Moving towards low-carbon industry with proactive services for motors and drives

As the world advances to a low-carbon future, industrial businesses should be looking to significantly reduce their carbon footprint. As Erich Labuda, ABB's president of motion services, writes, one answer lies in proactively servicing motor-driven systems. Electric motor-driven systems serve as a critical part of global industry, powering everything from manufacturing and transportation to vital infrastructure.

Collectively, industrial businesses around the world run on more than 300 million of them. Nevertheless, many of these systems are not operating at peak efficiency, and this is having a huge impact on both business and the planet. If all these motor-driven systems were optimised, global electricity usage could be reduced by up to 10%, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

That would not only have a vast effect on reducing carbon emissions but would also result in substantial long-term cost savings for businesses. With that goal in mind, these same businesses should recognise the potential of making their motors and drives more energy efficient. The main challenge lies in equipping companies with the necessary information to make these changes.

In a recent ABB survey, it was discovered that while 97% of industrial decision-makers intend to improve their energy efficiency, only 41% feel properly informed on how to do so. The case for the proactive servicing is stronger than ever. Using data to drive change

A digital energy efficiency audit is an excellent starting point for companies seeking to maximise the performance and efficiency of their motor-driven systems. Through data analysis and expert service knowledge, less efficient equipment can be identified, giving operators the necessary information to make a case for action. In this way, efficiency improvements can be targeted effectively.

Examples of these improvements may include resizing and modernising equipment or integrating variable-speed drives (VSDs). A digital audit holds the advantage of clearly outlining the energy savings and return on investment (ROI) that may be attainable. In fact, ABB recently audited over 2,000 motor-driven systems across a wide range of industries and identified an ROI of as little as three months, depending on the local energy mix and cost.

The biggest opportunities for cost savings and efficiency improvements were related to motors operating without a VSD. This proved true for Tarkett, a flooring manufacturer based in Sweden, which saved approximately 800MWh annually by following a digital energy efficiency auditor's advice. This saving is equivalent to charging every UK resident's phone, totalling around 68 million smartphones.

Taking the cost of energy in Sweden at the time into account, an expected payback period of 18 months or less was foreseen. With the benefits and advantages of improving energy efficiency so clearly defined, can businesses really afford not to make these changes? Enabling businesses to focus on their core competence

One potential blocker to making these changes is a perceived lack of the necessary internal expertise. However, a business like Tarkett doesn't necessarily need to have an in-house expert in the inner workings of motors and drives. It just needs to be an expert in its own processes and industry.

An external service provider can then bring specific knowledge and expertise to help them through the transition to more reliable and efficient technology. However, it's important that any external service provider is directly aligned with the goals of your business. To support this, industrial maintenance has started trending towards outcome-based models.

In a traditional service strategy, a partner might only be paid according to completion of specific maintenance tasks. In contrast, an outcome-based agreement means they earn income when they achieve a certain outcome, such as an efficiency target or a specific level of uptime. This aligns the business and service provider towards a common objective and shifts the risk of maintenance away from the business so it can focus on its core competence.

When targeting uptime improvements, these models aim to significantly reduce the frequency of costly, unplanned downtime facing industrial businesses today. A recent survey from ABB, published in October 2023, involving more than 3,000 plant managers, revealed that over two-thirds of industrial businesses experience unplanned outages at least once a month, costing the typical business close to £125,000 an hour. In the survey, nine out of 10 plant maintenance decision-makers responded that they would be interested in these outcome-based maintenance agreements.

One example of this in action is with Europe's largest generator of renewable energy, Statkraft, which recently deployed a 40-tonne flywheel in Liverpool. As an increasing amount of variable renewable energy is being integrated, the system is critical to stabilising the local grid. Statkraft signed a 10-year, outcome-based maintenance agreement with ABB to ensure the system runs smoothly, 24/7.

This involved fully digitalising the equipment so that operators can perform remote condition monitoring and alert technicians to perform rapid fixes to maintain a very high level of uptime. Why businesses have the power to make a difference Business leaders are willing to take action to drive greater energy efficiency.

The challenge lies in making an obvious case for implementing these changes - all the way from the C-suite to factory operators - to accelerate decision-making for a low-carbon future.

Businesses clearly have a great opportunity to make substantial improvements by embracing digitalisation and integrating an outcome-based approach where motors and drives are utilised.

These improvements can reduce energy consumption and, as a result, decrease the associated carbon emissions and costs.