Case Study: New Innovations in IoT Technologies for Manufacturers

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Manufacturers want to save money, conserve energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s a challenge to see where and when energy use is occurring. When the utility bill arrives, a manufacturer can see how much total energy was used, but energy use is not broken down on a machine-by-machine basis. Invisible energy use hides waste and makes efficient operation difficult, if not impossible.

The E2e Project, a joint research initiative of the University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago, was created to address one of the most perplexing energy puzzles of our time: the “energy efficiency gap.”

Researchers were interested in whether manufacturers would become more efficient at energy use by expanding their understanding of precisely where energy is being used in the manufacturing process. Their theory was that if companies had a greater understanding of how and where energy was being used, they would be able to effectively employ energy conservation measures, thus reducing their energy use. With $5 million in funding from California Energy Commission, UC Berkeley, MIT, and the University of Chicago, Project Engage was launched in partnership with Lightapp.

Criteria for Project Participation

Project Engage focused on manufacturers that were heavy energy consumers and use compressed air in their manufacturing process. According to the E2e website, compressed air use was chosen because of the variety and number of manufacturers that use compressed air technology, from companies that make aerospace parts to food manufacturers.

In some plants, compressors use more electricity than any other type of machinery. Given that compressed air is expensive to produce, necessary to maintain production, and often wasteful, but leaks and inefficiencies do not provide an immediate danger to people or the manufacturing process, researchers felt that it was an ideal testing medium.

They set an initial target of 100 participating facilities in California for the program, and funding was secured to subsidize some of the participation costs. To take part, companies had to be willing to complete the year-long, four-phase project and to share data regarding their energy use and how it changed over the course of the year. After the project ended, they would be offered an opportunity to continue using the program as a paid option.

Choosing a Solution

Researchers wanted a user-friendly, comprehensive tool to track usage data and show how that data could be leveraged to improve efficiency and save money, as well as a solution that could offer real-time performance data using internet of things (IoT) technology on the plant floor. Data analytics and industrial IoT solution company Lightapp was approached because of their commitment to helping aging manufacturing plants and utilities work smarter and run in a more sustainable and profitable manner.

Lightapp is an empirically proven, cost-effective approach to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.“The way we see it is, there’s a lot of data on the shop floor, and there has been for quite a while,” said Lightapp CEO Elhay Farkash.

Controllers, loggers, and various devices have been capturing data using IT systems since the late seventies, but most of those protocols were developed over 40 years ago. New protocols have emerged, but the cost of controllers and sensors have historically been a barrier to widespread adoption, he said.

Farkash said that hardware and installation costs have come down considerably, providing an opportunity to give manufacturers an affordable way to better understand energy use. Data collection and storage has also become faster, easier, and more affordable.

“Even a power meter used to cost thousands of dollars about six or seven years ago. Today we can get a power meter with communication capabilities and everything around it for about $200.”  

Program Development Process

Initial steps involved finding the companies and getting their agreement to participate in the program, as well as the acquisition of funds to subsidize costs ofsensors, controllers, and the communications portion of the data-capture kit. Sponsor funding was an important part of the project, allowing researchers to ensure that results would not be affected by a company’s ability or desire to pay for participation.

All facilities received free installation of the equipment, and 70 percent of facilities received the Lightapp software for free. Thirty percent of facilities received the Lightapp software for a discounted monthly rate. Customer data was provided by Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric, and a randomized list of more than 1,000 industrial facilities was created.

After a company was enrolled, Lightapp performed a “map and gap” analysis to assess a plant’s readiness for participation, providing a listing of existing and needed sensors, and a check on the functioning of any existing sensors. “We have them identify all the different resources and utilities that they currently use on the shop floor,” Farkash said, creating a model of their existing facility.

Each company was then provided with a customized IoT kit that contained any needed power meters, a flow meter, a pressure sensor, and a cellular communication gateway with edge capabilities. Once hardware was in place, and the real-time data capture process was rigorously tested for accuracy, data was collected from each company for a three-month baseline-setting period.

Results of data collection during this time were not shared with the company until the three months were over, at which point their users were given full access to Lightapp.

Introduction of Lightapp

After the assessment, data collected during the baseline period was shared with users, along with information about potential savings and how to realize those savings. Analysis of costs could be viewed by system or by machine.

Plants were able to set goals to compete against themselves, against manufacturer specifications, and against all plants using Lightapp’s platform, Farkash said. The app tracks motor health, notifies the appropriate personnel to take action to do maintenance to prevent unplanned downtime, and makes recommendations based on comparison to best practices and benchmarks.


Customers received access to Lightapp for 12 months to use insights and make changes. At the end of the year, participants were asked three questions:

  • Have they improved their energy consumption, or are they using less energy per product?
  • Are they paying less for energy per product as a result of using less energy?
  • After using Lightapp for a year, are they willing to continue using it without the subsidy?

A total of 102 industrial plants throughout the state of California participated, and 41 percent decided to purchase Lightapp after the project closed. So far, 45 percent have requested expansion beyond compressed air systems. The results for energy savings are pending further analysis, and numbers will be released at a later date, Farkash said.

Initially, customers were wary of a cloud solution and wanted an on-premise option, he said. “Today it’s not a problem — it’s not even a question that our solution is on the cloud,” so customers can enjoy the benefits of the cloud’s economy of scale, he said.

Users can work with Lightapp on a desktop, in their facility, or on their mobile phones. “When they go out to the shop floor to take action, they use it where it’s most comfortable for them. They don’t need to sit near their desk on their company computers in order to see the data.”

Benefits to Participants

Companies received access to real-time performance data and customizable reports regarding energy usage and targeted action items for efficiency improvements. Sites were able to monetize their compressed air system inefficiencies and leverage this knowledge when seeking funding for repairs and equipment replacements.

Plant managers could compare their performance to other plants in California (on an anonymous basis), providing context for the efficiency ratings.

 Laurie ten Hope, Deputy Director of the California Energy Commission’s Research and Development Division, said, “Climate change impacts all of us, so it’s great to see this highly successful project we supported extended to industry in other communities.” 

Ben Duncan, Process Improvement Engineer at Pepsi, said:

“The engage project was a great, low-risk way to learn how Lightapp’s software worked and where it could be applied in our plant to improve our operations. We started with one system, and quickly recognized the value and importance of expanding Lightapp to other areas of our plant.”

Benefits to Industry

Farkash said that the goal of the project is to save energy and make manufacturing more sustainable, which is very important both for the manufacturers themselves, and for the world. The reduction in energy consumption goes directly to the bottom line.

“I think the most important part for them aside from energy consumption reduction and less pollution, was to make California manufacturers more competitive, and we were able to actually see it through the project.”

Next Steps

Project Engage is currently expanding into Texas to help manufacturers there cut carbon emissions and operate more sustainably. “We are so proud of the work that has been done in California and are looking forward to similar success in Texas and the rest of the country,” said Farkash.

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