Energy efficiency is a key design driver in everything from smartphones to cars, and from dishwashers to houses. And an experimental solar-powered house, designed by Valencia’s Cardinal Herrera University and sponsored by Omron, has shown just how far it is possible to go with energy efficient buildings. It was created for the 2010 Solar Decathlon
Carbon is everywhere, from barbecue charcoal to diamonds, yet seeing it as a “precious resource” can enable machine-makers to reduce their carbon footprint without impacting on profitability. Return on carbon is a new management index that could become as important to businesses as return on investment.
Carbon is present in nearly ten million known compounds, and 95% of everything in the universe contains carbon atoms, so it seems counter-intuitive to regard it as a rare resource. Yet that is the thinking behind a new management index – return on carbon (ROC) – which can be used by businesses to reduce CO2 emissions while maintaining profitability. ROC is measured by dividing the profit made by a business by the volume of its CO2 emissions. If the CO2 emissions are seen as precious, and “used” as sparingly as possible while maintaining or increasing profitability, a high ROC is achieved.
Look at the entire production process
Most countries – including every member of the EEA – set strict limits on CO2 emissions, so any machine-maker wanting to sell internationally has to reduce environmental impacts – both its own, and those from the machines that it manufactures. Introducing specific equipment and systems solely for this purpose can be prohibitively expensive, and it can be more much effective to look at the entire production process to improve operational techniques and optimise machine usage.
Using ROC as a management tool can help to achieve this because it recognises that, while it’s impossible to eliminate emissions altogether, it is possible to improve efficiency, to keep down energy costs, and reduce energy wastage. The detail is different for each sector, of course, but the approach is always the same. With a packaging machine, for example, it can involve monitoring and analysis to make operational improvements to the way machines are used, together with energy control techniques applied to the machine itself. One low-cost solution is to deploy sensors to measure energy use, alongside data-collection equipment and systems to analyse the data. Training is also important, so that operators can see quickly how to optimise energy use and reduce wastage.
From manufacture to operational use
It’s also helpful to get suppliers involved in the earliest stage of a machine’s development, to help build-in improved ROC through increased energy efficiency. This can be extended from the manufacture of the machine through to its installation, and then to operation by the end-users.
Omron set up its Environmental Solutions department three years ago to help introduce the principles of ROC at each of its manufacturing plants. The programme started with the five Japanese factories, where electricity use was reduced by 10 per cent in the first year by optimising production machinery, air conditioning, compressors and so on. Crucially, this was achieved without affecting the performance of the equipment. The efficiencies have since been rolled out worldwide.
A twin-track approach was used with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by up to 50 per cent. On the one hand, increasing use was made of renewable energy sources (eg, solar power), which has a direct impact on CO2 emissions; then further reductions were made by cutting waste and improving machine efficiency.
Omron Environmental Solutions now uses this experience to help manufacturers worldwide to improve energy efficiency and improve ROC, leveraging the company’s core competences in sensing and control.