Connecting to a cloud-based data center is now a crucial part of updating an HVAC system—especially for pharmaceutical companies.
Pharmaceutical companies significantly can reduce energy consumption—and operational costs—by making their HVAC systems more efficient. Expansive facilities with precise manufacturing requirements tend to have large cooling, boiler, and air handling systems, which often run wastefully.
Optimizing these systems can yield substantial savings; a pharmaceutical campus can cut energy use by 20 to 35 percent and save as much as $500,000 to $1 million a year, without risk to product quality or quantity.
But without ongoing monitoring, those results will start to degrade after about a year or so. A two-way data flow between a facility’s HVAC equipment and building automation system (BAS) and an optimization provider’s network operations center enables ongoing real-time monitoring, analysis, maintenance, and fine-tuning of the HVAC system.
This two-way cloud connectivity is the only way to maintain the efficiencies gained through an HVAC system upgrade, ensuring that an investment in state-of-the-art HVAC components and initial optimization pays off.
Why Cloud Connection Is Needed
In the first year after optimization, results may remain constant without cloud connectivity. By the second year, however, equipment begins to age and the facilities team probably has changed settings in the optimization software, causing savings to fall off. By the third year without cloud connectivity, a site can lose as much as half of its original carbon and cost savings through natural system performance degradation.
Establishing a two-way connection between an HVAC plant and an optimization provider is getting easier. New chillers, pumps, and variable frequency drives (VFDs) are now designed to upload data to the Cloud, enabling ongoing monitoring and system optimization.
A facilities manager can collect and share BAS and environmental management system (EMS) data, which reveals where the facility is consuming the most energy, whether the equipment is working correctly and efficiently, and if the automation sequence is controlling the HVAC system effectively.
At the same time, the optimization provider can watch for failing components, mechanical drift, changes in ambient conditions, and other fluctuations in the HVAC system. In response, they can access the installed optimization solution to troubleshoot the equipment and adapt set points to meet environmental parameters as they change. They also can remotely install software updates that increase efficiencies.
Addressing Security and Quality Concerns
Connecting a BAS and EMS to a provider’s data center raises two primary concerns for pharmaceutical facility managers: ensuring total network security and maintaining strict temperature and/or humidity controls. Both challenges can be met by working closely with the optimization provider’s engineers to set up secure, effective, and practical systems.
The first step is to implement robust security separations between networks used for BAS sensors and monitoring, and those used for business transactions. This ensures that intellectual property, financial information, and other business-related data remain siloed from operational data.
A security-conscious optimization provider then will work with the facility’s IT team to establish a site-to-site virtual private network (VPN) tunnel—a secure, private connection with the optimization software provider—that provides strong encryption with unique keys and access controls that give the provider’s engineers access only to operational data for energy management and optimization services. In addition, the optimization software should be installed with intrusion detection, secure network connectivity, and limited user permissions.
For next-level security, some vendors offer a security appliance that creates the secure VPN tunnel connection between the optimization software and the vendor’s cloud servers, avoiding the need to set up a link from the company’s network.
Product quality obviously is a top concern for pharmaceutical manufacturers, and some facility managers worry about automated controls, believing that a hands-on approach is the only way to maintain the correct operational environment. That’s a sure way to lose the benefits of optimization over time, though. The vendor should work with plant operators to fine-tune optimization settings with both efficiency and environmental parameters in mind, and provide training on how the optimization system works.
Benefits of Cloud Connectivity
The benefits of cloud connectivity to an optimization project make it well worth the effort to establish the appropriate security setup. First and foremost are the continual energy use and cost reductions that ongoing optimization provides. For example, we’ve seen a 3.7-million-square-foot pharmaceutical campus improve the efficiency of three chiller plants by 33 percent.
Every year, the facility is saving 11 million kWh of energy and $990,000. We’ve also seen a global pharmaceutical company save more than $3.7 million this year alone by optimizing and connecting the chiller, boiler, and air handling systems in more than 30 facilities.
Sharing operational data via the Cloud also provides greater visibility into HVAC, BAS, and EMS systems, leading to better control over the equipment. A two-way data flow allows the facilities team and the optimization provider full access to the analytics software as well as the HVAC equipment from any location.
The facility manager can check on the chiller, for example, from home first thing in the morning, and the optimization vendor can remotely troubleshoot the system right down to its individual components. Even mechanical problems can get fixed much faster because repair people know in advance what isn’t working. Finally, cloud connectivity allows the transfer and storage of large amounts of operational data cheaply and securely off-site.
What’s Next for Optimization
The next big thing in optimizing HVAC systems is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to enable better control. With data sequencing, archived data, and the ability to build energy models, the latest optimization software can learn how various pieces of equipment respond to different conditions and can tell the BAS how to most efficiently run the HVAC system.
Automatic optimization through machine learning will enable pharmaceutical facilities to increase savings. Companies already are gaining an additional 5 to 7 percent efficiency improvement through machine learning programs added onto their optimization platforms. Only with two-way connectivity through the Cloud can pharmaceutical companies leverage emerging technologies like these to meet sustainability commitments and reduce operational expenses.
About the Author
Ian Dempster is Senior Director of Product Innovation at Optimum Energy and a certified energy manager. He has played a role in optimizing and connecting to the Cloud more than 30 pharmaceutical sites, including three large campuses.
This story also can be found in the November/December 2018 issue of Pharmaceutical Processing.