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Efficiency is about more than simply the sum of the parts

Efficiency is about more than simply the sum of the parts

Markus Kutny of Bauer Gears explains why it's important to hand-pick components which will integrate with one another, and how each stage of the drivetrain can offer efficiency savings.


Depending on the industry, environment and requirements of any given application, there are many different methods of transferring power from mains supply to machine. But no matter what the layout of the drivetrain, there will always be some solutions that offer smoother integration and better efficiency than others. Thanks to the recent introduction of IE3, motors have enjoyed the limelight over the last couple of year. In reality an efficient motor only plays a small part in the potential energy savings available.

Energy efficiency is a hot topic across every industry at the moment, but without fully understanding all the components within the drivetrain, only a fraction of the potential savings can be realised. Throughout the drivetrain the potential energy savings are distributed via the ZVEI model:
  • 10% via improved efficiency of the motor
  • 30% via electronic speed regulation
  • 60% via optimisation of the mechanical system

This highlights the fact that while the current focus on energy efficient motors is important, it's even more important that engineers don't lose sight of the other areas where improvements can be made. Maximising the savings potential across each of the three fields listed above is possible through smart specification which focusses on a combination of long term reliability, low maintenance costs and the best energy efficiency possible.

Recent technological advances in motor design have allowed manufacturers to deliver radical improvements in energy efficiency. Coupled with the recent IE2 and IE3 regulation - and the future IE4 regulations - this means that most applications are already benefitting from improved electrical efficiency. In fact, a recent comparison test carried out on a Huber disc thickener at a water treatment works near Munich between a standard IE2 asynchronous motor and an IE4 super premium efficiency motor showed energy savings of over 40% are possible with the newest technologies.

With a great deal of attention being focussed on improving motor efficiency, and further IE classification rumoured to be on the way, most of the leading motor manufacturers are able to offer IE4 performance where required. Bauer, for example, has developed a range of stainless steel IE4 motors for easy washdown and even an Ex rated solution. With such a wealth of choice available on the market, it's easy to find a motor which offers the perfect combination purchase price, running costs and reliability.

Using a speed control device to monitor the required output of the motor and regulate its energy use accordingly is well known to be a quick and simple way of increasing the efficiency of a system. Depending on the requirements of the application there are many different control and monitoring concepts which may offer the best combination of cost and efficiency. Most leading manufacturers are able to offer products with varying degrees of control and performance, all of which are extremely reliable. However, it's always worth speaking to an expert to source a solution which will integrate best with the motor, and other components, that you have specified.

While motor efficiency and speed control currently enjoy the majority of media coverage, the fact is that mechanical optimisation accounts for the majority of potential savings in most existing drivetrain solutions. In fact, the opportunities are so vast that Bauer splits it into two further sub-categories: gear technologies and drivetrain optimisation.

As Bauer is primarily a manufacturer of gear technologies it's easy to wax lyrical about the importance of specifying the right gearbox design and ratios in maximising efficiency. The fact is that a well specified gearbox can ease the load on the rest of the drivetrain simply by delivering the best reduction ratios. For applications which require accurate speeds or high torque transfer, a bespoke design is often preferable and good quality manufacturers should be able to work with the design team to develop bespoke solutions.

Drivetrain optimisation is the last piece of the puzzle, but no less important than the considerations that have come before it. Once each aspect of the drivetrain has been specified, it must then be integrated into the machine with as much efficiency as possible. This requires an in-depth understanding of the drivetrain as well as the specific demands of a given industry.

Simple installation solutions, such as gearing that takes over the bearing functions, thus reducing the number of components, can offer improvements in efficiency that are equivalent to the step-up between an IE1 and an IE4 motor in the same drivetrain. With such dramatic performance increases possible, it's advisable that end-users work with manufacturers and suppliers that are able to offer integration support. They should be able to recommend manufacturers for other stages of the drive train which are particularly suitable, and work with each other to coordinate the design and delivery of each part.

As part of Altra Industrial Motion, Bauer's electro-mechanical application solutions department is able to work closely with the Altra coupling division, which includes brands such as Bibby, Huco and Ameridrives, to specify coupling solutions which integrate the drivetrain with minimal energy loss. Bauer's approach to optimisation is to adapt and simplify every aspect of the drivetrain, ensuring that it integrates seamlessly with the machine.

Modern day technology means that engineering as a whole is quickly moving towards new levels of efficiency that were previously thought to be impossible. Not only does this help to save end-users running costs, it is making a real difference to the environment that we live in. While individual technological advances are exciting, it's important not to lose focus on the energy saving possibilities of the entire drivetrain.
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