Data visualisation improves energy management in meat processing

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From rearing to refrigeration, it’s no secret that the meat processing industry is highly energy intensive. While newer, more energy efficient physical systems are developing to combat excessive electricity use in the sector, meat plant managers must first identify areas of high energy use. Here, George Walker, managing director of food control system provider Novotek UK and Ireland, explains how data visualisation software can help food manufacturers optimise their processes.

In 2017 the UK Government published its Clean Growth Strategy, a document that laid out, among other things, the Government’s plans to improve energy efficiency among industrial businesses. The target is to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in overall energy use by 2030, compared with business-as-usual levels in 2017.

While the strategy has attracted criticism for lacking ambition, it is still a step in the right direction. Not only will it help curb the country’s emissions, it will ultimately help UK industry minimise its operational expenditure and maximise profitability – two things that any UK business should want to achieve anyway. And few industries require these two outcomes as much as meat processing.

The meat processing industry is infamously resource intensive. According to data from the National Farmers’ Union website, producing one kilogram of beef requires approximately 15,415 litres of water. This is more than is required to produce a kilogram of pulses and a kilogram of nuts. Likewise, processes such as grinding, cooking and refrigerating are energy intensive.

This is why it pays to identify the key areas where systems are drawing the most energy. Meat processing requires a lot of heavy machinery, each with associated electrical components such as motors and drives that will have varying standards of electrical efficiency. These devices begin to draw more energy as they age, often indicating a need for maintenance.

The most efficient way of recognising and addressing these problems is with industrial control systems, such as modern HMI/SCADA. For example, fourth generation HMI/SCADA such as GE Digital’s iFix 6.0 provides fast connectivity with systems and enhanced visualisation of data through a HTML5 user interface and responsive web design.

What this means for food engineers and plant managers is that the data collected by these systems helps to paint an easily understandable, data-driven picture of your plant, equipment and processes. Using this, it becomes easy to identify systems that are particularly energy intensive and identify the causes.

For example, if iFix pinpoints that a motor in a refrigeration unit is drawing significantly more electricity from the mains than it should for its speed, then this highlights that it may be time to swap to a premium efficiency – IE3 or higher – motor. Making this change alone will lead to a significant reduction in energy usage from this process, in turn highlighting the value of industrial data visualisation.

As mentioned in Novotek’s recent modern food automation whitepaper, the true value of industrial control systems in food plants to managers seeking to reduce costs is in helping businesses optimise their processes to achieve bottom-line savings. Data visualisation functionality from HMI/SCADA systems like iFix exemplifies this perfectly.

Whether or not you believe the 20 per cent energy reduction target set out by the UK Government is sufficient or not, there is nothing stopping your business from exceeding it and reaping the benefits. By adopting control systems that support a strategic approach to energy management, meat processing businesses can lead the industry into 2030 and beyond.

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