Next generation intelligent solutions help improve energy efficiency

Author : Mirjana Vuckovic | Technical Support Manager | RS Components

03 March 2020


Availability of convergent products featuring embedded technology is now giving engineers a high degree of control when designing systems to provide building users with valuable information around energy usage.

This article was originally featured in special supplement on Designing for energy efficiency, brought to you by EPDT & RS Components [read the digital issue].

With the capability to communicate with other devices over short range wireless systems, the new generation of leading-edge, high functionality products can be controlled in a more intelligent manner. As Mirjana Vuckovic, Technical Support Manager at RS Components explains, there are many ways design engineers can easily integrate smart solutions to achieve cost and energy saving benefits.

And with energy saving in mind, and the UK government’s clear aim for a completely carbon neutral UK by 2050, application of Industry 4.0 principles could be the key. With growing environmental costs related to manufacturing and inefficient HVAC, (according to the European Climate Foundation, CO2 emissions from heavy industry are responsible for 14% of the EU total, while heating accounts for the UK’s largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions at 37%, according to the Energy Saving Trust), not realising the fourth industrial revolution is prohibitive to both progress and the planet.

The latest technologies in this era of smart, connected products have become complex systems, usually consisting of three core elements: physical components, intelligence (smart components) and connectivity. Physical components consist of electrical and mechanical parts, while smart components comprise sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, and usually embedded operating systems and user interface. Connectivity components are the ports, antennae and protocols enabling wired or wireless connection with other smart devices, operation systems – and also enabling some functions of the products to exist outside of the device in the ‘product cloud’. The new generation of intelligent products can provide valuable information to users, and can be used across all industry sectors – from small-scale up to very large-scale industries, with benefits including energy saving, cost saving and reduction in CO2 emissions.

To achieve efficiency, the first step is monitoring parameters associated with efficiency, such as current, voltage, temperature and humidity. Power usage (and power factor) monitoring and metering can be executed in any commercial, consumer or industrial applications.

There is a plethora of products to assist with this: Fluke’s 1738 three-phase power logger is ideal for conducting basic energy and power quality studies, and the Fluke Connect® mobile app and desktop software compatibility provides the data needed to make critical power quality and energy decisions in real-time. It is the analysis of this monitored data that facilitates Smart BMS (building management systems), including HVAC; smart lighting, heating and room occupancy solutions; smart CMMS (condition monitoring management systems); deployment of power factor correctors; and energy-efficient motion control.

Pressac’s range of energy monitoring sensors show granular energy use in real-time at machine, room or zone level, over defined periods, with automated controls to reduce costs without impact on a daily routine. Combined with environmental data (temperature, occupancy, door, window sensors), usage can be tracked over time, and continued monitoring enables identification of where energy is used and wasted the most, so savings can be identified. The sensors also monitor and feed control equipment with data: it’s possible to see which assets are switched on or off, ensure critical assets function correctly and switch off assets when not in use. Data from these sensors can be sent wirelessly and securely to any number of receivers, and the technology is platform agnostic – the smart gateways make sensor data securely available using industry-standard formats, such as MQTT and JSON.

Brainboxes’ product potential is also huge, and these are being used in a wide variety of monitoring application solutions, giving the power to collect data, monitor and control a heating system effectively – giving the power to ascertain where there is maintenance requirement. Brainboxes APIs can be used with Brainboxes Remote I/O and Ethernet to Serial communication protocols, like Modbus TCP, can be consumed and then republished as web protocols, such as JSON over WebSockets. They provide the advantage of authentication, offering secure, authorised peer interaction.

Using wireless networks for energy management of HVAC systems

Many manufacturers run multiple production lines in the same building, and because machinery in each line produces heat, multiple air conditioners are constantly running throughout the building. However, when only one production line is operating, having all air conditioners on is not necessary and results in wasted energy.


Instead of operating the HVAC system all the time, energy expenses can be reduced by scheduling the equipment to run only when the manufacturing equipment is in operation. A team at Banner Engineering developed a system where a node with discrete I/O monitors machine status, and one of the node’s inputs accepts a signal from the machine’s PLC to indicate if the machine is operating. Using Modbus RTU, the gateway can be connected to the HVAC system’s PLC anywhere in the facility. For each operational production line, an air conditioner or other HVAC component – such as air mover, vent or chiller – can be activated. As each production line shuts down, the associated cooling units are also turned off to conserve energy and money. Using a wireless system eliminates the need to run conduit and wire, allowing the user to move nodes around when production lines are rearranged.

To reduce waste by regulating power use, Banner installed a gateway inside the facility’s physical plant to monitor energy use and demand, depending on its fluctuating requirements. The wireless network can activate or shut down rooftop HVAC systems. With this monitoring system, industry managers can identify opportunities to make energy use more efficient and conserve plant resources at their facility.

To cater for growing needs to reduce energy usage in the industrial sphere, engineers must make the most of emerging technology and convergence opportunities. The wireless element means design engineers can cost effectively build them into designs from the start, and they can be standalone units or networked together at any stage. For corporate, social, ethical and economic reasons, energy efficiency is no longer just an option.

Case study: Proven results for heating equipment design & manufacture firm

Thermal Integration used Brainboxes for its own design to achieve energy and cost-efficient systems. The firm designs and manufactures some of the UK’s most efficient heating equipment, and designed a heat exchange system able to deliver both environmental and cost-saving benefits. The existing control panel was described by Richard Hanson-Graville, Technical Director of Thermal Integration as a “£250,000 on/off switch”. Thermal Integration was able to offer a new £5,000 panel that not only controlled the heating exchange, but also allowed remote monitoring via a cloud-based application.

The range of equipment made by Thermal Integration is the end result of more than 20 years of research and development in heating technology. Expansion plans meant bidding against established competition to install a new system in council-owned apartment blocks across London to meet the following requirements:

1. Design a reliable control system at a disruptive price point

2. Collect the right data to monitor and control the heating system

3. Ensure heating is available to residents 24/7

The opportunity was to successfully install in this one plant, to save the local authority thousands of pounds. Thermal Integration fitted sensors to boilers, pumps, pressurisation sets and gas safety valves, using Raspberry Pi and Node-RED to program the system. Everything connects via Node-RED, and a visual programming language makes programming simple. The browser-based editor makes it easy to wire together flows using the wide range of nodes in the palette that can be deployed to its run-time with a single click.

Three Raspberry Pis, a 3G modem and six Brainboxes modules and switches feed real-time data to Thermal Integration’s IT Network, so the system can be remotely observed and regulated, eliminating the need to send out maintenance engineers.

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