Industry Market Trends

The Industrial Internet Will Boost Sustainability in Manufacturing and Industrial Firms

Mar 18, 2013

Credit: Baldor Variable speed electric motor. Credit: Baldor

Last week, I reported that a study by Carbon War Room sponsored by AT&T has determined that, by 2020, machine-to-machine (M2M) and information and communication technologies (ICT) could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally by 9.1 gigatons of carbon yearly, a full 18.6 percent of 2011 emissions (see the full report here). Last week's article focused on the "Industrial Internet" or the "Internet of Things" as a means to integrate renewable energy systems into the electric grid.

Now the focus swings to the possibilities for manufacturing and industrial enterprises. How could an M2M Internet enable large-scale energy savings and GHG reductions in industry?

The Carbon War Room report asserts that "across many industries M2M technologies will reduce the amount of energy or fuel required to get the job done, lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions without constricting production, consumption or economic growth." By 2020, the Industrial Internet will grow to 12.5 billion connected devices from only 1.3 billion today. Over the next 20 years, connected machines "are capable of generating both cost savings and new revenues that in total could add $10 to 15 trillion to global GDP -- the current size of the U.S. economy."

Embeddable wireless module. Credit: Sierra Wireless. Embeddable wireless module. Credit: Sierra Wireless.

The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) agrees with Carbon War Room that ICT-enabled solutions could save 9.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) yearly by 2020. While the Carbon War Room report focuses mainly on the energy, transportation and agriculture sectors and the built environment, GeSI's report, prepared in partnership with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), is even broader, extending also into manufacturing.

ICT-enabled efficiency measures in manufacturing could represent 1.2 GtCO2e in abatement annually, the group estimates. Manufacturing is expected to generate a total of 17.4 GtCO2e globally each year by 2020. GeSI says manufacturing "is the most significant contributor to climate change of any of the end-use sectors," accounting for 31.4 percent of total global emissions. Increasing demand for manufactured goods and high rates of manufacturing growth in emerging economies make this sector an important target for technology solutions in energy efficiency and GHG abatement.

Embedded Control Systems

Intelligent wireless gateway. Credit: Sierra Wireless. Intelligent wireless gateway. Credit: Sierra Wireless.

M2M technologies rely on devices such as sensors and microprocessors embedded in machines and other objects. An M2M device generates data about the machine it is monitoring, communicates wirelessly with back-end data and control systems, and responds by altering the machine's operation. In a manufacturing setting, these technologies can be used to optimize variable-speed motor systems, to automate industrial processes, or for other energy-saving applications.

GeSI's study examines not only the areas in which M2M technologies can reduce energy use and GHG emissions, but also the more fundamental, broader ways in which ICT can contribute to reduced impacts. This is important, because M2M technologies operate within a larger electronic ecosystem. That larger system, says GeSI, provides a set of "change levers" that can be employed to reduce emissions:

  1. Digitalization and dematerialization -- doing away with the need for a product or a process that generates emissions.
  2. Data collection and communications -- facilitating better decision-making through real-time collection and analysis of data.
  3. System integration -- enabling better use of resources.
  4. Process, activity and functional optimization -- "improving efficiency through simulation, automation, redesign or control."

GeSI estimates that automation of manufacturing plants could reduce GHG emissions by 0.72 GtCO2e. This would involve decreasing the use of human labor and increasing the use of machines controlled by M2M and related technologies. Such systems will be able to monitor and control equipment to reduce and optimize energy usage, and can even be used in maintenance and upkeep.

The group estimates that variable-speed motor systems can abate 0.53 GtCO2e globally, with particular focus on developing economies such as China. "Motor systems," the report points out, "are at the heart of the industrial activity and consume the majority of electricity used by manufacturers worldwide." Traditional motor systems operate at a continuous rate, even if the load varies. This creates inefficiencies that could be mitigated with technologies that sense a motor's strain and adjust its speed dynamically. Such technologies will also provide a data stream that can give managers more information and control over use of energy in their operations.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) conducted a study of energy efficiency in electric motor systems in 2011 in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Chinese government. UNIDO carried out energy audits in 41 Chinese industrial plants and optimized motor systems in many of them, with emphasis on use of variable speed motors. Energy savings from system improvements ranged from 7 to 50 percent of systems' electrical consumption, with an average payback time of 1.4 years.

UNIDO profiled a Chinese petrochemical firm that installed 34 variable-speed motors and reduced electricity consumption by 28 percent per ton of crude oil refined. Payback time for the project was only .48 years. A Mexican firm installed 102 variable speed drives for an investment of US $400,000. The company was able to reduce electricity demand for the equipped motors by 20 percent, with a payback time of 1.5 years.

M2M Networks a "Work in Progress"

Server for embedded devices. Credit: Lantronix. Server for embedded devices. Credit: Lantronix.

Lou Frenzel, communications technology editor for Electronic Design, calls M2M and the "Internet of Things" a "work in progress." As it is emerging thus far, this Industrial Internet "involves large numbers of devices delivering information and collectively making decisions without human interaction," except at a high level. "The ultimate goal," Frenzel writes, "is real-time monitoring and control, which implies each M2M node embeds intelligence that interacts with the intelligence at remote collection points and related servers." Embedded M2M nodes contain sensors that can "report conditions to a remote site" or that can even act independently at the level of the node, if sufficient intelligence and autonomy can be built in at that local level. "Some nodes will also have an actuator to initiate action based on sensed conditions, or in response to some remote command."

Various network architectures can be used to construct M2M communications systems. Frenzel says that cellular telecommunications networks dominate the M2M space right now, acting as "a wireless backhaul," so to speak. Local-scale networks can be based on such technologies as wifi, ZigBee or Bluetooth. He writes that

Most nodes will probably report to a nearby aggregation point that serves multiple sensors... This aggregation point then connects to a gateway setup for the application. The gateway may handle multiple aggregation points... The gateway then reports up to the next level via a cellular connection to the Internet cloud. An Internet link connects to a server that hosts the middleware implementing the application. Other links are possible, too, depending on the scope of the application.

Frenzel warns that a lack of standards is inhibiting the growth of the Industrial Internet: "Most M2M players agree that the greatest need is some standard protocol to aid in interoperability and more widespread acceptance. The current fragmented situation discourages and slows investment and adoption." Global standards organizations recognize the need for "an initiative to build an M2M service layer that's embeddable in hardware and software" and are working toward establishing standards.