“That’s why automation can be a big help. You can set idle times, so if a piece of equipment isn’t being used for the time you’ve set, the automation program will simply shut off the equipment once it reaches that idle time,” Wheeler concludes.
Production efficiency = energy savings
It’s no secret that automated systems can drive efficiencies in production, information and data management, and material handling functions. But the benefits these systems deliver in the overall operation of a facility may overshadow a significant benefit automation delivers relative to energy savings.
Although a relative newcomer to designing and implementing systems specific to agriculture, Concept Systems has a long history in designing energy-efficient and productive automated systems solutions to a variety of industries including the mining, aerospace and energy production industries. Those industries and the grain industries all share one common goal: Boost productivity while reducing operating costs.
Gurney feels capturing energy savings through more efficient use of automation comes down to a simple matter of communication between the facility and the operator.
“Before someone makes that initial decision to introduce automated systems into their facility they really need to take a close look at what specific needs this automation is supposed to meet,” Gurney says. “By taking a close look at how your facility operates and what primary tasks need to be done, you can reveal what areas would benefit most from automation.
“The facility provides the operator countless data points which tell the story of operational efficiency, collecting and organizing that data in a meaningful way will typically lead you to the areas which require attention.”
Using heat to harness energy efficiency
Fully automating operations may be too large a step for some facilities, but there are other tools facility managers can take advantage of to improve energy efficiency, such as infrared imaging.
Infrared imaging was originally used by the military in the 1960s to detect heat seeking missiles, but today infrared cameras are affordable and available to the grain industry. The camera works by taking a temperature reading and translating the results into an image using a 256-color palette. Bright colors, such as red and orange, represent high temperatures, while blue and green indicate low temperature.
Infrared imaging can be used to take pictures of specific pieces of equipment or the electrical panels and gearboxes themselves to detect heat, which is indicative of a power leak or equipment problem.
“Using infrared to look at a belt drive or a direct drive piece of equipment can reveal a misalignment because the friction there will cause heat,” says Utter. “By checking fans for imbalances that may overwork your motors, you’ll save energy in the long run.”
Taking an image of the electrical panel can also expose hidden energy culprits.
“The infrared image shows everything from loose connections on breakers to loose fuse clips and disconnect assemblies, and overload heaters that are not operating efficiently,” says Utter. “These are easy fixes, but difficult to detect without this type of technology.”
Increasing energy efficiency doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By implementing an energy management process, garnering support from the entire staff and properly maintaining equipment, energy consumption can easily drop.