Where Smart Manufacturing and Utilities Collide

Where Smart Manufacturing and Utilities Collide

By Victor Abelairas

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I recently had the opportunity to speak at an EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute)-hosted webinar for its Advanced Manufacturing Interest Group (AMIG).  For those not familiar with EPRI, it is an independent, non-profit center for public interest energy and environmental research.  It has played a pivotal role in the energy industry since 1973.  During this webinar, I was asked to address the role of a utility interacting with a smart manufacturing platform.

In a previous webinar with AMIG, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) shared their vision of a Smart Manufacturing (SM) Platform.  The benefits to a manufacturer are clear: 1) lower cost of platform adoption, 2) opportunities to further optimize process and ecosystem, 3) reduced energy consumption and more.  But, why and how should a utility participate?  Are they equally incentivized?

As with manufacturers, the two business interests driving IoT for utilities are operational optimization and business transformation. The applications and uses cases, however, are quite different. At a minimum, tighter collaboration with manufacturers would provide utilities with a better understanding of future demand. Incentivizing manufactures to avoid peak hour consumption could translate into significant deferral of capital investments, freeing up cash for other infrastructure improvements.

Adoption of an IoT platform would enable utilities to better engage with their own ecosystem. By interacting with vendors, customers, and other power plants, efficiencies can be sought beyond the four walls of the plant. Using predictive maintenance to maximize uptime and weather modeling and forecasting to better predict demand and generation (for renewable energy) and plan for contingencies for variable resources, IoT-enabled utilities will have the transparency and visibility to monitor and analyze energy flow in order to proactively optimize generation and influence consumption patterns.

The future of utilities is a popular topic as everyone tries to anticipate the impact of industry trends, including micro generation and renewable energy, to name a few. Applying IoT thinking to this mature industry gives utilities and manufacturers the opportunity to refine business models, expand services, and better understand customers.

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