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Conscious industries of the future

By Sari Kivinen, Marketing Strategist, Nokia


In our global economy, one of the biggest challenges for industry is to rapidly, yet sustainably adapt to changing market demands. COVID-19 has made this more apparent than ever. The worldwide pandemic not only threatens the status quo for business operations, but also poses a significant challenge to business continuity and sustainability for the future. With society increasingly relying on high speed networks, we’re seeing how technologies like 5G can not only help people at home, but also create possibilities to improve efficiencies across industries.

The 4th Industrial Revolution: a more sustainable future

Sustainability consists of three pillars: economy (profit), society (people), and the environment (planet). The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the much-vaunted ‘internet of things’ (IoT) promises a digital transformation that will not only allow industries to deliver products more quickly, but also much more sustainably than is currently possible.

4IR technologies make it possible to link up a large number of devices and different types of infrastructure, such as connecting hundreds or even thousands of sensors in a manufacturing plant, mining site, or farm to monitor conditions. This is already possible with 4G technologies but will be made much more powerful with 5G. With 5G, it will be possible to connect workers, sensors and business assets to deliver even greater levels of agility – sustainably and reliably.

Because wirelessly enabled systems can sense and respond intelligently to changes, these systems only use the power and other resources that they need, for all kinds of asset-driven industries. For example:

  • A fully connected energy industry -- extending to even the most remote assets -- will reduce waste and improve overall efficiency (profit).
  • The deep connectivity of autonomous vehicles and machinery will ensure reliability and safety in mining operations, improving the lives of workers (people).
  • Smart vehicles will take the fastest route to deliver products, reducing traffic build-up and lowering carbon emissions (planet).

Many industrial processes have already been digitized in recent years through smart devices, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), all of which can assist in automating the production process.

Dr. Susanna Horn is a Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) focusing her work on environmental impact over the lifecycle of goods and services, sustainable procurement, circular economy solutions and carbon footprints of citizens and municipalities.

Before joining SYKE as researcher, Horn worked for the mining and metals industry. In her interview with us, she explains that the business environment in 2020 and beyond is changing, with sustainability being an integral part of this change. Increasing interest towards green values, the growth of the service industry and changing legislation are making industries focus on sustainability aspects. She believes digitalization can greatly improve sustainability, especially for heavy industries or process industries that have traditionally been very resource intensive.

4IR technologies that matter: digital twinning, machine learning, and more

Though digital twin technology has been around for more than a decade, its application across the product lifecycle is relatively new, and quickly becoming a game-changer in industries like pharmaceuticals. With precise data and compelling analytics at their disposal, drug manufacturing processes will be better controlled, improving expenditures but also reducing wastage of resources.

Today, companies are using digital twin capabilities in a variety of ways. In the automotive and aircraft sectors, they are becoming essential tools for optimizing manufacturing chains and innovating new products. In the energy sector, oil field service operators are analyzing massive amounts of in-hole data to build digital models that guide drilling efforts in real time.

With the addition of sensors, big data, and real-time analytics, it’s now possible to simulate how things will look and interact across a range of scenarios to model sustainability impact. For example: “What opportunity is there to use renewables?” or “What energy or cost savings could be achieved through this particular solution?” or “How will my workforce be impacted by adopting automation?”

Beyond digital twinning, 5G wireless networks power revolutionary technologies that will change industries. Remote video, haptic operations and fully automated robotics are just a few examples of tech that promise to reduce training, upskill workforces, improve efficiencies, assist repair time and cut costs and carbon footprint.

A deeper look at the Mining and Metals industry

There are opportunities to apply 4IR technologies in the mining and metals industry as well. Dr. Horn told us that in metal production, the process requires continuous optimization and adjustment of process parameters, which in turn will impact energy, chemicals and water usage. This typically means a long delay in decision-making, since laboratory tests and data transfer aren’t very fast. Before the results are available to optimize the process, plenty of waste has occurred. “Real-time digital tools, such as simulation and digital twinning, together with 5G, can be used to further optimize controls, such as testing the process parameters, with limited risk to the actual operations to generate potentially large environmental gains,” explained Horn.

She went on to say that connectivity and real-time analytics can also enable predictive and preventative maintenance, improving process availability and uptime. Maintenance can further be improved by more efficient data usage and simulations as the causes and timing of potential failures can be predicted decreasing the risk of environmental contamination or increased electricity consumption. Dr. Horn further explained, “In the metal and mining industry, we estimated that digitalization of just one process step, such as sorting , could result in a 7 percent decrease in emissions due to the optimization of electricity, water and spare parts consumption. With digitalization of multiple processes, the environmental gains could be significant”.

Overall, the importance of reliable and real-time connectivity is significant in enabling sustainable development of heavy industries. On top of the environmental benefits, there are also social responsibility improvements. Horn agrees. Working conditions in the industry can be harsh, but automation can help to minimize health risks and improve the safety of workers - 5G brings the needed reliability and low latency to enable it. Digitalization can help to optimize the entire value chain and increase transparency, important for mitigating environmental and social risks. Horn concluded, “As digitalization of heavy industries begins, we are starting to see the first impacts. The full potential will be seen in coming years through sustainable technology innovations”.

The Nokia Oulu facility in Finland

‘Conscious’ industries of the future, powered by 5G and digitalization, will be agile and intelligent, highly automated, self-learning, and able to flexibly meet supply, all while helping to meet sustainability targets. At Nokia, within our factories, these transformations are already well underway.

At the Oulu facility in Finland, Nokia’s industrial-grade Private 4.9G/LTE solution has digitally transformed ‘new product introduction’ operations. Using 4.9G LTE with IoT analytics running on Edge Cloud, we are leveraging data analytics, flexible robotics, automated product-line processes and constant temperature-and-humidity monitoring to optimize the daily production of 4G and 5G base stations.

In 2019, this ‘factory of the future’ was selected by McKinsey and the World Economic Forum to be an Advanced 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) Lighthouse, reflecting our leadership and proven success in adopting and implementing 4IR technologies at scale. And while not the key driver of the digital transformation of our Oulu factory, we have also seen a substantial sustainable impact as a result of our actions.

Profit: Real-time digital twinning allows us to simulate operational and process changes to see effects on production. In addition to an annual cost savings of millions of euros, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in productivity and 50 percent savings in product time to market.

People: Employee motivation and wellbeing has also increased as more tasks have become automated, enabling our workers to upskill, and take on new functions which are more interesting and fulfilling. This includes being an injector of human capital, using 4IR to diversify workers’ daily routines to increase productivity, rather than displacing workforces.

Planet: Today, Nokia is tracking CO2e (emission) offset associated with the delivery of circular products as part of our supply chain activities. Working closely with the Bell Lab’s sustainability engineering team, we have determined on a product-by-product basis how much CO2e is avoided for each and every circular product shipped. The environmental effects should not be understated.

It’s worth noting that our digital transformation efforts and our use of a Private Wireless Network provided essential infrastructure for the Oulu factory when COVID-19 hit. Operating remotely in an optimized, automated environment helped us respond to changing market and global conditions in real time, protect our employees, and keep our business in operation.

Making the switch

Getting the economy to deliver for its citizens, improving the social and environmental impact of production and pushing carbon emissions toward zero are tough questions we are all trying to answer. These sustainability efforts are one of the most complicated and essential riddles for the global economy, made only more apparent by the COVID-19 crisis.

In a 2019 survey conducted by Nokia and industry research firm, ABI research, of more than 600 decision-makers, 74 percent of survey respondents said they were looking to upgrade their communications and control networks by the end of 2022, and more than 90 percent are investigating the use of 4G and 5G to power this transformation. Businesses and industries want to replace aging infrastructure and drive new flexibilities into processes and operations for increased productivity and quality.

Our commitment to delivering a cleaner and more sustainable world spans our business. We can help industries power the 4th Industrial Revolution, meet their own operational and sustainability goals and prepare them to unleash the capabilities of 5G.

About the author

Sari Kivinen


Sari is a marketing strategist responsible for 5G sustainability at Nokia. She holds a Master of Science in Telecommunication Management from Aalto University in Helsinki. She spends much of her spare time at the moment studying for her MBA on future foresight and digital innovations. When she isn’t studying, she loves to transform water and paint into aquarelle art and spend time on construction and renovation projects in the family summer cottage by the sea.