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Network strategy

20 October 2015

A collaborative networking structure linking process and energy monitoring systems, supported by expertise from energy management specialists, can help optimise productivity and profitability while meeting energy efficiency goals, says Schneider Electric's Dave Sutton

The industrial sector, especially energy-intensive industry, faces significant challenges in monitoring and managing energy use strategically. While there are many opportunities for energy efficiency improvements, it requires an ‘integrated system’ approach to unlock the full potential of energy savings.

Energy cannot be managed effectively if it is not measured accurately. This requires collecting relevant data from all parts of the system, using a networking structure that facilitates this on a reliable basis. This is where problems emerge, as many industrial networks were developed with production optimisation in mind, not energy management. These aging proprietary-installed base assets and equipment cannot meet today’s business energy management challenges.

The sheer volume of data required for effective process energy management is more than these old, traditional networks can handle. In fact, moving from monitoring the process to monitoring process and energy in context increases the volume of data to be captured by a factor of at least three due to the additional devices required at control points, collecting more data, more frequently, which requires a high speed network.

There is, however, a solution that many organisations are coming to realise has serious benefits. Ethernet may originally have been developed to link office networks in the '70s, but it is now ubiquitous in commercial and domestic end-use sectors globally. Being an established technology with a demonstrable track record, its eventual use in industrial environments was only a matter of time.

A single, open, standards-based network, such as Ethernet, covering all elements of the production environment means consistency in tools and approach. This translates into reduced costs and time related to configuration, programming, commissioning, maintenance and upgrade; thus resulting in improved efficiencies. A centralised network also helps in improved plant functioning, which then brings greater flexibility in workforce deployment.

More importantly, Ethernet enables organisations to view and analyse large volumes of production and energy data in context, and send through digestible data on key energy metrics to senior management. This helps create a more agile, robust and proactive energy management approach throughout the organisation. By integrating Ethernet at the core of the system and delivering a service suite that is focused on energy optimisation, organisations can move beyond production optimisation to reliably collect, manage and leverage process and energy data to drive effective energy management.

Open technologies

Open technologies such as Ethernet are attractive on many levels. However, by its very nature of openness, it presents security issues that need to be addressed – especially between SCADA and control levels. Given the increasing sophistication of hackers, users of standard technologies are understandably concerned. Also, in many large industrial networks, the availability of remote access, though necessary, increases vulnerability.

The problem is one of approach and implementation, rather than a network protocol specific issue. At a macro-level, it calls for government directives requiring organisations overseeing critical infrastructure to ensure robust network security practices are used. At the organisation level, the need is to shift from reactive check-it/fix-it approaches to more proactive strategies that start right from vendor selection, through to work practices and regular upgrades.

In the context of ensuring security over the Ethernet, progressive steps must be taken to mitigate security risks. This means installing firewalls in the architecture, ensuring that any ‘backdoors’ are closed and possible gaps plugged through timely upgrades to the system. It also means designing secure features into the system, such as moving toward ISA level compliance. If these steps are done properly, they will provide the best possible protection for any Ethernet network.

In short, minimising energy cost while still achieving overall production objectives is a formidable undertaking. Industry response has been uneven thus far, and for the most part, ad hoc and incomplete. ‘Business-as-usual’ scenarios are no longer sustainable. While there have certainly been some sector-wide gains in energy intensity, this should not distract from the fact that even greater potential remains.

Industrial companies, seeking to unlock this potential, would do well to adopt an integrated system approach, leverage open, collaborative energy management solutions and work with specialists who understand energy management technologies and practices – an Industrial Ethernet network can make that all possible.

Key Points

  • For energy to be managed it need sot be measured, requiring collection of relevant data from all parts of the system
  • Many industrial networks were developed with production optimisation in mind, not energy management
  • Ethernet enables organisations to view and analyse large volumes of production and energy data in context