The CoP vessel with sparging is like a dishwasher, and required much less labor, so when all factors were considered, the better overall choice was keeping the boiler.”

To help users weigh the aspects and options in their process operations—and add sustainability to the mix—Medley advises using a simple mathematical model to visualize all their contributing parts. Simply stated, his Industrial Sustainability equation is: Raw material + Energy + Labor – Scrap = Finished goods.

“By controlling the process variables in this equation, anyone can achieve a more sustainable process. Any part of this equation can accomplish a sustainability goal—and you can drill down into each variable—but it must balance with the others,” explains Medley. “It’s also important to keep in mind that sustainability means different things to different people. It can be defined as: reducing energy consumption or raw materials, and environmental stewardship, but also providing jobs, wages and benefits for employees and their families and communities. Sustainability is a complex topic, but if dealt with one task at a time, it’s a great and achievable goal.”

Converge analytics, practice patience 

Medley adds that Matrix is presently working with a food-grade vegetable oil manufacturer that wants to monitor the energy used by its boilers, steam system and other components, so it’s adding meters along with upgrading its controls. This refinery area is handled by 1,500 to 2,500 tags and associated I/O, and controlled by a Plant PAx control system from Rockwell Automation. It’s being joined by Aveva’s OSI PI Historian software, which is being implemented by another system integrator that’s developing a dashboard with trends and analyses to enable efficiency and sustainability. This area has 11 power feeds, and is adding new power meters to its medium-voltages devices.

“We did the field work and PLCs for the vegetable oil manufacturer, but even though no performance results have been released yet, the client is already talking about doing the same upgrades at more sites,” adds Medley. “Sustainability has gained a lot of momentum over the past five to seven years due to overall societal pressures. All big projects have a sustainability component now.”

In addition to optimizing existing processes, Medley reports that Matrix is also seeing more interest in making facilities and processes more sustainable from inception. “Most new plants have much more metering installed, such as process meters, energy meters, lighting controls, etc., which are being designed in from the beginning,” he adds. “Owners and process engineers are looking at how to calculate OEE or other measures before plants or processes are designed. These forward-thinking aspects of new plants or new or remodeled processes make sustainability much more achievable.”

Despite external demands and promises, Medley cautions that actually achieving sustainability is more difficult. “The best advice I can offer is patience. Most plants have had no or very little focus on metering or sustainability efforts for decades,” says Medley. “Trying to solve this large, complex problem in a single project is almost always going to fail. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Find areas where you can make improvements, implement them, and then move on to the next success story. Take victories where you can, make improvements, sell the benefits up, and work your way through the plant or process. It may take several laps through the plant, but the juice is worth the squeeze.”

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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