REXEL Austria: Energy efficiency in real time
With the Power Monitoring System and MindSphere from Siemens, the energy-efficiency experts at REXEL Austria GmbH, which is a subsidiary of the international REXEL Group, have not only digitalized their own energy consumption, saving money, but at the same time developed an entirely new business model.
There’s a lot of debate about what the EU is planning and deciding in Brussels. But when it comes to the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive, the people at REXEL in Weisskirchen an der Traun, two hours’ drive west of Vienna, are grateful to the European Union.
“The law gave us the impetus we needed to embark on the right development,” explains Alexander Wunderer, a qualified engineer and energy expert at REXEL. “We’ve now managed to reduce our energy consumption by 10 percent, we’re pioneers in energy management, and we’ve come up with a new business model in the process.” Wunderer is sitting in the meeting room before a wide panorama window looking out onto one of the three warehouses. It’s all hustle and bustle at REXEL Austria’s central storage facility. From here companies across Austria are supplied with all their electrical and electronic equipment needs, from cables to coffee machines. The company employs 650 people, 100 of them in field sales. It’s part of the global REXEL Group, which, with 2,000 branches in 26 countries, is one of the world’s largest wholesalers of electrical equipment and energy-related services.
A journey full of surprises
Like other large companies, REXEL was confronted with a choice by the implementation of the EU directive: undergo an energy audit every four years, or install an energy management system. The company opted for the energy monitoring system from Siemens. It was the beginning of a journey that’s been full of surprises − and it’s far from being over.
“First of all we installed a few simple meters to make our energy flows visible. We wanted to know where and how much energy we were using,” explains Rainer Brade, Product Manager for Energy Monitoring and Switching Equipment from Siemens Austria. When he says “we” it becomes clear just how closely he and the energy solution team at REXEL are working together on this project.
And they were in for a surprise. Wunderer had expected the biggest consumers of energy to be the motorized equipment in the facility, for example the cable-cutting machine, which runs all day. But he was way off the mark. The lion’s share went to lighting, followed by office IT. “Experience has shown that most companies have similar misconceptions,” says Wunderer.
We’ve now managed to reduce our energy consumption by 10 percent, we’re pioneers in energy management, and we’ve managed to come up with a new business model in the process.Alexander Wunderer, REXEL energy expert
The only carbon-neutral logistics center in the country
“Many companies still see energy costs as a fixed overhead,” explains engineer Michael Hauser, Head of Business Unit Industry at REXEL Austria. “They get their energy bill from their utility, and that’s all they know about it. We want to help give companies greater transparency.”
The energy monitoring software powermanager is a relatively easy and quick way to find out where and how much energy is flowing, and where savings can be made. That’s how it was in Weisskirchen. The first step for the company was to change the outdated lighting system in one of the warehouses. Among other things the new setup now allows the lighting in the aisles of the warehouse to be dimmed when they’re not in use. It also makes better use of daylight. This resulted in a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption, around €1,400 a month. And even though the company switched to slightly more expensive green power shortly afterwards, becoming the first carbon-neutral logistics center in Austria, energy costs were still appreciably and sustainably reduced. “That got us thinking,” says Wunderer. Hauser adds: “Starting with the powermanager energy monitoring software was a kind of internal driver for us for future energy-saving projects.”
How much energy is used for each activity? It’s quick and easy to find out with MindSphere.
The experts then turned their attention to the key performance indicators, in other words to the question of how much energy was being used for each activity. In the case of the warehouse, for example, how many times does a forklift truck reach into the rack, and how much energy does it use in the process?
All in the cloud
“There’s a lot of talk about Industry 4.0, digitalization, and the Internet of Things, but a lot of the talk is very vague. We actually did it,” says Rainer Brade. Individual sensors were linked to MindSphere, a cloud-based, open IoT system from Siemens, and since then they have been providing data on how much energy the equipment in the warehouse is using and for which activities.
“And with that we set the benchmark,” explains Michael Hauser. The management at REXEL in Germany (where they are represented on the market under the brand name Hagemeyer) has already given the go-ahead for the installation of the system in one of its German warehouses. “The warehouses have a very similar infrastructure. If we compare the data, we can ask ourselves why we’re using more energy here and less there,” explains Hauser. Then processes can be optimized.
The next step will be to use a machine’s energy consumption for predictive maintenance, to find out when parts have to be replaced before it stops working. “This is an area we’re learning more about along with Siemens,” says Wunderer.
At REXEL there was great interest in the possibilities opened up by MindSphere from the outset, but therew were also concerns about data security. “We addressed these concerns by getting the IT department involved,” explains Wunderer. “It’s very important to set things straight from the start.” At that time Rainer Brade made it very clear to the managers responsible: “The organization can decide itself which data it uploads to the MindSphere cloud and which data stays in the company.”
Everyone knows that saving energy means saving money. We show how it’s done.Michael Hauser, Head of Business Unit Industry at REXEL Austria
Now they have their own app
REXEL can now use the wealth of experience it’s gathered with Siemens in the course of optimizing its own energy use for a new line of business: advising its own industrial and commercial customers. “A classic auditor only leaves the client with an evaluation of the situation and recommendations that end up in somebody’s desk drawer. But we offer our customers everything from advice to solutions and implementation, including the search for funding opportunities,” explains Hauser. The company’s energy solutions have gotten a great response, with an information event last fall attracting over 100 interested representatives of large and medium-sized companies. “Everyone knows that saving energy means saving money. We show how it’s done,” says Hauser.
In their consulting work they’ve also always encountered interest in their experience with MindSphere. Rainer Brade thinks this is an essential issue, especially for SMEs: “The Internet of Things is even more important for small and medium-sized companies. They don’t have the big IT departments and computing centers large companies have; they have to be able to rely on expert partners, for example our MindSphere, where they can feed in their data to generate reports.”
To make the system more user-friendly, REXEL is working with Siemens in Austria to develop its own application – or MindApp – for MindSphere, which allows for a simple and easy-to-understand preparation of data. It’s due to be ready for use this summer. “So that managers within the company can be informed at a glance about their current energy consumption, in real time and independent of their location,” says Wunderer.
Moritz Gathmann is a freelance journalist in Berlin.
Picture credits: Reiner Riedler
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