Energy Saving Insight: Plant Maintenance & Remote Monitoring Technology

The benefits of good plant maintenance and remote monitoring technology


James Ward

Operations Director


Freezing and Chilling

Temperature Controlled Storage & Distribution

Food Manufacturing

Leisure and Ice

Data Centres

Pharmaceutical & Process

The past two decades have seen a growing commitment across all sectors of UK business and industry to reduce electrical energy consumption to help tackle climate change. In March 2020 the government announced an extension to the Climate Change Agreement scheme, increasing decarbonisation ambitions and setting energy efficiency targets for UK business and industry.

The announcement coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. The nationwide food and drink supply chain immediately faced continued pressure to meet the additional capacity required to feed the nation. With an increase in production and throughput since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, many cold chain companies saw a significant rise in energy usage, due to greater demand on refrigeration systems.

In some sectors of the refrigeration industry, such as cold storage and distribution, the cooling system accounts for 70-80% of a temperature controlled facility’s energy bill. Star Refrigeration estimates that many large refrigeration plants in the cold chain industry are currently running with up to 30% inefficiency.

Refrigeration engineering companies help operators of large cooling systems to achieve substantial energy savings. Establishing an ongoing programme of proactive and predictive planned preventative maintenance (PPM) using the latest remote monitoring technology helps end users to increase efficiency, save energy and cut costs.

StarCare portal – site documentation view

Plant maintenance was a largely reactive service when Star was established over 50 years ago. Beyond annual safety and compliance checks, for many years refrigeration engineers only attended site to respond to plant faults and breakdowns. Without ongoing PPM, customers today increase the risk of unplanned downtime due to faults and poor running conditions. Inefficient operation, plant repair and downtime creates additional costs and can have a significant detrimental effect on business.

Over the past two decades, PPM has become widespread, with refrigeration engineering firms delivering a schedule of activities to boost system resilience. Today PPM has evolved into a high tech and highly proactive aftercare service, enabling plant operators to make significant energy savings, amounting to between 10 and 30% on electricity costs. For operators of large cooling systems, this often represents a cost saving of hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.

Remote monitoring technology lies at the heart of modern refrigeration aftercare services, helping businesses to increase efficiency and save energy by focusing on plant performance optimisation and proactive maintenance. Without ongoing remote monitoring it is very difficult to optimise equipment performance and maximise efficiency, as parameters are constantly changing.

Remote monitoring and data analysis is now central to optimising plant performance and increasing efficiency as part of an ongoing PPM programme. This in turn enables end users to achieve the best return on their investment by reducing the whole lifecycle cost of the plant. Modern maintenance programmes are tailored to support and protect each client’s key business asset by saving energy, boosting efficiency and reducing running costs.

With an overriding commitment to help all clients save energy and reduce life cycle costs, Star has continually refined and improved its remote monitoring service over the past 20 years. The latest smart technology has been incorporated to develop a unique aftercare service for users of industrial cooling across a wide range of sectors. Remote monitoring now has a critical role to play in asset management, helping to extend plant life, improve whole life cost and reduce client spend.

Star’s remote monitoring systems use sophisticated software linked to each plant’s PLC control system. Key operational data from maintenance customers can sent via broadband to a remote monitoring hub, where it is stored on dedicated computer servers. The system collects operational data including temperature, pressure, run times and plant status. Specialist software uses algorithms to produce insightful trends and graphs to accurately predict future plant performance and maintenance requirements.

Remote monitoring services are managed for industry-leading clients at a national Monitoring Hub, with regular live data analysis by Star’s expert engineering team. Senior engineers from regional maintenance depots dial in to the network on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to analyse data and check plant operation for local clients. As well as standard operational alarms, the system generates alerts when plant drifts from the manufacturer’s optimum design parameters. A low pressure alert for example may indicate a filter issue, which if left unchecked could have a detrimental effect on plant efficiency.

Supervisor screen – Star Refrigeration Remote Monitoring

When all data has been reviewed, including trending graphs and alerts, a remedial task list or set of hints and insights is produced for client and field engineers to attend to during site visits. Task lists are focused on proactive maintenance activities such as technical adjustments, corrective actions and investigations to improve efficiency, reduce utility usage and save costs. On an annual or bi-annual basis, historical plant performance is measured against the manufacturer’s optimum design parameters, with predictive maintenance undertaken to increase efficiency.

Whilst all remote monitoring techniques are undertaken to improve plant efficiency, software can also be configured with specific energy management protocols to optimise energy usage. By monitoring seasonal ambient temperatures, graphing climatic trends and analysing data, engineers can adjust controls accordingly to help keep equipment running reliably at optimum performance parameters all year round. Load shedding and electricity tariff management can also be employed to deliver substantial energy cost benefits to the client. Software allows plant control systems to switch off or shed load during peak periods without compromising temperature or production, to take advantage of reduced tariffs offered by energy suppliers.

The future for remote monitoring now looks even brighter, with the development of new software to increase automation and reduce the need for manual engineer interface. Star has developed a new software programme for continuous monitoring of energy usage and automated data analysis. Developed by award-winning refrigeration consultants, field engineers and software experts, Ethos delivers strategic analysis of energy usage, with automated reporting on the technical adjustments required to optimise plant performance and efficiency. This web-based system provides 24/7 monitoring and automated analysis of operational data, identifying performance issues and recommending corrective actions for field engineers to implement to increase efficiency.

Early adopters of the technology include UK market-leaders in industries including freezing and chilling, temperature controlled storage and distribution, food production, IT and leisure. These businesses are already benefiting from electricity cost savings of up to 30% per year. Star is confident that the technology will become an integral part of refrigeration plant maintenance over the next decade. This will help many temperature controlled businesses to make significant energy savings by reducing consumption and carbon emissions in line with the latest climate change targets announced by the government.

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Energy Saving Insight: Plant Maintenance & Remote Monitoring Technology