Electric motors and motor-driven systems in industrial and infrastructure applications are responsible for 53% of the world’s total electricity consumption and about 70% of industrial electricity consumption.
New technologies offer the potential to reduce the energy demand of motorised systems across the global economy by 20-30%, with short payback periods. Reducing energy consumption means at the same time reducing emissions related to energy production. As sustainability is now the main driver of innovation and European legislation, employing technologies that allow an increase in efficiency means not only direct savings for the system owner, but also bringing the system in line with legislation and therefore safe for the future. Ultimately, it means building systems that are ‘future proofed’. Today, the digitisation of components, machines and systems is undoubtedly one of the faces of innovation in industry. On-board sensor technology, the cloud, and the use of advanced data analysis tools enable optimised operation of components, and thus also of motors, and improved performance.

Digital Production Technologies in Electric Motor Driven Systems: a project

The potential for energy efficiency and thus savings that could result from the digitisation of electric motors is therefore high. Within the IEA – International Energy Agency there is a technology collaboration programme called 4E EMSA (Electric Motor Systems Annex) that works on the evaluation of specific developments in the field of industrial digitisation of electric motors.
This programme aims to increase worldwide awareness of the efficiency potential of motor systems and provides guidance and tools for harnessing the energy performance of new and existing motor systems worldwide.
As part of its work on the use of digital technologies for electric motor systems, it recently conducted a survey to understand the level of deployment of digital technologies on motors in Technologies in Electric Motor Driven Systems.

Konstantin Kulterer, Senior Expert in Commerce and Industry at the Austrian Energy Agency (Credits: Andrea Leindl)

In dialogue with Konstantin Kulterer, Senior Expert in Commerce and Industry at the Austrian Energy Agency, the agency leading the project.

Why a survey on digitalization of electric motors? What was the main goal of the survey?

This survey is part of a study into the potential impact of digital technologies on the electricity consumption of electric motor systems in industrial companies. The research seeks to provide further insights to decision makers in industry and governments on what digitalisation can mean in energy efficiency of motor systems and energy transition in broader perspective.
We wanted to know which digital technologies are already used in connection with electric motor driven system and how high the expected savings from using these tools are expected to be.
Furthermore, we asked for the main advantages and disadvantages when using these technologies but also for barriers and enablers for these technologies. Furthermore, we asked which could be the main instruments to overcome these barriers.

The respondents are electric motors system user or producers of electric motors?

Both. The survey was mainly answered by companies from the manufacturing sector (27%) and professional, scientific and technical activities (27%). Roughly half of the companies were small companies; one third of the companies were large organisations. But we do not have an evaluation how many motor producers answered the questionnaire.

Some of the company interviewed already use digitalization, some others plan to do it in the future. Where will they use more digitalization? In their production process or in their products?

In principle, digitalisation technologies will be mainly used for superior production efficiency, more flexible systems and better control, as well as higher system availability through predictive maintenance. This means that industrial end users will use digital technologies to improve their production processes by increasing transparency. For that they also will use the features of the products (e.g. pre-installed sensors or information from the variable speed drive), when manufacturers of motors and drives provide these features.

In your opinion which general statement can be made on digitalization of electric motors today?

There is a clear awareness of advantages in digitalisation of electric motors today in the motors expert field. Especially condition monitoring for detecting faults before they happen and avoid production stoppages and/or avoid expensive repair procedures. Industrial end users are also becoming more aware of this feature. For use of digital technologies for energy saving we are in the status that monitoring of energy consumption of these systems is connected to the general energy data management system of companies. But I think the use of this application should and can be improved, e.g. with calculation and evaluation of benchmarks to monitor the efficiency and with introduction of target levels for the efficiency.
Concerning knowledge of technologies, I think that in smaller companies knowledge about digital technologies in general seems to be lower, whereas in bigger companies special teams can deal with that issue. In general, there are a lot of different providers out there, that can help but currently each company has to find its specific solution which partly has to be developed for them during project implementation.

What is the main result of your survey? And of the ongoing project until now?

Around half of respondents of the EMSA survey consider the saving potential to be between 6 and 20% through the use of digital technologies (Stand: end of 2020). Among others, the lack of qualified staff is perceived as the main barrier to a greater uptake of digital technologies. Therefore, the development of training programmes is important, and guidance for SMEs on how digital projects can be implemented in this area and what benefits can be gained from them. The standardisation of protocols and data access as well as the clarification of data ownership are seen as important tasks of policy and standardisation work. Nonetheless, to solve the problem of security or confidentiality of data in cloud applications, good technical solutions for cybersecurity are also critical.

The survey: main results
• Increase of energy efficiency of electric motor systems due to the use of digital solution is rated around 18% by respondents; • Smart sensors, smart control and continuous monitoring are the digital technologies most used by industrial users in conjunction with motor driven systems. These three digital technologies are expected to have the greatest impact on potential future energy savings; • Superior production efficiency, more flexibility and higher system availability are considered to be the main advantages; • An increased risk of failure and higher implementation costs were mentioned as the main disadvantages. • The lack of qualified staff and high investment costs are perceived as main barriers to greater uptake of digital technologies. • Good technical solutions for cybersecurity and the availability of qualified staff are the most significant enablers. • Around three quarter of respondents consider the development of training programmes, the standardisation of protocols, and subsidies for research as important policy instruments to overcome the barriers mentioned above. (Source: EMSA Report – iea-4e.org/emsa)

Which digitalization technologies are currently mostly used?

Industrial users are currently especially using smart sensors, smart control, and continuous monitoring as digital technologies, in conjunction with motor driven systems.

What is the status of digitalization of electric motors?

Especially, in compressed air systems, meaning bigger stations with new equipment, the digital technologies are already quite advanced. For fan and pumping systems though technologies are available the possibilities are not really used and in a lot of cases not implemented. E.g., in a Swedish survey in connection with our project one third of the companies said that they do not gather any data for fan systems.

What are the main opportunities of digitalization of electric motors, in your opinion?

Information and communication technology should be used firstly as the enabling technology to obtain basic data on performance, operating time and energy which is not available in a lot of companies. Yet, while digital technologies can help identify opportunities, energy savings will only be realised by acting on that information. In the future I think digital technologies will be able to detect inefficiencies in motor systems and react accordingly, automatically.

Background to IEA 4E EMSA
The questionnaire has been prepared under the Task New Industrial Developments and Digitalization in Motor Systems as part of the Electric Motor Systems Annex (EMSA) of the IEA Technology Collaboration Programme on Energy-Efficient End-Use Equipment (4E) and has been co-funded by the Austrian programme IEA Research Cooperation.