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Why Brownouts can be a Bigger Threat to Manufacturing Than Power Cuts

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As UK manufacturers focus on maximising their productivity and profitability in the steady recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, minimising downtime is a growing priority. Downtime costs UK manufacturers an estimated £180 billion annually. With proper power resilience planning, the vast majority of this downtime can be averted.

One recent survey of UK manufacturers found that, on average, equipment broke down around once every two and a half months. Each outage lasted an average of nine hours before being brought back online, but multiple respondents stated that they had experienced outages that lasted 72 hours or more.

Each machine outage cost manufacturers an average of £12,042 in lost productivity and opportunity costs. This amounts to over £60,000 in losses each year for a single piece of machinery, with downtime clocking up to over half a million in lost productivity for large manufacturers. This also impacts significantly on customer satisfaction, with outages eroding business reputation and impeding business growth.

Power outages also represent a significant portion of machinery downtime for many manufacturers. While the term power outage is typically thought of as a blackout, in practice losing power to a site entirely is mercifully rare, although the risk is steadily increasing. Much more frequent, particularly as the grid becomes increasingly strained, are sags in voltage below that of the usual mains supply level. These are known as brownouts, named for the dimming effect they typically have on incandescent lighting.

Frequent brownouts can occur when a distribution network is under significant strain, resulting in power infrastructure such as transformers and cabling being overloaded. This can be caused by distributed generation such as wind or solar installed on the local network, or where there is a large demand on insufficient existing infrastructure. Many manufacturers located in out-of-town manufacturing hubs are experiencing this.

Dips in voltage have the potential to negatively impact manufacturers in a number of ways. The most significant is loss of productivity and impact on operations, as even a momentary disruption can result in sensitive equipment needing to be reset. The increasing use of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to allow for increased automation in manufacturing has increased this risk, often tripping and requiring a restart in the event of a brownout.

Disruption can also risk the loss of vital data, records and archives if servers and IT infrastructure is disrupted. In some cases, this invaluable data can be extremely costly, or even impossible, to replace. Improper shutdowns of IT equipment and production lines can also result in damage to equipment and increased maintenance costs.

While many manufacturers are turning to Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) backups to protect critical equipment in the case of a power disruption, the growing digitisation of a manufacturing facility means that, even if its core production processes are protected, productivity can still be lost as other systems are disrupted or shut down. UPS provided by a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) is able to provide site-wide protection across an entire manufacturing facility, ensuring that all equipment and systems are provided with stable, safe voltage levels even in the case of a brownout. In the case of disruption to mains supply, a BESS can provide instantaneous backup power that prevents even minor changes in voltage from impacting on your productivity, protecting your equipment, reputation, and bottom line.

To find out more about Powerstar’s power resilience solutions for manufacturers, click here

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