Automate to Get Energy Costs Under Control

Sept. 29, 2009
Pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. spend nearly $1 billion each year on energy to power their manufacturing facilities, according to a report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkley Laboratory)[1]

This expense is largely due to the resource-intensive processes involved in the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Significant regulatory constraints on the life sciences industry also have made the “greening” of manufacturing processes much more time- and cost-intensive. Even simple changes to the production line can involve time-consuming paperwork, a lengthy approvals process, and considerable expenses. These constraints help explain why pharmaceutical manufacturers have traditionally been passive consumers of energy—when the accounting department received an invoice from the power supplier, they simply paid it.

However, energy conservation for drug manufacturers is more important now than ever before. Profit margins are tightening thanks to shrinking drug pipelines and increased competition from generic versions of blockbuster drugs. With greenhouse gas regulations and cap-and-trade programs a likely reality in the near future, forward-thinking companies are starting to examine and reduce their energy usage and the resulting emissions in order to cut costs and remain competitive. Efficient management of energy consumption is no longer a choice—it is a strategic must. To remain competitive in the marketplace, pharmaceutical manufacturers must set and achieve energy objectives for usage and budget, with a focus on minimizing operational costs.

By leveraging existing automation and power-system assets, manufacturers can better measure and monitor energy consumption by individual loads, machines and lines. Enhanced visualization of energy data facilitates more effective peak-demand management and, ultimately, improved automation of production processes for optimal energy consumption across the enterprise. In addition, working with an automation solutions provider that has significant life sciences industry experience can ease the resource and regulatory burden associated with updates to manufacturing processes.

The largest consumers of energy for pharmaceutical manufacturers are heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for research and development (R&D) and manufacturing operations [1]. Beyond these general benchmarks, life sciences companies have traditionally lacked the insight necessary to develop truly strategic energy-management initiatives. This is because they have not had proper visibility into where, when and how much energy is being consumed within the four walls of the plant. This information is at the core of a successful and effective energy-management campaign.

While many companies do have ways of collecting and profiling energy data, some of these methods may involve unreliable, time-consuming manual processes. Instead, these companies can start with an energy audit to monitor a facility’s utility spend by tracking the consumption of all types of usage—from electricity to water, steam, air and gas. The audit information gathered then helps companies identify a wide range of changes that they can make to reduce their consumption and improve their bottom lines.

An energy audit conducted at one of Rockwell Automation’s customer’s manufacturing facilities identified over $240,000 in potential savings. Recommended changes and upgrades ranged from investing in variable-frequency drives for the air handlers in the plant’s HVAC system, to shifting time-of-day operation for equipment to off-peak hours to reduce peak demand charges.

The audit also identified potential cost savings related to the plant’s compressed air system. “Compressed air is one of the least energy-efficient applications in any drug manufacturing plant,” the Berkeley Laboratory report notes. By reducing line pressure to the minimum pounds per square inch (psi) required by non-operating devices when the plant was in a down condition, and powering devices that must stay on during weekends and holidays with smaller, dedicated compressors, the audit identified up to $50,000 in potential savings.

In addition to an audit, pharmaceutical companies also should install power monitors to continuously collect usage data that can be measured against the benchmarks identified during the audit process. This information can help manufacturers find hidden energy costs and identify opportunities for significant cost reductions through direct energy savings or via compliance with government directives. Power monitors also can help identify “energy events,” such as when a line is running out of specification, helping maintenance engineers catch problems faster and reducing the amount of energy wasted.

Information is only as good as the plan the company has for using it. Once an audit has set specific benchmarks and power monitors are in place to gather continuous energy usage data, life sciences companies can then leverage other automation software solutions to put that information to work. Web-based reporting, trending, and dashboarding tools are part of an enterprise energy management (EEM) solution that can help predict the effect of various changes on consumption, and enhance the overall efficiency of utility usage. In addition, enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) systems connect users to databases in addition to control systems, devices and historians, allowing manufacturers to build comprehensive energy-efficiency solutions that monitor and manage energy usage in real time.

Here’s an example of how EMI can help. One pharmaceutical manufacture used an EMI software solution to compare energy usage data with production information to help drive significant operational cost savings. Sophisticated production equipment, such as extruders, rollers, strippers, and packagers, consumed high volumes of electrical power. But energy costs were allocated to the various aspects of production within their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, not their production systems. The production lines in question were not profitable, and as a result, the manufacturer considered closing down the business unit. While operations managers suspected inefficient energy use was likely a contributor, they didn’t have the ability to extract and analyze consumption details.

By leveraging an EMI solution, the company was able to drill into production control systems to gather real-time energy usage data in the context of a specific production run on certain pieces of equipment. Employees could then analyze that data and upload the result back into the ERP system. This true cost allocation program helped drive a savings of nearly $200,000 a month, helping to make the production line a profit center.

Weather-normalized predictive modeling software can also factor into energy usage reductions, helping the manufacturer to compare what energy consumption should be with what it actually is. When predictive modeling technology meets real-time utilities usage monitoring, engineers gain a clearer view of the individual lines and systems consuming energy. They also can more effectively manage assets to minimize the company’s energy footprint, and can develop an integrated energy management program based on accurate consumption, spending patterns and demand profiles. In addition, they can calculate power consumption costs among various production lines, or in the manufacturing of a specific product. With a more accurate picture of actual product costs, managers are able to make faster, more intelligent business decisions that can help significantly impact the bottom line.

By leveraging a combination of solutions, manufacturers can gain the perspective to help drive savings of more than 20 percent of annual energy costs. Energy isn’t an expense to live with—it’s an asset to manage. With effective strategies for monitoring, measuring and managing energy within pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, manufacturers have the opportunity to consume energy in a way that reduces operating costs and maximizes profits.

About the Authors
Martin Dittmer is Business Segment Manager, Life Sciences, for Rockwell Automation, while  Jeffrey Soplop is an Energy Management Consultant for Rockwell.

1. “Energy Efficiency Improvement and Cost Saving Opportunities for the Pharmaceutical Industry,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, March 2008 Revision.

About the Author

Martin Dittmer and Jeffrey Soplop | Rockwell Automation