25 May 2022

Industry 4.0 made easy with networked control systems for compressed air

Smart compressed air

The cost-saving and future proofing benefits of smart factory technology are simpler to achieve than you might think, says David Ewan, Technical Services Manager at compressed air specialist BOGE.

While most manufacturers can see advantages to Industry 4.0, many are hesitant to take their first steps into a world of interconnected, sensor-packed, intelligent, automated machines. Key concerns include cyber-security and digital skills gaps, as well as investment costs.

When it comes to intelligent provision of compressed air, these worries and more have been overcome by the latest generation of networked control systems. The BOGE Airtelligence Provis 3 system, for example, is already reducing energy consumption and improving maintenance efficiency in a wide variety of manufacturing operations. This solution is easy to introduce, with no need to invest heavily in additional infrastructure or capabilities. Its flexibility addresses both fluctuating daily demands and longer-term evolving needs, and its savings bring a fast return on investment (ROI).

What is networked control?

To understand what a networked control system does, we should first give a brief summary of a compressed air system’s components. Unless your set-up is very small, it will consist of a physical network of machines connected by pipes and valves. Typically, it may have large, fixed-speed compressors to supply the base-load of air, with smaller, variable-speed compressors kicking in to meet peaks in demand. The compressed air network may also include ancillary equipment such as dryers, filters and storage tanks, between the compressor installation and manufacturing machinery it powers.

Control systems coordinate the activities of these components. In particular, this relates to switching on the right combination of compressors to meet variations in demand while – as far as possible – conserving energy and minimising wear. The control systems for standard BOGE products have networked features which allow one machine to govern many others via integrated fieldbus connections. In addition, inbuilt internet links enable staff to monitor individual machine and overall plant performance using a web browser or mobile app.

Taking this further, advanced networked control systems like BOGE’s Airtelligence Provis 3 have been developed for larger and more complex plants with multiple compressors and equipment. In sectors ranging from aerospace to food processing, manufacturers are benefiting from its new levels of cyber-protection, flexibility and ease of adoption.

Importantly, with Provis 3 there is no longer any limit to the number of compressors and ancillary equipment which can be remotely controlled, monitored and audited. Provis is flexible and customisable to suit whatever equipment set-up is present. What’s more, it supports the OPC-UA unified architecture standard, which guarantees secure and reliable communication between different types of devices from different manufacturers. It can integrate both new and old compressors into an upgraded system.

Greater energy efficiency

Efficiency is a big priority for energy managers and businesses as a whole. Consider, for example, a 250 kW compressor running 24/7. If each kilowatt costs 10p an hour, that one compressor will consume £219,000 worth of electricity in a year. By reducing consumption, networked control systems can greatly reduce your energy bills.

This is largely achieved by controlling and managing your compressors, compressed air networks and accessories proactively, based on consumption. Their activities are sequenced intelligently to match flow to demand with the optimum combination of compressors and other components. Along with the compressors’ sizes, factors taken into account include their relative efficiencies – with older and less efficient units being activated last. Running hours can also be managed to align and optimise the timing of maintenance actions.

Energy managers, as well as maintenance and plant managers, additionally benefit from Provis energy auditing, reporting, costing and performance testing functions. These give clear insights to guide budgeting, decision-making and planning.

More efficient maintenance

For maintenance managers, the monitoring functions of a system like Provis hold the key to reducing servicing costs and equipment downtime through predictive maintenance. With greater transparency of the condition and performance of machines and components, they can time service interventions optimally.

Information is accessed and clearly visualised on the inbuilt Provis control display, or remotely through secure, web-based connection with authorised users’ PCs, tablets and smartphones. Managers can check, control and adjust equipment, including low- and high-pressure systems and unlimited banks of compressors, regardless of their location.

A further option is the BOGE Connect service, whose internet link connects your system securely with the BOGE central analytics facility in Germany. This continuously gathers and analyses data from your equipment, using ‘learning’ algorithms which develop an understanding of your site’s normal operating conditions.

Variations trigger alerts, which specialist engineers assess. If a problem is indicated, they prescribe corrective actions. If the occurrence is unusual but not a threat, the system can be taught to ignore it in future. As the algorithm’s understanding deepens, it adjusts parameters in your machines’ controllers and enables them to alert your staff directly to emerging problems.

Constant improvement and future proofing

Plant managers welcome all of the advantages above, along with other operational improvements fuelled by data and analytics. In this respect, Provis and its advanced reporting not only enable optimisation of existing equipment but allow BOGE to simulate and evaluate proposed changes in compressed air system design, configuration and components. In this way, efficiency can be improved further and systems can be adapted to changing needs. Meanwhile, as BOGE R&D continues, your equipment can be regularly updated and enhanced with new software.

While Provis 3 starts as an easily installed add-on to your equipment, with plug-and-play simplicity, it initiates almost limitless improvement and future proofing of your compressed air provision. In addition, the increasing flexibility of compressed air system design and manufacture allows customisation to meet users’ requirements perfectly.

Industry 4.0 in action today

Recent adopters of Provis 3 and its Industry 4.0 approach include Hampshire-based precision manufacturer R E Thompson. With over 70 years’ experience, the company produces components for industries including aerospace, defence, electronics and semiconductor, medical and automotive, including zero-emission vehicles. Data sensitivity and security are important factors addressed by Provis in these sectors.

The company ordered two SLF40-3 compressors and DS100-2 dryers, combined with F95-2P and F95-2M filters, from Wessex Compressors, which supplies and installs BOGE equipment in the Dorset, Hampshire and South Wiltshire areas. System specifications included Provis 3 networked control, to meet R E Thompson’s primary objective of full visualisation of compressor operation. The customer is very happy with how the equipment and its networking are operating.

One well-established user of Provis networked control is German alcoholic beverage producer Nordbrand Nordhausen. While replacing the entire compressed air network at its facility in Nordhausen, this customer took the opportunity to upgrade its control too. Having previously struggled to cope with peaks in volume demand, it now benefits from the Provis intelligent air management system. Provis automatically determines the operation’s total network volume and trends. If, for example, there is a sudden increase in consumption, it starts the necessary compressors before the demand peak is reached.

Of course, BOGE also uses Provis technology in its own smart factory near Hannover. There it monitors, controls and optimises manufacturing processes to ensure maximum efficiency, high product quality, fault avoidance and, if any problem emerges, full traceability.

In all cases, your plant, energy and maintenance managers can expect networked control to boost productivity while lowering energy and maintenance costs. This means increased profits and a quick ROI. At the same time, it will equip your operation to succeed in the face of Industry 4.0 and whatever else the future holds.

Company info: BOGE Compressors