A smart approach to baking bread

Case study
Case study type

Most manufacturing businesses would welcome the chance to reduce their energy usage, both for economic and environmental reasons. But it can be hard for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to know what steps they should take to achieve this within a complex manufacturing process.

Professor of Smart Energy Systems, Kang Li from the University of Leeds has devised a smart energy system specifically for SMEs, using high-tech sensors and complex data analysis to identify the highest energy use and find where savings can most effectively be made. The system – known as the Point Energy Platform (www.pointenergy.org) – was initially developed while Professor Li was at Queen’s University Belfast and is now being further refined at Leeds, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The system is currently being piloted in Irwin’s bakery based in Portadown, County Armagh. Irwin’s is a medium-sized business with around 350 employees and has produced bread and cakes in Northern Ireland since 1912. Electricity is one of the primary energy sources for the six main production stages: mixing, transport of the dough into the prover via a hoist, proving, oven baking, removal of the hot bread (depanning) and then cooling in the chiller.

Professor Li and his team at Leeds, together with Queen’s University Belfast PhD student Che Cameron, installed meters and microcontrollers to monitor the power usage for each machine, with the data visible in real time to the business. The meters connect via WiFi with an on-site server and then the data is sent to the cloud for analysis.

Additional sensors have been installed on the largest production line, which record the real-time performance of the process. Through the use of cutting-edge radio technology, it is possible to gather these measurements from inside sealed industrial control panels.

This allows the research team – and the business – to see daily and weekly patterns for each machine, how hard each machine is working at any one time and for how long, and when they are turned off or on standby.

Professor Li explains: “Electrical machines are at their most energy efficient when working at around 75 per cent of their maximum capacity, and this reduces significantly if their load falls below 50 per cent of capacity. A significant amount of energy can be wasted keeping machines at low or no load, or on standby. Of the machines at Irwin’s, only the oven and chillers need to be on constantly, as they take a long time to reach the optimum temperature.”

Using complex algorithms, the team were able to identify strategies to optimise production while making the most efficient use of the machines. The analysis also highlighted how the company should schedule production in order to increase their use of renewable power, ensuring that energy intensive processes took place when cheaper electricity tariffs were available. At the moment, Irwin’s uses the most energy during peak times, when normal tariffs are at their highest.

Aaron Harrigan, Head of Operations at Irwin’s Bakery, said: “The Point Energy team have given us real data and statistics which are useful in assessing the effectiveness of our own initiatives and are a helpful input to our Continuous Improvement Program."

Read more about our smart energy systems research theme