While the word “sustainability” tends to surface thoughts around curbing CO2 emissions and the corresponding targets and goals, there are other aspects of industrial environments that contribute to energy waste and require greater consideration.
Interestingly, technology may be the guiding light for organizations looking to enhance overall energy management and address sustainability targets. Advancements in industry 4.0 technologies certainly offer significant improvement opportunities for the industrial world, enabling new efficiencies and more streamlined operations.
Issue No. 1: Energy Waste
Digital simulation of process operations—a.k.a. digital twins—provide visibility into energy use. Digital twins identify opportunities to reshape processes to make them more efficient, uncovering new configurations, process routes and scenarios. These simulation tools also give organizations the ability to account for more energy savings in the design phase when scaling up an industrial plant, ensuring that sustainability is built into the entire plant lifecycle.
Simulation can also help companies identify opportunities to improve energy use at a site—for example, by applying heat integration to reduce steam consumption—and develop optimal plans for purchase, generation and distribution of utilities for existing and new facilities. For example, Korean chemical producer YNCC used simulation to reduce energy use by 12% and cut carbon emissions, saving $19.2 million per year.
In addition, process control solutions can help boost efficiency while also optimizing energy consumption. Brazilian chemical company Braskem used process control to stabilize production and lower energy consumption of an ethylene unit by 20%.
Issue No. 2: Emissions
Digital twins allow companies to track release of pollutants and greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxides, etc.) in process design and possibly plan an alternate route with less emissions.
In addition, artificial intelligence technology can identify patterns that lead to equipment and asset failure that can cause a surge in emissions. AI gives plant personnel time to address and fix the issues in advance, before they ever become a problem or impact the production process.
A European polymer producer used AI-enable prescriptive maintenance to gain 27 days advance warning of a failure and avoided an unplanned shutdown and probable emissions release.
Innovations that lead to energy savings often result in improved emissions reductions, too. Process simulation tools are critical to achieving emissions reductions. Outside of curbing energy waste, organizations can design plant processes that are specifically structured to reduce emissions and track progress while optimizing. In fact, industrial operations can reduce CO2 emissions by nearly a third by implementing process and energy simulations, according to the International Energy Agency.
Issue No. 3: Off-Spec Production
Reducing production waste is another important target for companies. However, much of material waste comes from poor quality end-product. When a product is flawed, often it cannot be sold and is categorized as waste material. The challenge with off-spec product is that there are so many different variables (many uncontrolled) that occur within any production process, that waste material is an inevitable output for many plants.
Multivariate analyses technologies can change this reality. They can identify irregularities in production, in real-time, that might impact the end-product. Instead of trial and error, plant operators now have so much more control over processes as they happen. Advanced technologies give operators the ability correct irregularities before they impact (or ruin) the end-product. Ultimately, more quality end-product leads to less waste.
Mitsubishi Chemicals used multivariate analyses of a batch process to eliminate off-specification production, which had been running at as much as 15% of production.
Historically, it has been challenging to effectively address issues of energy, emissions and material waste in the industrial world. However, modern technologies and innovations are finally gaining traction in the fight to curb waste issues. In the coming decade, we will see industrial sustainability grow increasingly reliant on tech and innovation – we are just at the very beginning of it now. And success in these areas will define future competitiveness for companies in all regions.
Perhaps the best part about covering technology is the opportunity to learn about innovations as they occur. Some (most actually) never get the opportunity to shine whether its lack of an immediate business case, inadequate funding or the inability to attract and more importantly capitalize on the hype.
Blockchain is one technology that has seen some hype (most notably around cryptocurrency) and has displayed staying power as manufacturers in strategic production industries have recognized meaningful benefits in what it offers. Should be interesting to see the role in plays in today’s new environment.
I recently had the opportunity to connect with VAI CIO Kevin Beasley to discuss the key role blockchain technology can play in helping firm up the pharmaceutical supply chains, especially as we work our way out of the pandemic.
IW: What do companies need to know about implementing blockchain?
Beasley: Blockchain and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integration will make a difference in the pharma supply chain. Due to regulations and rising consumer requirements, ERP software will need to be integrated to blockchains to access supply chain data and create an electronic system of records for any company. In the pharmaceutical industry, track and trace is essential to all parts of the supply chain to comply with the 2013 Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) law, which issues guidelines to identify and trace particular prescription drugs as they are distributed in the United States.
Blockchain has emerged as a potential solution to improve the industry’s tracking capabilities, as it can create an electronic record of expiration dates and more, which is vital in helping to protect consumers from exposure to stolen, contaminated or counterfeit drugs. Cloud-based ERP solution providers should have applications for customers that have track and trace, supply and demand planning, and route management, that can integrate blockchain with an ERP system and help with pharmaceutical compliance, or any other type of blockchain that arises in the future.
IW: What are the challenges in using blockchain for this crisis?
Beasley: While blockchain is ideally suited to track something like COVID-19, companies must have a system in place that can store the various data points. During times such as this, the challenge would be whether the data is captured and able to be implemented into a blockchain. For example, is the data being captured so that products, shortage, and demand can be tracked? Companies should look to use technology such as cloud and mobile computing, that enable work from home (WFH) capabilities, and blockchain-ready enterprise applications.
As blockchain technology pushes more to the forefront, COVID-19 has shown some vulnerabilities in our supply chains. Blockchain can provide the opportunity to boost efficiencies and traceability, while also strengthening trust across a range of stakeholders. With supply chains currently struggling to adapt, we need to take steps to ensure our global supply chains are more resilient in the face of unexpected events such as a pandemic, and buyers and sellers need to rethink their approach in anticipation of future events. Blockchain networks could be the answer.
IW: How can manufacturers apply this experience to their operations going forward?
Beasley: Manufacturers will want to be able to get the history and traceability of individual components from its suppliers. For certain products such as food and pharmaceutical, recording supply chain information like temperature, humidity, expiration dates and ingredient or component origins is crucial.
When they record information about a product, combined with any supplier information available, this gives manufacturers a full history to that product, enabling them to have full insight into where a product came from, and they can see what components were added where, and when. This then gets passed upstream to distributors and retailers who should also record touches and any other information regarding that product. Consumers subsequently get a full view of the components in that particular product. In this manner, full transparency is passed along across the entire supply chain, from manufacturers, to distributors and retailers, and ultimately to consumers.