Maintaining Critical Power 24/7 to Maximize Manufacturing Uptime: A Subaru of Indiana Automotive Case Study

March 4, 2024
Auto manufacturing has evolved significantly over the past 30 years, but for Subaru of Indiana Automotive, the need for reliable, safe, and sustainable power has remained constant. Since 1988, they have relied on ABB’s innovative solutions and responsive service to keep the power on and minimize costly downtime.

The Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) plant was built in 1988. Located in Lafayette, Indiana, the facility carries a legacy of quality vehicle manufacturing. 

The plant’s production volume has grown exponentially since it first opened. In 1989 – their first year of operation – the facility produced 4,087 vehicles. In the 2023 financial year, that number was 298,837. 

To stay ahead of the industry’s evolving needs and keep things running smoothly, SIA needs access to safe, efficient electrical infrastructure and round-the-clock power.

The Need for Clean and Efficient Power

SIA is an industry leader in sustainable manufacturing practices. They were the first US auto plant to achieve zero landfill status and the first to earn ISO 50001 Certification for Energy Management in 2012. Their dedication to “finding new and innovative ways to become better stewards of our environment” is closely linked to their electrification needs. 

“We have an 850-acre facility with approximately 5 million square feet of manufacturing space that runs three shifts per day 24/7,” says Justin Whitaker, Building Engineering Group Leader, SIA. “We have to supply power to all those areas of concern, and being able to maintain clean and efficient power for all those manufacturing processes can be challenging.”

“Ensuring our manufacturing processes and equipment are getting correct, consistent power is our key concern. There are over 6,000 people working here, so any downtime that can be avoided is money ahead for us,” adds Whitaker.

As a long-standing partner of SIA, ABB supports the manufacturer every step of the way by taking care of the electrical infrastructure to maximize their power supply for improved productivity and profitability.

A key solution enabling real-time power and demand monitoring is an energy management system – such as the ABB envisage system SIA chose to utilize. The system trends voltage and current power energy, enabling SIA to monitor disturbances on the electrical network and look at the history to ensure their substations are not overloaded. 

These systems help to prevent future outages by identifying anomalies in the power system and alerting engineers before they become more widespread. 

Through this system, ABB engineers can connect to the SIA’s meters and trip units to pinpoint the issue – and get the facility back online as quickly as possible. 

“They have access to our equipment at all times, even if they're not here on site. Having that relationship has made it very easy to supply good power for Subaru,” says Whitaker.

Taking a Partnership Approach

At the heart of any quality partnership must be a shared commitment to making the world greener, made possible through power monitoring that delivers real-time insights into the energy efficiency of equipment.

This is seen in the well-established partnership between SIA and ABB, which has improved reliability, availability, and sustainability across the plant’s substations.

“Our field service team was involved with the startup and commissioning of all the ABB-provided equipment for the entire plant. The local service team has built upon that relationship from the beginning until now,” says Brandon Morgan, Senior Field Service Engineer at ABB Electrification Service. 

ABB engineers are trusted to work with SIA’s entire power system. The turnkey project manages everything from design specification to procurement, to startup and commissioning, and hiring the rigging and electrical contractors to install products.

“We provide continuous support to Subaru of Indiana Automotive – whether it's a $20 part for a breaker or a $2 million substation, we are their go-to for all their electrification needs,” says Morgan.

Expert Service on Speed Dial

For many manufacturing facilities, downtime can result in losses of anywhere up to millions of dollars – which means reliability is key. When they do have a problem, they want to call someone and get a quick response. 

Finding a dedicated local electrification team available on call 24/7/365 is crucial to ensuring maximum plant uptime. 

When storms rolled through the area and knocked out all power, a breaker tripped and shut the SIA plant down. Despite the late hour, ABB’s Morgan guided SIA through logging into their HMI, reviewing the event log, and figuring out why the breaker tripped. Together, they discovered it wasn’t a real fault trip and successfully got the breaker reset and the plant back online. 

“We have a very long-lasting relationship with ABB and very close communications between their technical side and our maintenance side to ensure constant power,” says Whitaker. “If we do have issues, ABB is just a phone call away. It's easy to connect with them to determine or troubleshoot those issues and resolve them.”