Manufacturers Focus on Smart Devices, but What About Power Management?

Ryan Spurr

In today’s intelligent manufacturing world, we spend so much time focused on sensors, data acquisition, and advanced solutions like machine learning that we often overlook one critical foundational element: power management.

With smart factories comes an increased need to connect our factories and yield more intelligent operations and the basic need to keep this new technology powered. In a recent survey, 31% of respondents experienced downtime, and 48% reported at least one outage in their plant. So whether we are powering factory equipment, lighting, security cameras, physical access control, or the next generation of smart sensors, power is at the root of our ability to operate.

Power Management Problems to Consider

With all this industrial transformation comes challenges. Let’s explore some of these challenges your manufacturing organization should be considering with the deployment of Industry 4.0, or any technologies associated with plant operations.

  • Power Placement: How do we ensure we have electricity wherever technology is placed? As we install sensors, beacons, and other smart controls in ceiling, walls, or perhaps in places we have already exhausted typical electrical access, we must also consider how we will power them.
  • Reliable Power: How do we provide power backup? This technology is often core to operations or an overlay for auditing, safety, or regulations. Regardless, this technology becomes vital to optimizing processes and ensuring compliance. Therefore, these devices are becoming essential and must have power at all times.
  • Clean Power: How do we not affect the technology or processes due to power surges or fluctuations? Process equipment and electronics—especially those most sensitive technologies—depend on clean and consistent power not to interrupt or negatively affect their operation. Therefore, clean power is as important as having power.
  • Power Management: How do we simplify power deployment, monitoring, and ongoing management? Implementing smart power solutions allows our controls, facilities, and information technology employees to deploy power-based solutions more quickly while also improving monitoring and maintenance over time.

How to Solve the Manufacturing Power Problem

Let’s explore some of the power technologies available to support manufacturers as they build out new factories, modernize with smart technologies, and look to improve uptime across the board.

  • Industrial UPS: This isn’t new, but the technology has evolved to provide clean reliable power with better management and protection. Today’s UPS solutions include surge protection, clean power delivery, battery monitoring, and integration with management systems, making it easier for the organization to keep the status of all batteries or proactively address at-risk UPS units before an event occurs. 

    The battery technology is also changing. Most UPS units sold are acid-based batteries, but we see the adoption of lithium-based batteries as costs and availability improve. As a result, lithium batteries are set to make up 40% of the market in the coming years, delivering better UPS capabilities such as fewer or no battery replacements, 3x less weight, 10x more discharge cycles, and 4x faster charging. 

    We should also be mindful that UPS units scale with the use case. Solutions come in all shapes and sizes, from small form factors to protect a single machine, factory or line protection systems, data center, or entire site power backup solutions. 
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE): While it doesn’t solve all power applications, another area of power management to consider is power over ethernet (PoE). With IEEE 802.af or IEEE 802.at, PoE and POE+ allow us to deliver clean reliable power directly from existing network cables. Imagine, instead of requiring an electrician to pull permits and wiring to that new industrial monitor or sensor in the ceiling, you just run the same ethernet cable you planned to from your PoE-powered switch to the smart device. Now your unit is powered, connected to the network, and your smart devices are ready to go.

    With the IEEE 802.af/AT standards, you get DC Power up to 15W and 30W per port, or with UPOE or UPOE+ you can get up to 60W or 90W of DC power per port, respectively. With a surge of POE-compatible devices, we are observing many manufacturers deploying this cost-effective and flexible technology to deliver network and power to end-user terminals, wireless access points, industrial devices, touch screens, VOIP phones, cameras, sensors, and lighting, digital signage, and so much more. 

    The next time the factory floor layout changes, the production engineering team can connect network cables without running any new electrical simplifying and speeding up change events. The next time your IT professionals discuss investing in upgrading networks, take this event seriously and partner with IT to get smarter networks with PoE as part of the architecture.
  • Mobile Smart Devices: As our process equipment and unattended smart technologies transform, so do the devices employees use each day. This includes tablets, scanners, smart devices, and wearables. While each of these products typically comes with power charging, many other solutions are available, making it easier and more reliable to power these units. Whether your organization is looking to provide smart power lockers to protect, charge, and make it easier for employees to get a device, or to offer next-generation wireless charging solutions, power docking, and more. Keep an eye on how smart devices are rapidly changing how they charge intelligently and fit the type of culture, environment, or demanding requirements of your staff.
  • Managed Power Services: With so much workload placed on industrial and IT teams, we observe a rise in augmentation of existing teams with managed power services. With newer power solutions, these smarter power devices are capable of integrating with corporate monitoring platforms to support monitoring from the center. They can also allow for managed power services that enable power as a service offerings. These services integrate all power technologies and provide real-time battery monitoring, alert management, and on-site services when necessary. Such augmentation unlocks your team to focus on more critical business initiatives while outsourcing and delivering improved power reliability.

With 85% of manufacturing CEOs expecting smart factory or industrial internet of things (IIoT) technology investments as key to their future business success, we know manufacturers are investing in industrial transformation (IX). However, manufacturers must not forget about foundational infrastructure to ensure the resiliency and dependabilities required to keep our intelligent factories operational. 

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the challenges and power  solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy and Business Development at Connection with more than 15 years of experience in manufacturing and information technology leadership. He holds an MBA, MSIT, and is an ASQ member.

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