Rapid improvements in automation and digitalization have brought many benefits to energy producers and distributors alike.
Particularly in the production of renewable energy, the operation of power plants requires increasingly versatile control and monitoring systems. Control automation solutions can be used for both individual measurements as well as plant-wide automation projects. The systems can also be used to reduce emissions to the environment and locate the sources of technical failures.
Generally speaking, in many industrial sectors from mining, shipping and manufacturing, modern automation solutions help make things run faster and smoother than before.
Volumes of data
Digitalization is also useful in many other applications in the energy sector. Analyzing large quantities of data can lead to new discoveries and business opportunities.
The term ‘Big Data’ refers to the collection of massive amounts of data from numerous sources and the process of refining and analyzing the information. When large amounts of measurement data are pooled together and used in new ways, the goal may be to develop more efficient devices, systems, processes or software, for example.
Once the data has been collected, the next step is to process it in a sensible manner. Modern technology allows data to be utilized in completely new ways.
New digital solutions, such as those based on cloud platforms, make more extensive development of data-based services possible. Today’s data centers have the capacity to process significant amounts of data cost-effectively.
Optimization through measurement data
Power plants and other industrial operators typically invest large sums in equipment. For this reason, it is important to optimize their use through the use of data. Data can help extend the service life of equipment or improve their fuel economy.
In recent years, the collection and use of digital data has become an increasingly central part of operations for ARNON. The company was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Tampere, Finland. ARNON also has offices and a factory in Sweden.
The company’s clients include several major industrial plants and energy producers.
For six years, ARNON’s operations have focused on collecting data from automated systems and transmitting IoT data (Internet of Things). In other words, ARNON supplies its clients with data which they can then use as needed, such as to carry out various analyses. The work could be described as a new kind of bridge-building.
Data can also be used to create new business.
Timo Hanhimäki, Director of Technology at ARNON, explains that in the future, different businesses can share collected data across industries with more ease.
“New insight and discoveries are possible as companies in different lines of business analyze available data from their own perspective.”
“The transfer and availability of data between systems has been – and still is today – a bottleneck for companies. Cloud platforms and new interfaces allow data to be shared between companies in a totally new way,” says Hanhimäki.
Precise data in field conditions
When measurement data are collected systematically on different engine models, for example, the resulting big data are likely to provide new insight on the machines’ technology and operation.
By supplying data, ARNON provides device manufacturers with a better understanding of their products to help in future development.
ARNON can connect to existing PLC control systems as the technology needed to collect data locally is often already included in the automation system. Data are collected and delivered to a clout platform.
Often, data cannot be collected while connected directly to the internet for security reasons.
By transferring data one-way from the facility to the cloud, security is not put at risk. There is still work to be done in safeguarding important industrial measurement data: not even all so-called critical power plants are always adequately protected.
Industrial operators need more information and understanding on the possibilities of reusing data as well as help in collecting and transmitting the right kind of data.
Industrial R&D departments carry out their research in laboratories. In field conditions, the devices may function in unexpected ways due to different environmental conditions, for example. By collecting data, it is possible to see how a device actually performs.
Increased device performance
One reason for collecting and analyzing measurement data is that access to large amounts of data makes it possible to address technical failures and other issues faster than before. For example, maintenance can be brought forward to prevent a device from breaking down during operation.
Among other benefits, this helps improve utilization rate, productivity and operation and reduce impacts to the environment. Data can also help prevent interruptions in processes, improving the company’s bottom line. Device manufacturers must know the performance indicators their end customers use. Data shows the steps that need to be taken to improve productivity.
An example of a project by ARNON is a data collection system for solar panels in gold mines. The system is used to compare efficiency between sites and analyze the causes of differences. Poor efficiency might be caused by accumulated dust on the panels or suboptimal orientation, for example.
Similar data analyses are often also needed in wind power production and other energy sectors. In power plants, data can be used to calculate efficiency or maximize plant size. The importance of data analysis is emphasized in applications such as diesel engines.
Large amounts of data are particularly essential when operating in difficult conditions. This is true for many power plants and for the mining industry, for example.