Sankey Visualization: Managing energy and manufacturing

Visualize industrial information flows through Sankey diagrams

Figure 1. Distribution of heat and power to a factory site.

A brief start about Sankey

When working with data, flows or any set of processes related to industrial systems, diagrams come in to play and provide global view on the information we focus. Without them, identifying problems may become pretty hard.

A rollback in history

As most of the diagrams or mathematical formulas change names; graphical heat balances (Minister of Fuel and Power 1944) , energy flow charts (Christensen 1990) [1] were what is called Sankey diagrams today.

Figure 2. Minard’s classic diagram of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

Applying Sankey diagrams

Just before seeing our use cases, it is important to know how these diagrams can be prepared. For instance, one of the crucial steps, is to define and understand perfectly our industrial context in data visualization. When a diagram is well designed, it clearly stands out the data it illustrates, guiding us in taking the best decisions.

“Visualization gives you answers to questions you didn’t know you had.” — Ben Schneiderman

Identifying the main flow

Let’s go step by step in understanding how Sankey diagrams work.

Figure 3. Distribution of heat and power in a factory site.
Figure 4. Energy balance in a compressed air system.

Without getting lost

Figure 5. Line production of cosmetic products

Coming to an end

As we have seen above, we can say that Sankey diagrams are very efficient diagrams used in visualizing data. They draw attention to the largest flows of the system. And they also provide us information about the structure of our system.


[1] Schmidt, Mario. “The Sankey Diagram in Energy and Material Flow Management.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol. 12, no. 1, Feb. 2008, pp. 82–94, 10.1111/j.1530–9290.2008.00004.x.

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