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Energy Drive’s Journey to Industry 4.0

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Have you ever heard of the 4th Industrial Revolution? The 1st was the steam engine,
the 2nd, the age of science and mass production, and the 3rd, the rise of digital technology. You have likely heard part of the definition many times before.

The 4th Industrial Revolution: “The current and developing environment in which disruptive
technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.“ (source: TechTarget – fourth industrial revolution)

Industry 4.0 is the subset of the 4th Industrial Revolution that concerns industry. When
Energy Drive was founded in 2011, we installed our first VSD energy-saving system with mechanical electrical meters not very dissimilar to the ones you may have seen at home.

These meters required manual readings to be taken every month to verify the energy savings of the system. In the years that followed, the Industry 4.0 movement has shaped and transformed how we monitor and operate our systems.

DIGITALISED CONSUMPTION

It soon became apparent that as the number of installations grew, so would the workforce be required to simply to collect data. This was counter-cultural since Energy Drive is about maximising output as efficiently and effectively as possible. Subsequent installations adopted a SIM Card/Data modem approach, enabling us to see every ½ hour of consumption at near-live speeds.

Remember, this was 2011, where South Africa’s average internet connection speed was 442 Kbps (0.4 Mbps), and the average user would download 197Mb per month! (source: Akamai’s State of the Internet report)

REMOTE MONITORING

It was in mid-2016 that we installed our first PLC data collection device. Equipment available off the shelf was expensive and did not address all our needs. Our primary goal in developing these devices was to relay signals the VSD was outputting to the display (HMI).

By capturing these codes and transmitting them to a cloud server, we could conduct basic diagnostics without having to do site visits. At the very least, we could prepare our technicians to enable quick resolution. Every month, we now collect ½ billion data points from our systems around the world.

Looking back at Google Search Trends of the term ‘Industry 4.0’, we see that it was in 2014/2015 that a rise in interest in this revolution started. Data was becoming cheaper, and storage and collection became much easier too. (Refer to the Google search trends for ‘Industry 4.0’ graph below.)

This phenomenon enabled Energy Drive to enhance our remote monitoring capabilities dramatically. In October 2019, we commissioned 8 x 1300 kW 11 kV VSD’s at Glencore Lion. Critical to this deployment was the PLC Data System, which collects over 1200 system parameters every second.

BUT NOT DATA ALONE

But data collected from the ‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ alone does not constitute a revolution. Nor even provides knowledge. The process of turning data to information is well-trodden, with many data analytics vendors providing this service.

Companies like Tableau, Microsoft and Qlikview lead the data visualisation space with their innovative tools. However, within industry, many engineers and managers operate their departments and teams using generated reports, many of which are typically static. These reports may be stale and require skilled individuals to extract the insights and knowledge to effect an actual improvement.

Dashboards provide a more interactive method of interrogating data and may provide you with insights quicker. But this still requires a skilled engineer delving deep into the detail to uncover these performance gains.

FROM INFORMATION TO KNOWLEDGE

Many believe this is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) play a paramount role in the 4th Industrial Revolution. We believe so too, but we recognise that there is no magic recipe, no secret code, that will make this happen.

Every AI model was developed by a skilled engineer, who carefully defined the boundaries and parameters of the model, and thus built years of experience and knowledge into a computer program. In so doing, the engineer has artificially created ‘Intelligence’. When that code is presented with a random, completely new set of data, it can use its ‘knowledge’ to determine an action, much in the same way an engineer would do when presented with a new problem. The difference is scale.

In South Africa, we already have a skills shortage. Combine that with the economic pressures
on industry, and the availability of resources to monitor production performance is scarce. With the use of Industry 4.0 techniques, a computer can monitor hundreds of parameters at lightning speed, turning that data into actionable decisions.

ENERGY DRIVE’S APPROACH

At Energy Drive, we love solving problems. Whether they be engineering-related or financial in nature, removing barriers that constrain business from excelling is what we are passionate about. We are constantly seeking out the best problems to solve. By leveraging our experience and skills learnt in the Energy Saving arena, we believe we can provide solutions to many industries in desperate need of an efficiency boost.

We are currently investing in the Industry 4.0 movement, both through internal developments, and partnering efforts with domain experts. We will also continue to remain solution-agnostic, with a passion and focus on solving a problem, rather than selling a solution.

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