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Analysis

Integrated Mobility, the New Frontier

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 22:32

Amid all the talk of robotics and automation, the drive toward clean energy in the automotive industry can seem an afterthought. But as many industry insiders point out, without efficiency the savings from automation is moot, and the road to efficiency goes through clean energy

For automotive companies, the goal of reducing costs and improving performance of products and processes is a constant. After the development of just-in-time and just-in- sequence operations, the next target for OEMs and suppliers is to boost energy efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of all manufacturing operations.

Energy efficiency has become a priority for companies, 186 especially considering the growing importance of automation and technology integration. Implementing robotics and automation equipment has an effect on productivity but if it is not coupled with effective energy-management systems, the investment is not justified. Víctor Fuentes, Director General of Mitsubishi Electric, says some companies have neglected technological updates for years, which limits their potential for improving energy efficiency. For that reason, the first step is to analyze where the company stands. “As a basic engineering principle, you need to measure something before you can control it,” he says.

Analyzing information from the production floor is a basic principle of Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory, which can also lead to further energy-cost reductions. Oscar Lambert, Vice President Mexico and Central America, Energy Business of Schneider Electric, says “a typical top-five automotive company has an annual excess in its energy bill of US$1 billion.” This can be reduced with the implementation of efficient energy-management solutions coupled with Industry 4.0 practices. “internet of Things’ solutions can reach up to 80 percent power savings,” says Odón de Buen, Director General of the National Commission for the Efficient Use of Energy (CONUEE). “Savings come not only from energy but from operating efficiently.”

The increase in energy prices poses another threat for manufacturers. Between May 2016 – when electricity reached its lowest cost at MX$0.93/kWh (US$0.05/kWh) – and June 2017, energy prices have increased by 66.9 percent, according to the Ministry of Energy. However, there is an opportunity that some companies are already brave enough to explore. The Energy Transition Strategy established by the federal government sets a goal to source 35 percent of the national energy consumption from clean sources by 2024. The Federal Energy Commission (CFE) is buying energy from clean generators at competitive prices, which according to information from the National Center of Energy Control (CENACE), reached an average of US$33.47/MWh (US$.03/ kWh) at the second tender for electric energy, representing 60 percent in savings when compared to electricity obtained from fossil fuels.

Luis Miguel Ruíz, Operations Director of COFEMSA, says that clean-energy projects such as photovoltaic cells are still mostly a marketing strategy for companies. “It allows them to present themselves as socially responsible but they are not as efficient at saving money,” he says. Meanwhile, Fuentes points out that “alternative energies such as photovoltaic cells or wind farms are still expensive to implement in Mexico, at least within the automotive industry.” However, some companies, including many OEMs, are already exploring the opportunities clean energies can provide.

Marco Ribera, Senior Corporate Manager Environment and Safety of Nissan Mexicana, says that Nissan already sources 68 percent of its energy from renewable sources in its Aguascalientes A1 plant. “Considering our total energy consumption, renewables represent between 30 and 32 percent,” he says. “We have a wind farm and a biogas plant producing energy from urban waste.” Volkswagen also has an environmental project developed according to its Think Blue. Factory. strategy. The company has a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a wind farm in Mexico. “(The project) is in its construction phase and we expect to start receiving energy by 2017,” says Jorge Salas, Energy Management Manager at Volkswagen de México.

Regarding solar energy, solar panel company Grupo Desmex told Mexico Automotive Review 2016 it was developing a project in the industrial park Puerto Interior in Guanajuato, which was unveiled in October 2016 with an energy capacity of 3MW. “We are already working on the second stage and have landed a five-year contract with one of the park’s tenants,” says André von Frantzius, Commercial Director of Grupo Desmex. “The second stage will add 10MW and we are planning a third phase for an additional 10MW.” Other industrial developers such as Interpuerto Monterrey and FINSA are also analyzing the possibility of investing in energy projects to support manufacturing operations. “Our huge client base demands high electricity volumes,” says Sergio Argüelles, President and CEO of FINSA. “The company is still evaluating how it can best offer these solutions while ensuring added benefits to its clients.”