Numbers, please! Energy efficiency is measurable

Energy is cheapest and most environmentally friendly if we do not consume it in the first place. Therefore, energy efficiency makes a significant contribution to the energy transition, and we have already tapped into savings potential in many areas: LEDs are now standard and energy-intensive devices like old refrigerators or water heaters have either been replaced or switched off. At CONTACT, we have initiated a project to optimize energy efficiency in office buildings. It is surprising how much saving potential still exists, even though employees are already conscientious in their resource usage. By replacing electrical devices and air conditioning in the server room, as well as turning off and merging old servers, energy consumption has been reduced by 50 %. This is not only ecologically sensible but also economically beneficial. A lot can be achieved with little effort, provided consumption data can be logged and visualized.

Energy efficiency is not possible without software

The German government’s report on “Energy Efficiency in Numbers” provides an overview of the final energy consumption in Germany for sectors such as industry, transportation, private households, and commerce/trade/services.

Nearly a third of Germany’s final energy consumption comes from industrial processes. To achieve efficiency improvements here, it is essential to examine them more closely. A significant portion of energy (about two-thirds) is attributed to process heat, which is used, for example, in the production of products. To identify which facilities and machines in the production hall have saving potential, monitoring and controlling are necessary. Our software platform, Elements for IoT, provides companies with the ability to monitor, graphically represent, and analyze their consumption data. Data from metering points, such as those measuring power consumption, can be assigned to individual machines and production processes. Additionally, it is possible to process sensor values and machine control states and merge them into a digital twin of the machine. For the specific requirements of energy management, we have developed a new module that represents a continuous improvement process of energy performance indicators (according to ISO 50001). Starting from energy consumption, broken down by different energy types such as electricity or compressed air for a machine on the shopfloor, consumption values can be calculated down to a manufactured unit of the product. This also provides the opportunity to calculate the CO2 footprint of the manufactured product. The following example of a dashboard for a production facility shows a summary of a shift and provides information on energy consumption for the production process, as well as the average consumption for each manufactured unit from that shift.

Energy efficiency in production

Energy performance indicators can be used in various ways and are particularly important for audits according to ISO 50001. These audits require proof of a continuous improvement process. In addition to implementing sustainability concepts, this simultaneously saves resources such as electricity or gas.

Furthermore, energy information can be used to calculate the CO2 footprint, which can then be exchanged across supply chains. In the context of this data exchange, we implement the concept of the Asset Administration Shell to integrate the submodel for the CO2 footprint into our IoT platform.

Energy consumption data can also be useful in the manufacturing industry to optimize production processes. By assigning energy consumption data to the processes happening simultaneously, analyses show which sections are particularly energy intensive. Often, the usual metering interval of 15 minutes is not sufficient and higher time resolution data is required. Smart meters allow for sampling rates in the minutes or even seconds range, facilitating analyses that help optimize production processes.

AI-based forecasts for energy consumption

Interestingly, machines on the shopfloor are often found in standby mode, waiting for the next production order, even when there are no orders for the next few hours or the upcoming weekend. Optimized machine shutdowns which consider ramp-up times can directly save energy costs. A specific example of this is the implementation of an alarm mechanism that informs machine operators based on planned tool changes, services, or manufacturing orders about when it is advisable to shut down the machine. Additionally, the machine dashboard displays when the next order is due. Historical data studies have shown that for machines equipped this way, electricity cost savings can amount to about 23%. In the dashboard shown below, the shutdown recommendation is visualized by the red traffic light. It also indicates by how many kilowatt-hours the predicted value deviates from the actual measured power consumption.

The forecast of electricity consumption is based on decision trees and directly implemented in the platform. Consumption data is accessed through the digital twin of the machine. The forecast’s inference model uses data from planned manufacturing orders, including time data and information on the material to be produced, to calculate the expected electricity consumption in kilowatt-hours. If the actual measured value deviates from the forecast by a fixed limit, the system informs the responsible person(s) with a red traffic light on the dashboard.

Furthermore, peak management uses forecasts to avoid load peaks. If multiple machines or systems are in operation simultaneously at a production site, this can lead to overlapping peaks in energy demand, resulting in higher fees. Based on forecasts of the electricity consumption, it is often possible to optimize execution times and machine occupancy to evenly distribute energy consumption and prevent expensive penalty payments.

Digitalization for the High Seas

The sun is shining in Hamburg, and the mild autumn air is in motion – even though I am perfectly equipped for rainy weather. In early October, shipbuilders from around the world gather in a conference hotel near the harbor for the CADMATIC Digital Wave Forum. The user meeting invites participants to experience CADMATIC’s CAD application for shipbuilding firsthand and to learn about current trends, product innovations, and new developments. The highlight: CADMATIC Wave, an integrated CAD/PLM solution specifically designed for shipbuilding and jointly developed by CADMATIC and CONTACT.

Model visualization simplifies data retrieval and collaboration

After our first coffee, we slowly make our way into the conference hall. The morning is filled with numbers and facts around CADMATIC’s digitalization strategy. In the afternoon, our Managing Director Maximilian Zachries presents CADMATIC Wave to the 200 participants. As we demonstrate the first functionalities of the integrated Product Data Management (PDM), some attendees quickly pull out their phones to snap a photo of the feature. I am somewhat excited – now it’s official. Now we also need the data model. And that isn’t quite so simple.

Cadmatic's Atte Peltola introduces the audience to Cadmatic Wave

CADMATIC’s Atte Peltola presents CADMATIC Wave. (© CADMATIC)

The resounding call for a data model for shipbuilding carries me through the three days in Hamburg. During my conversations with industry colleagues, it becomes evident that the information required and generated in the shipbuilding process must be able to be mapped within the model. Model-centric is the magic word: the ship’s geometry is visualized, including equipment, fittings, and logistics. Information can then be retrieved and added via the specific parts of the model. Model visualizations provide a shared and intuitive view of the ship for all involved trades, significantly simplifying information retrieval. This enhances the efficiency of engineering activities and collaboration, also with partners.

Basing a data model on ship geometry is challenging

Engaged in a discussion with a research associate from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), we stumble upon a question: Is the geometry model even suitable for generating a generic product structure for data storage in the PDM? After all, as a placeholder in a data model, there are quite a few locations in such a ship. And let me put it this way: data models are typically organized along the processes in product creation, not the geometry of a ship model. I am curious to see how we will solve this challenge in CADMATIC Wave.

The evening event takes place on the Cap San Diego, a museum ship in the Hamburg harbor. The rustic flair of a ship’s belly and the lavish buffet create a cozy atmosphere for lively conversations. We talk about life in Finland and Norway and the difference between information and data management. The evening ends stormy and rainy, and I finally put my rain gear to good use and return to the hotel dry and warm.

SEUS brings European shipbuilding to a new efficiency level

At the CADMATIC Digital Wave Forum, I also meet my consortium partners from the Smart European Shipbuilding (SEUS) project for the first time. Among them are representatives from NTNU and CADMATIC, as well as employees from two shipyards, the Norwegian Ulstein Group and the Spanish Astilleros Gondan SA. SEUS is an EU-funded research project with the goal of developing an integrated CAD and PLM solution for shipbuilding. This endeavor goes way beyond the functionalities we develop in CADMATIC Wave. For instance, we aim to incorporate knowledge management and utilize AI for searching within product data.

In this context, the broad positioning of our research department, CONTACT Research, works to our advantage. Our focus areas include not only Digital Lifecycle Management, where we conduct research on digitalization strategies for various industries, but also Artificial Intelligence. The AI product data search we aim to implement in SEUS allows us to bring our self-declared motto to life: “Bringing artificial intelligence into the engineering domains.”

As three days in Hamburg come to an end, three strong impressions remain:

  1. It is necessary to design an abstract data model for shipbuilding. One that contains the modules of a ship and yet can be customized to fit the specific needs of any shipbuilder. This data model must be closely linked to the development process.
  2. Personal exchange and meeting each other face to face have been an enriching experience for me in this new work area. This positive feeling motivates me for my future work in the SEUS project.
  3. In Hamburg, rain gear is a must.

UX in industrial settings: Intuitive design for enhanced efficiency

The city of Würzburg, situated charmingly on the River Main, is renowned not only for its historic old town and first-class wines but also for hosting the “Future of Industrial Usability“. The event gathered experts from all over Germany from October 23 to 24 to discuss the latest developments in user experience (UX) within the industrial environment. My colleague Vivien and I were also present and want to share some insights.

User-friendliness as a success factor

A central topic of the conference was the user experience of products in industrial applications. And for good reason: in an era in which technology and digital solutions are shaping everyday working life, designing products and applications that focus on the needs and expectations of users becomes increasingly crucial. Outstanding UX can not only enhance customer satisfaction but also boost employee productivity and efficiency.

The presentations and discussions emphasized the importance of a user-centric approach to product development. From the simplicity of user interfaces to the seamless integration of functions, companies must comprehend their users’ needs to create products and applications that can perform effectively in today’s complex working environment.

Focus on user needs: personas in the enterprise software context

Developing enterprise software is particularly challenging due to its complexity and diverse user groups. As described in our article “Personas for business software – a gimmick or sustainable added value?“, utilizing personas offers an effective approach to tackle this challenge. Personas are fictional characters representing typical users of a product or service. Working with them is an integral part of CONTACT’s software development process and plays a key role in getting a better understanding of users’ tasks and needs in their professional lives. With this understanding, companies can develop more user-centered products and software solutions. In Würzburg, we presented how to create personas, market them within the company, and utilize them across departments.

Card set as a playful tool to visualize personas within the company (©Vogel Communications Group)

Integrating AI into interaction concepts: The path to the future

Another intensely debated topic was the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into interaction concepts. AI is increasingly being used in industry as a means of improving processes and supporting decision-making. It holds the potential to fundamentally change the way we interact with machines and technology. Attendees were presented with impressive examples and best practices illustrating how AI can increase efficiency and performance in the industry. For instance, a concept showed how AI integration into a Human Machine Interface (HMI) assists machine users in adjusting facilities to be more energy efficient.

Future of Industrial Usability: a resounding success

Overall, the “Future of Industrial Usability” was an inspiring event. Alongside current trends, it showed that user-centered product development in the industry is not merely a passing trend but has taken a pivotal role in the future of product development and corporate success. Companies investing in usability enhancements will distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive market and better meet their customers’ needs.

We look forward to further exciting developments and innovations in this field and thank the organizers of the conference in Würzburg for this excellent event. See you next time.