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4 minute read

Industry 4.0 Insight – The role of smarter energy management

Industry 4.0 or ‘4IR’, as it has been termed here in the UK by industry leading bodies such as the EEF, is shaping the way we think about our plants and factories, our processes and workforce, and about the long-term future of manufacturing itself. This change is both a challenge and an opportunity for manufacturers – but exactly what it means to your business right now will vary depending on various factors. These include the size of your operation, the availability of investment, and the needs or expectations of your customer base. However, regardless of the size or scope of your 4.0 ambitions, those who don’t adapt to embrace industry and marketplace changes risk being left behind.

Start with internal processes

If you recognise the need for change but are not sure how your business can stay abreast of the competition, it may pay to look at internal processes first. In fact, you’ll be in good company; according to the EEF, most of our UK industry is currently in this evolutionary stage – which begins with optimising existing business processes and boosting the role of data and technology in decision making across all parts of the business. Only once their internal ducks are in a row will manufacturing businesses be able to take the next step: ‘revolution’, through the efficient use of big data, the Internet of Things and highly responsive, customer driven processes.

During this all-important evolutionary stage, smarter energy management has a significant role to play. Whilst core equipment and assets will naturally be the primary focus for most businesses, now is the perfect time to integrate the latest energy technologies into plant upgrades. The energy sector is getting smarter – and the opportunity for business customers to drive down costs and ramp up earnings is growing. Energy is vital to every manufacturing process and makes up a significant proportion of running costs for most manufacturers. Reconsidering energy management systems and processes, thereby reducing and mitigating energy spend, makes perfect sense for businesses who need to protect valuable resources, streamline processes and respond to an ever-increasing pressure to drive down costs.

Energy is vital to every manufacturing process and makes up a significant proportion of running costs / Picture: Getty/iStock


Cost savings and new revenue

Let’s take a look at the basics: The time of day at which energy is consumed has a substantial impact upon overall energy costs, with distribution and transmission costs being far more expensive during those periods when the system is under most stress. Finding ways to unlock your energy flexibility and turning down or switching over to on-site generation during those periods is the first way that manufacturers can begin to see a real difference on their energy invoices. Alongside this, many businesses may be missing out on revenue generating opportunities available through Demand Side Response (DSR) or imbalance market schemes. Each scheme will work in a slightly different way and offer slightly different rewards, but there is now such a range of options available that something exists to suit each type and scale of business.

What will work for your business?

Our customers have made us aware that confusion about DSR and flexibility options across the market was one obstacle to increased participation, which is why we created a free and impartial User’s Guide to Flexibility (Available for download at We also used feedback from our business customers to create our own solution: Renewable Balancing Reserve (RBR), which is a commitment-free, penalty-free, year-round solution that allows our customers to unlock revenue from the rising imbalance market. Schemes like RBR, as well as National Grid’s Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) and Firm Frequency Response (FFR), provide real and ongoing opportunities for manufacturers to create a revenue stream, which can in turn be invested in development programmes or new technology.

The adoption of energy management software might provide a solution & help manufacturers take the next step on their Industry 4.0 journey / Picture: Ørsted


Making the most of your onsite assets

Plant schedules, and the operational managers behind them, will be a vital component in the optimisation of energy management systems for any manufacturing business. Optimising plant schedules can make a real difference to your bottom line but getting it right can be difficult; each energy-using and energy-generating asset on any given site will operate within a tight set of operating parameters and constraints, with start-up periods and running times to consider and productivity always a primary driver. There is often a significant time and resource commitment dedicated to plant scheduling –  but the adoption of new energy management software might provide a solution. Among the solutions available is our own Site Optimisation software, which can help businesses to unlock the true value of their onsite assets, without the need for extra investment. It’s been described as a ‘business no-brainer’ thanks to the ease of implementation and savings it can deliver, and we really hope it can help manufacturing businesses take the next step on their Industry 4.0 journey.