Author: Steve Brambley, deputy director - industrial automation, GAMBICA
Imagine that you are scouting the market for a shiny new car. You would probably look at getting good value for money, the newest fuel technology and an attractive design. By comparison, when purchasing an industrial motor, it seems to be completely the opposite situation.
The car manufacturing industry has shifted most of it efforts towards producing energy-efficient vehicles, be they electric, hybrid or fossil-fuel powered. The biggest investment for the lifetime of the average car is the purchasing cost. After that, the fuel consumption would be relatively small, amounting to roughly 79% of the purchasing cost over a decade.
By contrast, industrial motors might only set you back a few hundred euro to purchase, but their greatest expenditure comes from running costs. A motor that only cost €600 to buy will eat up over €20,000 in energy bills over a ten-year period – that is a whopping 2,700% of its acquisition price.
So, if fuel consumption is one of the main concerns for our cars, why do we not apply the same logic when it comes to running motors? Many industrial manufacturers settle for paying eye-watering electricity bills, unaware that they have other options.
The first thing to consider when looking for a motor system for your industrial application is low energy consumption. Having a holistic view of your system and the load it is supposed to drive enables accurate specification. Finding the correct size of motor and then looking for the most energy-efficient model in its category is essential pre-purchasing research.
It is also important to keep in mind that the price tag for industrial motors is not the most important part in your decision. Choosing a cheaper one and rejoicing over a €200 saving is a false economy. What you save by not investing in energy-efficient systems is lost several times over in subsequent energy costs.
[caption id="attachment_12376" align="alignright" width="1601"] Steve Brambley[/caption]
Option 1: Installing a variable speed drive In the UK, some 21% of all electricity consumption attributed to running industrial motors and we could estimate that the figure is somewhat similar in Ireland. Therefore,, manufacturers need to act fast and make wiser decisions. But what is to be done if a company has inherited a system running an electricity-hungry motor?
In such situations, one of the best ways to make an application more energy efficient is by controlling the motor speed. Where applicable, installing a variable speed drive (VSD) is considered to be the best form of controlling energy consumption, often resulting in efficiency improvements of 30% or more.
Option 2: Using fixed-speed control Another option available where speed control is not applicable is fixed-speed control, such as a softstart or contactor. Here the energy saving comes from switching the motor off when it is not required, using automation to ensure maximum system efficiency.
Relying on manual control usually results in the motor being left on too often, where using sensors and logic controllers for example can switch the motor off every opportunity available.
A softstart is used mainly with AC electric motors to temporarily reduce the load and torque in the powertrain and electrical current surge of the motor during startup. This reduces the mechanical stress on the motor and shaft, as well as the electrodynamic stresses on the attached power cables and electrical distribution network, thereby extending the lifespan of the system.
Electrical soft starters can use solid state devices to control the current flow and therefore the voltage applied to the motor. They can be set up to the requirements of the individual application.
In pump applications, a softstart can avoid pressure surges. Conveyor belt systems can be smoothly started, avoiding jerk and stress on drive components. Fans or other systems with belt drives can be started slowly to avoid belt slippage. In all systems, a softstart limits the inrush current and improves stability of the power supply and reduces transient voltage drops that may affect other loads.
In its simplest form, a contactor is an electrically controlled switch for switching a power circuit, similar to a relay but with a higher current rating.
CONTACTOR CAPACITIES AND FEATURES
Contactors come in many forms with varying capacities and features. Unlike a circuit breaker, a contactor is not intended to interrupt a short circuit current. Contactors are used to control electric motors, lighting, heating, capacitor banks, thermal evaporators and other electrical loads.
Furthermore, an ‘economiser’ circuit can also be installed to reduce the power required to keep a contactor closed; an auxiliary contact reduces coil current after the contactor closes.
A somewhat greater amount of power is initially required to close a contactor than that required to keep it closed. Such a circuit can save a substantial amount of power and allow the energised coil to run cooler. Economiser circuits are nearly always applied on direct-current contactor coils and on large alternating current contactor coils.
Most motor control contactors that operate at low voltage up to 600V are air break contactors; air at atmospheric pressure surrounds the contacts and extinguishes the arc when interrupting the circuit. Modern medium-voltage motor controllers use vacuum contactors. High-voltage contactors above 1kV may use vacuum or an inert gas around the contacts.
The lesson to take home here is that if buying a car is about the purchase cost, buying a motor should be about how much energy it uses throughout its life. But unlike a car which cannot easily be made more efficient after you buy it, electric motors can be retrofitted and their consumption can be controlled with a VSD, softstart or contactor.
GAMBICA is the Trade Association for Instrumentation, Control, Automation and Laboratory Technology. It has a membership of over 200 companies including the major multinationals in the sector and a significant number of smaller and medium-sized companies.To further educate users about the energy saving solutions available, GAMBICA has published a guide on the ‘Selection of Efficient Motors & Controls’, available as a free download here.