112. Idea – Why Should I Consider Power Monitoring? Transcript

Mike: 00:00

Power monitoring in an industrial environment is a cure for a lot of sins, potentially, right? Understanding what’s happening with the consumption of the power in a facility and being able to diagnose problems. That really would allow a company to have a finite control and understanding of their power consumption and utilization.

Chris: 00:23

Welcome to EECO Ask Why. A podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics and spotlights the heroes to keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger, and on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market. Instead, we focused on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world.

All right. Welcome to this episode of EECO Asks Why. Today we’re going to be digging into the topic of Power Monitoring and why is that important to you? So we have our local expert Mr. Mike Rathbun with us and he is going to be digging into this topic.

So there’s a lot of technical jargon and things like that talking about power monitoring. So Mike, maybe just to kick us off, explain to our listeners what power monitoring is exactly, from the aspect they were taking it from an industrial standpoint.

Mike: 01:24

I think you consider power monitoring like a, your wife. It could be very good or not so good.  No really,  power monitoring in an industrial environment is a cure for a lot of sins, potentially, right? Understanding what’s happening with the consumption of the power in a facility and being able to diagnose problems that are developed internally through issues with a distribution system or problems that could be associated with the utility fee to the plant and then just managing your resource. All of that can be driven through a really from a basic power monitoring scheme, up to a more elaborate one that really would allow a company to have a finite control and understanding of their power consumption and utilization.

Chris: 02:12

Okay. I’m thinking from a power monitoring standpoint from a plant, we talk a lot about one lines . So is there a particular place on a one line that an industrial end-user should consider maybe as a starting point or somewhere like that to get going?

Mike: 02:31

I think, probably to get your biggest bang for the buck starting at that service entrance.

Probably would be the, give you the biggest understanding of the power consumption, power quality, that’s coming into the facility. And then all electrical components are being exposed to that. Or utilizing those factors. That’s a great place to start and that could look as simple as a single meter,  connected to that piece of incoming electrical distribution equipment.

That would then monitor that information and be able to store that information locally or be integrated and provide that information to a collection system, a DCS, a PLC, or just a general collection database that would then allow a user to diagnose and understand that information.

Chris: 03:18

Okay. We’ve talked about the age of the infrastructure in America. And there’s a lot of aging equipment out there. There’s a lot of devices that are already installed.  If I’m running a plant it’s 25 plus years old, I would imagine that distribution equipment, it’s seen some wear and tear. So the ability to start a project like this on with an existing infrastructure, right? Where should we consider, start looking with that type of equipment? Do we need to install new things? There’s are things that potentially may be already there that we could utilize, from a backbone standpoint, because I’m sure there’s guys out there or listeners out there that can relate to this.

Mike: 03:59

Sure. I guess I look at this there’s obviously a lot of ways to start.  Most of the facilities aren’t starting from ground zero with no equipment, right? As you suggest. There could be older equipment, some newer equipment sprinkled in there, and a wide variety of potential devices out there that are capable of collecting power information.

I think the challenge , and where I try and focus with what the people I’m working at, is let’s build out a foundation that as technologies are introduced as new equipments introduced to the electrical infrastructure, that there is a foundation in place that you can easily plug into, capture that data and move it along to subsystems that allow you to analyze, collect, and store that information.

So that could start with a basic industrial network. All right. What is the means? What’s in place right now, as we look at it at a typical industrial facility. What’s there right now in between all of the electrical rooms, the substations. What’s in place in terms of a network, a data highway, so to speak that way we can dump this data on and move it throughout the process. So I would typically start there, and then once I’m comfortable that even in an isolated case where I’m just, let’s start at the at a service entrance, that I’ve got that data network that I can move the information on. Then I’m gonna look at devices that are existing.

All right. Do they have an inherent capability to communicate over some protocol? That’s hopefully not 25 years old. That’s proprietary or something of that nature. That we could plug into a traditional network environment and move that information because that will play into it. Do I need to get some new meters in there or some new devices on some breakers to be able to collect that information?

So I think it really starts there and then obviously, as soon as we start using the word network, right? The IT light starts flashing off in a lot of people’s eyes and brains. And that’s going to be a piece of this, and I think that’s one of the bigger challenges. For a lot of our customers is, at what point does a corporate IT or a traditional IT person get involved in the ENI people take over or don’t.

And where is that gray line who controls that? And it’s different in my experience of every customer we go to. So I’m always trying to be in front of that and, drive the conversation towards. I’ll seek out whatever IT entity is involved at a customer’s location and start talking to them about what we’re thinking about doing what are some of the approaches around an industrial network that makes sense.

Start to build some confidence and trust with those people. That they have somebody they can work with that isn’t just setting them up to create a problem within their network.

Chris: 06:52

When you’re talking about IT in power, those worlds until recently really are separate. So is it a line of responsibility gap or is it a gap of basically terminology, power guys don’t speak the IT language. IT guys typically don’t speak power language, right? We’re moving large amps and volts. And then IT’s are working in an Ethan at IPs and TCPs and all these different switches. Where is the bigger gap? Is it the responsibility of who owns what, like you mentioned, or is it just that language barrier?

Mike: 07:28

I think it’s both. I think you’re all over it. The responsibility or that ownership line varies. The other piece of plays into that as you suggest the language is different, but that’s based upon, I think your understanding, and your knowledge base.  IT guys are typically very comfortable in that world of switching, manipulating data, controlling where data is flowing, and controlling speeds. That type of architecture. And usually us guys from the power world, all we know is we’ve got the, yeah, there’s a blue hose on there that spits out some information. That’s what it means to us. And as that’s, cause that’s what we’ve always seen it as.

The reality is, in manufacturing, even beyond just this power conversation, the mixture of those two worlds, the IT, and the OT slash power, it’s becoming more and more central to the types of equipment and processes you can drive with the technologies are out today. So I would like to think that owner ship line is getting more and more resolved.

 Who’s going to take care of what, but I think the knowledge base is starting to overlap to a greater degree. I don’t think we’re all the way there or where we’re still not having to segue a project, a power monitoring project between IT and electrical and power. But I do see where that knowledge base is starting.  It’s becoming more and more conclusive or inclusive between these groups that have to be able to play within that environment.

Chris: 08:57

But what about OT? So you have your OT layer that from an industrial standpoint, most of our listeners are probably playing with on a regular basis. They’re used to the OT. Is it power monitoring? Does it play on that level or we do. We need to go pass that to the IT?

Mike: 09:15

So it can go both. Let’s talk about what, I think that everything starts at is what is the need you’re trying to solve? Or what is the problem that you’re trying to identify and solve?

And if part of that, so here’s an example. let’s say your corporate initiative is to make a significant, let’s say a 15% reduction and consumption of resources and obviously electrical power is one of those. Having the ability to take power monitoring, power consumption information, and be able to plug that into a network and be able to push it through a firewall, right, through the DMZ zone, up to the corporate infrastructure. That may be the solution to that.

But once again, we’re crossing over those two worlds potentially from an OT, right? That operational network of the PLCs and all the electrical components we’re crossing over firewall to the business systems potentially right. Where somebody at a corporate level could look at that from a perspective of dollars and cents and be able to make sense of that.

Chris: 10:11

So when you cross that line in my mind, now you entered the term network security, right?

Mike: 10:17

And it really, and this is what it’s all boiling down to. There’s a reason why they call it a firewall. That firewall exists between the business systems and the OT for a reason.

We obviously don’t want the ability to go from one to the other, for obvious reasons. So you don’t want somebody that has knowledge of business systems being able to access an operational system. You also want on reverse don’t necessarily want an electrician being able to access the accounting software on a business system.

So this is the security involved, right? That’s really the elephant in the room and all this conversation. If we’re going to be able to comfortably work a project  with the anticipation that some of these boundaries are going to have to be crossed, or at least some handshaking being done, we’re going to need to make sure that we’re having a very confident and informative discussion about network security.

Chris: 11:07

So who would typically own that though?

Mike: 11:09

So typically at that point, that’s when the, it folks are going to become involved. So traditionally right now, the OT, the electrical kind of guys, they’re just trying to make systems work. And there’s a very limited or no expectation that information is going to pass to the outside world.

Whereas from the IT perspective, yes, there’s going to be a lot of interconnectivity potentially to the outside world. And that’s where your traditional IT or entities within a corporation or even a facility they’re generally tasked with managing that security side of the system.

Chris: 11:47

Okay. I got it. Let’s shift. We’ve talked to a lot about IT. Security. Networking. The topic is power monitoring. So the high level manager, the plant manager, the plant engineer, the guys who get the energy bills and have to consume that data, right? Essentially, the power points of power monitoring. What are they? Return on investment? What would a user get from installing this power monitoring system?

Mike: 12:16

So I think it starts basically there. Traditionally, most of the customers that I’m engaged with the conversation really starts from that “hey, we care about how we are utilizing our resources. We’re obviously paying, in an industrial environment, a very big utility bill every month. And being able to effectively and efficiently manage that power consumption with still being able to produce the product that’s going out the back door,  bringing that together and understanding how you can, make that, efficient as possible, power monitoring could speak to that.

All right. So I think it really starts there with understanding and be able to manage your consumption. But from that, what we end up finding out is it’s not just a matter of seeing the voltage and the current and the kilowatts. What we understand at some point, especially in the industrial environment is the type of equipment that we are powering. Which is the big consumers of that power are motors within it, within a plant. That has a certain impact on our power consumption and that’s expressed in something that’s called a power factor. So depending on how much of that motor slash inductive load there is. Generally, it’s going to be quite significant.

That’s going to drive our power factor in a certain direction. And the utility company that’s sending us that bill every month sees that to some degree as a waste of energy. Okay. So being able to not only look at how much power we’re consuming, but how are we consuming that voltage and current, right?

Based upon a type of loading, understanding that, and then making changes in our distribution system to accommodate some of these factors is one way of managing, or minimizing, extra costs within that utility bill.

Chris: 14:07

Okay. All right. For the listeners, because not every listener out there gets the bills, analyzes the bills, things like that.

High level of what power factor is. And then maybe a good example of an action you could take, like on an induction, some induction, motor loads, what the power monitoring could do. So some actions you could take as an end user from power monitoring and data to impact that power factor.

Mike: 14:35

Sure. Power factor is the measurement the true measurement of the characteristic of what’s happening between voltage and current as it’s being consumed, by anything from a light bulb to a motor, right?

So a power factor, typically it gets expressed as a leading or lagging power factor. And that’s an indication of in whole, the load that’s placed upon that power service. Is it more inductive? Motors, Motors heaters, that type of load, or is it more capacitive, which would be your electronics, potentially your VFDs, your computers.

It’s not common to find an industrial manufacturer that’s going to have a leading power factor or  more capacitive, right? Just because of the nature of having a lot of motors to do work. Now, potentially if you’re liking that data center kind of environment, I got a big data center. Maybe that’s something that is a little bit more capacitive.

I don’t traditionally work in that industry, but I could see that. So why it is concerning though, is as that power is being utilized in these inductive loads, right? The way the power is consumed and not fully utilized is what affects the utilities look at your consumption. Okay. I’ll leave it at that.

But,  quite often we can see places throughout the country where utilities we’ll give you a penalty. If your power factor is ranging too low or towards too low on the inductive side. Okay. Cause it’s not, it’s really not an efficient use of power is what it comes down to. You’re driving 500 horsepower of load, but you’re having to use more power to actually get that 500 horsepower of load moving.

So looking at applying that right. The, what the power factor is and what it really means to consumption of power. If I have a power monitor on my system and I can see, okay, yeah. Utility companies, they’re hitting me with that penalty every month. I have a, I’m running at a, let’s say a 0.3 power factor, a very low power factor, which means I’ve got high inductive loads.

I can then look at a potential project of adding capacitance to offset some of that inductance, right? Bring the power factor or the power consumption back  closer back to unity and potentially get the power utility off my bill for that power factor surcharge. So by using that basic information from the power monitoring, we can look, we can assess, we can have the information necessary to look at making a change and that distribution for better power consumption.

Chris: 17:13

Perfect. That painted a really good picture for me. Hopefully it did for the listeners. Now let’s keep painting that picture. Let’s go to the user experience. Maybe you can talk about it from a couple of different levels. Is this an HMI only? Is this access through a browser? Is this a, another screen inside of a control room at a plant?

Typical scenarios, just to paint what this actually looks like from the end user standpoint.

Mike: 17:39

So in what I’m doing in working in right now, this is the exciting part of working in this technology. So let’s step back. What’s been the tradition, probably for the last how far are you going to go back in time, five to 50 years?

Is there some sort of a big clunky digital meter, right? That’s hanging on a piece of electrical gear of that main substation or that service entrance

Chris: 18:03

That you’d have to walk out to.

Mike: 18:05

And that’s what you did back in the day, or even still today, you would. If you suspected something or you were just interested, you would walk out to that big clunky meter.

And I’m talking about digital meter. Hopefully we’re beyond just an analog meter, because that really does nothing to tell us about what’s really happening other than measuring. But we’ll have that digital meter and it’s got a little display on it. And, I could scroll through tons of registers and menus and see a bunch of different values there.

But it’s really in the moment, right?  It’s not really an effective tool in terms of I’m trying to manage my power or I’m trying to diagnose things right. That are going on my distribution system. So it brings this, bring us up to today or in the last 10 years with technology. And it’s where we get back to the network, being the foundation of a good power monitoring system.

So I can have really any kind of a meter that’s collecting basic voltage and current information. If I can transmit that information over a network to a laundry list of visual AIDS, computers, software programs, database, and there’s a lot of them out there that fit in the space. Then I can have that information presented to me.

If I’m the champion or I’m the guy that’s tasked with managing this environment and diagnosing what’s going on,  now I can have a good visual reference. Things such as dashboards, things such as a visual one line diagram showing power consumption and alarms I’m on my computer screen. All those things are now very achievable.

Chris: 19:41


Mike: 19:42

When we reached this point.

Chris: 19:43

So you’re talking about a virtual  one line that gives me information, power consumption.  yeah. That could go everywhere from operations to safety. So many areas it sounds like that this, power monitoring would impact.

Mike: 19:59

And you’re right there, Chris. Like I said, this is what makes us excited about it. There’s always been the overriding factor in working with electrical equipment and working electrical gear, whether you’re a traditional electrician or a power guy is, there’s a huge safety factor for doing our jobs.

And at some point we have to interact with this equipment. Having the ability on a computer screen or an HMI to see very concise status of electrical equipment and the parameters of the power without actually having to walk up to that meter or to put my hands on that gear. The safety factor just really moves at that point in time.

So obviously safety, I’m a big proponent of that. And just in terms of safety, not to mention having that information readily available in front of me. Not having to scroll through a little tiny screen on a meter through 5,000 parameters, and then try and determine what did that information just tell me.

Chris: 20:58


Mike: 20:59

So this virtual, I liked the word you used, and I think we bounced around quite a bit now is have a virtual one line or virtual distribution diagram, in that computer or that HMI dashboard environment. What I can do with that information on a system in front of me right now, in terms of diagnostics and management, I can do in, within seconds with that information where 10 years ago, that might take me a week of poking around inside of an electrical distribution system and all the devices that are there to get an understanding of what’s happening. And not to mention it, I’m sitting in the comfort of my chair at my desk doing it now.

Chris: 21:37

So you can do reporting from a system like this?

Mike: 21:42

Absolutely. Data is data. All right. Once we have the ability to pull that data from these devices that are actually doing the measurement and we can house that information and it makes a little easier for me to tell my story.

To the people that I’m engaging with in managing this environment, managing the power or diagnosing, trying to determine what the next project is to make our systems better. So being able to, quickly affect a report. Based on that data that is being collected. Quite often, these conversations can get quite technical, but if I can keep it simple numerical kind of values and basic information that I could spit out of a report from a system similar to this that makes your case, that makes it much easier to move this data throughout an organization and be understood.

Chris: 22:29

Absolutely. So from a Greenfield standpoint, we deal with a lot of industrial manufacturers that are been in place, but then there are a lot of new projects coming too. If you’re a front end engineer design engineer, project engineer on a Greenfield that’s coming in, what technologies should we be considering? You’re looking at from a specification standpoint, starting up a new, potentially a new plant to get this capability.

Mike: 22:53

So I think it starts, I don’t think there’s a lot of going at this day and age with Greenfield buildings that are going up . That nobody’s considering it, at least a basic power monitoring and integration scheme. People are aware of their environment and are willing and able to interject that in the scheme. But I think what comes into play here is there’s more of a look now as making power monitoring more of an integrated piece to the facility. Whether that’s going to be in, regardless of what time, whatever we’re talking about, a university campus or an industrial, manufacturing plant, having that power monitoring and that data designed and integrated within the building operating systems with in the, it could be simple as is the HVAC systems come into play there.

Down to an operational DCS or SCADA system that’s managing the process throughout the plant. I think that’s becoming, more and more the norm at this point in time. Is understanding a certain level of integration is going to be expected and a certain level of at least basic data and information associated with power being easily integrated across multiple platforms that are used for the management of facilities and processes.

Chris: 24:10

Okay. Thank you for walking us through that. I know we touched on earlier, but let’s go back to the existing manufacturer and get some guidance there. So I’m that engineer. I’m trying to spec up a project for power monitoring in my plant.

Probably want to start pretty small to get it going. Proof of concept. Get some buy in from some management. Hey, look what this can do for me. Look at a type of data I can provide you. What guidance would you give that engineer or that project manager that’s listening right now to areas to start or things to consider.

Mike: 24:41

I would say if we’re building out that infrastructure of the distribution from the design state right there, I would start with basic power monitoring, right? With a let’s use the term, a smart meter. So a device that is capable of collecting data and communicating that data over of wide variety of protocols of communication protocols.

Chris: 25:04

Would that be a smart meter on just a section of switch gear will be a place to start?

Mike: 25:09

Here. Yeah. Here’s how I go. Let’s say I’m building out a hospital or manufacturing plant. I would start at my substations.

Chris: 25:15

Okay. Let’s just start at the substation itself.

Mike: 25:17

So if I have a substation, let’s say I have two or three of them, but let’s just go from one. If I have a substation, that’s converting my higher medium voltage over through a transformer down to some 40 volt distribution switch gear. That’s your main point of management right there. So applying a smart meter, at that feed to that substation on the low voltage side, really, that gives me a good collective understanding of the power consumption, power quality for that substation as it’s being applied to the different loads.

Chris: 25:50


Mike: 25:51

And then I would build upon that. No two plants that are same. You might be in a plant where there’s one substation, there’s one feed from the utility. It goes through that substation. And that’s how the power is being distributed throughout the plant. So I would definitely start with a meter there and then build upon that.

It doesn’t take a lot. We’re not saying you have to go out and invest in a lot of software and server and data capability. It can start as simple as a basic meter, that has the ability to connect and move that data. And could it be as simple as information in a spreadsheet, on a computer To get started.

Chris: 26:26

There you go. Yeah.

Mike: 26:27

It can’t be that simple, but it really starts with where our conversation started today. Two main things is having a basic industrial network that we can move data on.  And that can be some very simple as a traditional, industrial CAT5 or six industrial network, and then having a meter, some basic communication technology that will be able to communicate information over a couple of different protocols, move that information to the network. Once we’ve got it there, we can build from that. So let’s start with being able to collect the data on a consistent basis and then be able to move that data.

Okay, so take one more step past that. So we have a bunch of meters, let’s say we reached that point, just trying to give the listeners an idea of a basic infrastructure, what that would look like.

And we typically, we don’t dig deep into manufacturers here so we can stay pretty brand neutral, but, basic hardware requirements for  a system that you want to start pulling in all your submeters, your substations rather, with your meters. Maybe you want to add some individual loads that you want to start looking at some special breakers that control certain sections of the plant.

Chris: 27:35

What was it? What would that basic hardware typically look like to get started with a power monitoring system?

Mike: 27:41

So going from the devices that you described, the power meters, beyond that we’re talking about submeters we could be talking about trip devices on breakers associated with that distribution system. Coming from those smart devices over the network. Then we’re looking at typically what would be a software package

Chris: 28:00

Okay. For aggregation.

Mike: 28:01

For data aggregation. And that can happen a number of ways with, preconfigured software packages that come with its own PC, where you have the storage capability built in, and there’s a wide variety of those out there.

There, hopefully if I’m looking at those, they have a flexibility to be able to not only communicate with their brand of meters and trip devices, but across the spectrum of other OEMs devices and bring that data and be able to aggregate it in database form and then have a means a dashboard, a visual means for you to interact with that information, right?

That’s on the software side of it. That’s where our diagnostics, our reporting and all that comes into play. So the other piece of that we’ve also touched on today is from that basis of that system now we can then have the opportunity to integrate that to other systems or to corporate information or to business information.

It may make sense. Okay. And certain processes that if I’ve got a DCS type operating system on my plant process, that there could be certain entities within that. Such as a mixing application or other application that is a, that is moving product and, or chemical within a process. And we can determine  the function or the operation of that particular application by the power consumption.

So something such as a mixer. So even something as, as a pump we can see or interject that information into a controlling system based upon the power consumption. So that’s that’s just one aspect of that integration where it could make sense within it within an operating system.

Chris: 29:51

That’s pretty cool. Technology has just come so far. I know this is a topic you’re pretty passionate about as well, Mike. Are there any advice that you would give listeners. To get started moving forward that you want to part them with your knowledge.

Mike: 30:05

Here’s what I would suggest. When I really started getting started in some of these power monitoring systems. I think what scared me initially is I looked and talked to the OEMs, right? That are driving some of the componentry and the software and all these things within the system. Initially, when you went, when I had these conversations and then started trying to apply these to an actual facility or environment, I was shocked at the price. Or the dollars that were involved here. The more I learned though, and the more I better understand the technology and this is my advice is, you don’t have to enter into this in a capital project, capturing every ounce of power information throughout an entire facility. And look at this as a capital project, that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Start small, start with one meter. And typically that’s how I work with customers on is let’s start with what we can manage in terms of budget and time Let’s gets a system up and going start collecting data. Let’s show how we can use it. Show the benefits basically on investing in power monitoring and power management on a small scale that can then be easily scaled throughout a facility.

Chris: 31:22


Mike: 31:23

That would be my advice.

Chris: 31:24

Prove it out. And then you can walk it out even further. You gotta get the buy in.

Mike: 31:30


Chris: 31:30


Mike: 31:31


Chris: 31:32

Show the value. This has been great. hopefully this brought a lot of value to our listeners. Definitely a topic you’re passionate about. You’re very knowledgeable about, so thank you for taking the time with us today , Mike.  Always enjoy it.

Mike: 31:44

Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.