Plant & Works Engineering
Taking control
Published:  23 October, 2018

It’s widely understood that improving the efficiency of equipment and processes will make a business more competitive and reduce operational costs. However, this is easier said than done, as identifying the areas that need improving can be challenging — especially in sugar plants, where many managers have grown accustomed to high energy usage and carbon emission levels. PWE reports.

There’s a famous management mantra that goes, “what gets measured gets managed”. While the source of this quote is subject to debate, the sentiment behind it isn’t: you can only effectively manage and improve things that you have sufficient data about. Without insight, you can’t act or make an informed decision.

This has never been truer than in modern times, as food and beverage businesses increasingly realize the value and benefits of digitalisation. Likewise, few facilities are as primed to benefit from it as sugar production and processing plants, where navigating the energy-intensive processes to identify areas for improvement can be challenging without insight.

Sugar mills generally demand considerable amounts of electricity to run smoothly due to the intensive process of refining sugar.

Robert Glass, ABB’s global food and beverage communications manager says from his company’s experience in the sugar industry, using 45–50GWh of electricity every year is nothing unusual for a typical sugar cane plant. But when you consider that this could power approximately 12,000 households across Europe, the scope of the problem becomes apparent.

It becomes even more concerning when you consider this alongside reports from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK, which projected that 2017 would see carbon emissions reach a record high after years of stability. The official figures have yet to be confirmed, but an increase could form the basis of tighter emissions rules across UN countries given the importance of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

With that in mind, energy efficiency for sugar plant managers is as much about establishing a competitive advantage as it is reducing expenses. In order to improve efficiency, managers must understand what is causing their plant to consume so much power.

Glass comments that often ABB’s engineers will conduct a plant assessment and find that inefficient electrical equipment is the cause of the excessive power consumption. This could mean modernising an electric motor or installing high efficiency drives could be the solution, but there is no one size fits all approach to managing a sugar plant. So, how can you determine where your plant’s specific inefficiencies lie?

As the management mantra suggests, monitoring and measuring operational data will give a strong indication of what is causing high energy usage. However, this has traditionally been a long-winded and time-consuming process of manually retrieving and compiling data before analysing it.

Fortunately, that’s where the digitalisation of sugar plants helps managers take control of processes. By using equipment and sensors designed with connectivity in mind, sugar plant managers and engineers can automate the data collection process. But this data must then be collected into a central operational management system, such as the ABB Ability manufacturing operations management (MOM) system.

Using ABB’s MOM system, sugar plant managers have a wide overview of the performance of their plant’s operations. The MOM system features an energy monitor app that allows managers to analyse not only current levels of energy usage and emissions, but to also compare it against historic data. Managers can use this to see, in near real-time, changes in usage to determine if anything out of the ordinary has happened with any equipment, such as if it has an elevated electrical draw that may indicate maintenance is required.

ABB has also drawn from its experience in the sugar industry to develop its sugar application library, which provides engineers with a comprehensive databank of all sugar production processes. Engineers can use this to control variables in processes across the factory, as well as benchmark energy costs.

With these systems offering greater transparency of energy usage throughout the plant, managers can act accordingly to reduce costs and emissions. In the age of digitalisation, monitoring operational data isn’t just a precursor to better management, it’s also a forerunner to better operational efficiency and lower operational expense.