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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Driven by Change

An essential technology for delivering on energy-saving targets, variable speed drives can be seen as a stock that is safe, even in the tumbling global market

Imagine for a moment this idyllic situation; you buy shares in a company where the return is guaranteed. People would queue up to invest their money in this new, risk free stock market. Although such utopian circumstances don’t apply to the FTSE, it can be argued that they do when it comes to variable speed drives (VSDs). However, there isn’t a queue to buy these energy-saving devices within the pharmaceutical sector; perhaps because of a lack of understanding of the return on investment they can deliver.

VSDs can reduce the energy bill on a pharmaceutical packaging application or system by more than their own capital cost in a relatively short period. Furthermore, like our utopian stocks, a VSD will pay yearly dividends – in the form of reduced energy bills. As energy prices continue to soar, the ROI on a VSD application increases in proportion to the bill. However, there are a number of companies in the pharmaceutical industry, in both the manufacturing and packaging sectors, who haven’t yet taken advantage of this technology, and it is worth exploring why.

Breaking Habits

The first reason is capital expenditure. The global financial meltdown prompted many companies to freeze any form of investment; even investment with a guaranteed return. It may also be that the decision-makers within these reluctant companies have examined the business model for VSDs in the past, at a point when the payback wasn’t as appealing as it is now. However, the situation has changed significantly in recent years. Energy prices have increased at an incredible rate, while the cost of a VSD has actually remained stable over the last decade. This means that, as things stand at the moment, payback can be achieved more quickly than ever, often in less than a year.

The VSD Savings Calculator

Energy saving is currently a high priority on the British and EU agendas and VSDs are gradually being recognised as one of the most important tools for cutting energy costs. A new online VSD calculator will encourage non-technical people, particularly in purchasing departments, to embrace the technology. The calculator is intended as a first-pass indication tool to help decide if a VSD will bring energy savings to the application. It can also help estimate what payback period can be expected, making it clear whether or not the application is suitable for a VSD. In a pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging context, it would be particularly useful for conveyors, bowl feeders, primary and secondary packaging, and everything in between.

Meeting the Carbon Budget Targets

The carbon budget, the main generator for the UK’s current set of energy saving technologies, contained a lot of very sensible ‘what’ but not enough ‘how’.

However, energy saving technology is Europe’s biggest energy resource, and creating the right environment for businesses to learn about its implementation should be a prime carbon objective.

VSDs are a tried and tested form of technology that can help the UK meet the Government’s recently re-aligned target of a 50 per cent emissions cut averaged across the years 2023 to 2027, compared with 1990 levels. A tax incentive, probably in the form of a highly-targeted credit, would be an excellent way of encouraging participation from business and industry.

The first step for anyone who wants to investigate this further is to identify the potential for saving in their application, or more likely applications. This is best done either via a manufacturer or an accredited distributor.

An Example in Practice

Once you’ve made contact with a manufacturer or distributor, they will conduct an audit of some kind. In the first instance this will normally be done remotely by telephone or via the web. They will want to know what type of application they are dealing with, what the power rating of the motor is and the number of hours per day it is being used for. An experienced drives engineer will be able to pick out whether or not you will save money very quickly.

A good example of how VSDs can provide impressive financial payback was provided by a recent cooling application on six fans, delivered by a GAMBICA member company. This retrofit project had to take into account a number of issues including power quality, compatibility with the existing motors, and of course cost.

The price of installing the first of the six VSDs, one for each fan, was £22,000, including the harmonic mitigation measures taken to ensure power quality. The remaining five were added once the principle had been proven and the existing motors in the application were upgraded to accept VSD operation.

Before the project was installed a VSD calculator was used to give the end user an idea of the energy savings they could expect. As the calculator predicted, the payback period was a mere eight months, based on 1500kWh of energy being saved per day at a total annual value of just over £30,000 annually.

This demonstrates that the key piece of data that you should look for in a quote is the projected energy usage of the overall system during its lifespan with and without a VSD fitted. The motor that the drive is controlling will consume many, more times its cost in energy during this time. Thus, the lifetime cost of the system in which the VSD figures is vastly more important than the VSD’s own capital cost. By reducing this energy expenditure you can offset the initial price very easily.

If the project you are looking at is a retrofit one, like the above example, then you should consider the cost of the drive against the remaining lifespan of the system in which it will be installed. Remember, it’s not unusual for a motor to have a useful life of 30 years or more, so even on relatively old systems there can still be a big saving.

Once the sums have been done on the system itself, it is time to consider the financial incentives provided by the Government for fitting VSD control. The Carbon Trust offers two forms of encouragement. The first of these is the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme, which means a business can claim 100 per cent first-year capital allowances on their spending on VSDs. Then, more importantly, there is the loan scheme, which allows small companies and SMEs to use an interest free loan to pay for the VSD and its installation. In effect, you borrow the money to buy the equipment and the VSD then covers the repayments itself, by reducing expenditure on energy.

Working Together for a Better Energy Saving Plan

Electric motors in pharmaceutical and packaging applications consume significant amounts of electricity; estimated to be about two-thirds of all usage. Even a simple air conditioning system, costing a few hundred pounds, can be expected to consume many tens of thousands of pounds worth of electricity over its useful lifetime. VSDs can help to make significant energy savings by controlling the motor speed.

A second reason for the relatively slow uptake of VSDs is rooted in the internal issues encountered in pharmaceutical organisations. There can be a lack of collaboration between the senior manager, accountant or purchasing team who manage the energy bill and the shop floor engineer who understands the potential savings. Traditionally, the person responsible for paying the energy bill would just change supplier if the costs get too high. Ironically, the engineer would be able to recommend a solution which could reduce the bill by up to 50 per cent. However, because he doesn’t control the budget, the company misses out on the savings. This means that any energy saving technology can be hard to implement.

Creating closer links between these two areas of a business is an important objective. Tools like online VSD calculators will go some way towards achieving this; however, by themselves they won’t produce a result – there also has to be real buy-in from the business itself.

Where it Should all Begin – the Supply Chain

The supply chain also bears part of the blame for the industry’s lack of confidence in VSDs. In the majority of cases, buying teams look for a solution to a manufacturing problem, in the form of a complete system. As a result, machine builders and systems integrators will compete on sale price, but not on the overall system cost including energy consumption. This means that VSDs are often regarded as non-essential optional extras. However, 90 per cent of the lifetime cost of an electric motor comes from its energy consumption. It is therefore clear that the energy cost of a system should be the first thing a buying team look for in a quote, as it may well be the single item that most effects the bottom line over time.

This is particularly true in pharmaceutical and packaging applications, where pumps and fans are widely used for liquid and air movement. In these kinds of applications, turning down the speed by 20 per cent can translate to a 50 per cent energy saving in a fan, for example. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that motors are often over-specified in such industries, so they can cope with worst case scenarios. Adding a VSD wouldn’t remove this ability to manage in extremes, it will just reduce its cost on a day-to-day basis; it’s an investment decision that shouldn’t require an extended period of due diligence.

Continuity and Security of Power Supplies

The cost of energy is important, but the security and continuity of energy is crucial for many industry sectors. Maintaining a reliable energy supply requires both businesses and individuals to consume less – and this is exactly what VSDs can help process companies achieve. Put simply, VSDs can be seen as a form of insurance against future energy price increases. They both reduce the bill in proportion to its overall size, and improve the long-term business model of the energy industry by increasing the likelihood that it will be able to help the Government meet its energy reduction targets.

The good news is that there are some systems integrators and machine builders out there who have started to use the energy efficiency of the equipment they produce as a selling point. The ones that are doing it sooner rather than later are differentiating themselves on the market by being more helpful to the customer and providing a more rounded service. This should become the norm. If pharmaceutical companies become more aware of money saving opportunities, then they will ask for smarter solutions; this will cause systems integrators to react accordingly.

Equally, buying teams and purchasing departments are starting to understand that it’s the overall system cost that is important, not the purchase price alone. Recent economic turbulence has resulted in closer inspection of how money is being spent and a more discerning decision making process. VSDs can be a key part of economic recovery for the pharmaceutical industry.

Recent EU regulations concerning energy efficiency have also played an important role in changing the way manufacturers think. The Eco-Design Directive, which was originally called the Energy Using Products Directive, is a framework which sets minimum standards of efficiency for specific products. Since July 2011, there has been a requirement that motors must meet the IE2 standard. From 2015, motors from 7.5kW to 375kW must meet IE3. For a 1kW motor, roughly eight per cent of its input energy is saved by going from IE1 to IE2, and by going from IE1 to IE3 around 11 per cent is saved. The typical efficiency of an IE2 1kW motor is 80 per cent, while similarly sized IE3 motors exceed this significantly. The requirements will extend down to 0.75kW from 2017.

The implementation this summer has already raised the bar in terms of environmental and economical prerequisites, so it is reasonable to assume that the subsequent Directive developments planned for 2015 and 2017 will increase them further. The call for higher levels of energy efficiency has been made loud and clear, however, one must bear in mind that VSDs are not the panacea to all problems. VSDs are not suitable for all types of motor applications, so engineers should always consult the specialist resources provided by the supplier when specifying one.

In conclusion, the evidence is clear; VSDs are one of the lowest risk investments UK plc can make to bring its environmental and economic goals a step closer to fruition. If you are part of a buying team, or working at management level for a company that uses substantial amounts of energy, VSDs could be a viable solution to provide significant energy savings in many motor applications. All you need to do is adjust the way you view the system cost of each engineering solution you buy, where lifetime cost is considered over purchase cost.

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Steve Brambley is Deputy Director at GAMBICA, the trade association for Instrumentation, Control, Automation and Laboratory Technology in the UK. GAMBICA seeks to inform users and designers of motor driven systems of the benefits of intelligentcontrol using automation technology, particularly in the increasingly important arena of energy efficiency. Steve is responsible for representing the industrial automation sector, covering product groups for variable speed drives, controlgear, soft starts, PLCs, terminals, enclosures, uninterruptible power supplies, position sensors and machine safety components. Email:
Steve Brambley
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