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Mark Harrison of Siemens Automation and Drives explains how upgrading a plant’s control gear can help a company secure more efficient operations and reduce costs.

The past two years have been a difficult time for industry within the UK.

As the economic outlook plunged, many manufacturers and processing companies faced a significant decline in business as customers were less willing to part with their cash.

In recent months the situation has slowly begun to look up, but, as business starts to take a turn for the better, it is important that operations within the plant continue to run as efficiently as possible to make sure that manufacturers are getting the most out of their current production line and are well positioned for the future.

With energy prices forecast to remain high, operating a plant that is energy efficient is also fundamental to the success of any business.

The old saying ‘you have to spend money to make money’ rings very true.

By investing in modern equipment that can offer real operational efficiency benefits, manufacturers are likely to find production running more smoothly and endure fewer breakdowns, which will save them time and money.

From the point of view of a plant manager who is looking to reduce costs, modern equipment that offers the latest operational efficient benefits will be vital in achieving this objective.

The control gear is central to the operations of any plant and, as such, is arguably one of the most important elements.

With this in mind, an operator cannot afford to be plagued by issues that lead to operational inefficiencies.

If the control gear is inefficient then it is likely to have knock-on effects throughout the plant.

Often such problems occur simply because the control gear is outdated and is no longer capable of operating quite how it once did.

Additionally, older control panels do not have the same benefit-led features that are commonly present in modern equivalents.

So what should any plant manager be looking for if considering investing in new control gear? With efficiency in mind, manufacturers of control gear have been looking to design panels that are smaller, have fewer components and are simpler to use.

By keeping panel size to a minimum the cost of installation will be less, as will the costs associated with operating the panel.

Additionally, by ensuring that the equipment attached to the control panel consists of fewer components, not only will the initial installation time be reduced, but there will be less opportunity for components to fail in the system, meaning that the chance of plant downtime is significantly reduced.

Another trend of modern control gear is the move towards ensuring reduced wiring levels.

The less wiring used, the cheaper and easier it is for the control gear to be installed, which is why there has been support for the recent move towards field-level bus systems within a plant.

One major problem that control-gear manufacturers have tried to tackle is the issue of workforce de-skilling.

With the numbers of less qualified engineers available, it is vital that the control panel and associated gear is as easy to use as possible.

For this reason, a modern system with less wiring and fewer parts can prove beneficial to its operation.

By making the control panel as straightforward as possible, a lone engineer or plant operator without the experience and in-depth engineering capabilities that were once commonly present in a plant can identify the problem and resolve it, despite the lack of support that would have been present in times gone by.

Siemens Automation and Drives is just one such company that has looked to develop its control gear to meet market expectations and trends.

Extensive research and development has resulted in the launch of the company’s latest modular control-gear range, Sirius Innovation.

The devices are a simple ‘click-and-go’ system, which allows each component to be easily linked and ‘clicked’ into place, without the need for expensive and time-consuming wiring and, in some cases, even without the need for tools.

Furthermore, as the components easily plug into place, installation is straightforward.

As there is no wiring, maintenance is easier and cheaper.

With each component measuring no more than 45mm wide, the compact design of the product makes it perfect for any plant room where space is at a premium.

In addition, the Sirius Innovation uses I/O link technology to provide feedback and diagnosis directly from the switching devices, without the need for any complicated configuration.

This means that faults anywhere in the plant can be rapidly identified, as the operator will be informed straight away through the control panel as to what and where the fault is.

This, in turn, will reduce downtime, as the problem can be resolved more quickly.

With the recent harsh economic climate in the UK finally starting to become more benign, it is important for businesses to be in the best position possible, so that they can operate at maximum competitiveness going forwards and make sure they are ahead of the game.

For manufacturing and processing companies, investing in modern equipment that employs the latest technological developments around the control panel may be the best way to enhance operational efficiency and cut costs.

Siemens Automation and Drives

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