The Automation Specialist's Role in Sustainability

Many opportunities to improve sustainability of industrial facilities lie in how the production and support equipment is used. Raw material, resource and energy consumption rates may vary widely for the same product depending on the skill and ingenuity of the facility’s automation, process and manufacturing engineering professionals. They also are strongly involved in process and production safety, as well as emission measurement and control. 

Process plants, factories, power plants and utilities routinely discover significant opportunities to cut per-unit-production energy costs or greenhouse gas emissions, raise conversion rates, and reduce product rejects by applying or updating instruments or controls, reexamining process chemistry or equipment, refining manufacturing methods, or implementing automation.

Too many plants are wasting energy, compromising product quality and limiting productivity by, for example, running legacy equipment in questionable condition using antiquated procedures. Projects to improve operations and cut costs have languished due to other priorities. A focus on sustainability can provide fresh impetus and means of justification. 

Many facilities are applying sophisticated monitoring and control systems to production equipment in one area and would benefit by leveraging that experience and expertise to replicate or expanding the system for other, sometimes apparently unrelated, applications such as steam, compressed air, HVAC or lighting. 

Existing automation and control systems often include the fundamentals of a sensor, data acquisition and network system to monitor and measure parameters (such as water or energy consumption) that reflect critical elements of sustainability. 

In every industrial facility, the same professionals who engineer, implement and maintain the automation systems are likely to be most familiar with practical methods for integrating the monitoring and dashboard systems needed for measuring and assessing progress on sustainability in production.

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