TechWatch: Manufacturers’ new ‘secret sauce’ is all about energy

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  • Energy costs are a huge painpoint for manufacturers, as factory machinery eats up a lot of power. It has long been recognised that our local energy prices are partly responsible for manufacturing sites closing and moving overseas. A group of QUB-based electrical engineers is trying to change all that with Point Energy. Their innovation tells factory managers how much energy is used by every single component of machinery on their sites, and with this insight, how they can reduce their energy consumption.

    Co-founder Dr Joe Devlin told me how it works. “Our hardware captures signals from manufacturing machines either through communication by standard control signals, or through our clip-on sensors,” he said. “By analysing this energy data, we can monitor the throughput of machines – to show when it’s advisable to shut down a machine or to optimise scheduling. It also helps with proactive maintenance of the machinery, ultimately reducing energy costs.”

    Once captured, the signals are converted to energy consumption data for each individual component, using Point Energy’s unique real-time data processing algorithm.

    Point Energy’s data analysis is cloud-based, after the information is streamed to their server via WiFi or 3G/4G. The hardware for data capture is flexible and small, around twice the size of an average Smartphone, so it can go anywhere inside the factory.

    What’s new about this?

    Joe said, “We go deeper than anyone else. Our difference is that we monitor energy usage of every single component of the machinery. We also apply a more rigorous analysis to the data. We can see if a part is underperforming, by comparing output now to output in the past. That tells factory managers when it’s time to change out a part to make their machines more efficient.”

    Joe told me that his background was in Intel, where he learned the methodologies to production. In this high-stakes game, factories are constantly pursuing new efficiencies.

    But no one is monitoring energy at a detailed level – and in Joe’s opinion, they are missing a step.

    “Many factories have a priority to minimise cycle time – the time it takes to make a unit of their product. Profit margins are so tight in manufacturing. To drive efficiency, they need data-driven decision metrics. But at present, no one has the right data to monitor energy. This is about reducing waste, and giving actual metrics that show how to optimise machines.”

    Who is using it?

    Point Energy has so far been trialled at a major food company and a large polymer processing company. Both employ large workforces and use a lot of energy. At present, a company that washes manufacturing moulds is also piloting the product. Still in development, the product will be finalised after the INVENT competition (in which it’s a finalist in the Electrical category).

    Who is behind Point Energy?

    Joe Devlin has a PhD in electrical engineering, and experience in international manufacturing. He got involved with Point Energy at the stage of commercialising the product. His co-founder, Dr. Jing Deng was responsible for developing the innovation as part of his PhD programmes. A third co-founder, Prof. Kang Li, will help aid the team with strong links to academic innovations. Having a huge advantage with two members of the team hailing from China, Point Energy has set up alliances with a Chinese manufacturing company to create its hardware.

    Are you seeking funding?

    Point Energy is currently raising a £250k investment to finalise the analytic platform and embark upon a customer acquisition programme.

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