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How to make industries more sustainable

In our global economy, one of the biggest challenges for industry is to rapidly, yet sustainably adapt to changing market demands. The pandemics and climate crisis has made this more apparent than ever. 4IR technologies can help industries to become more sustainable and bring benefits to other industries

The 4th Industrial Revolution means a more sustainable future

Sustainability consists of three pillars:

  • economy (profit),
  • society (people), and
  • the environment (planet).

The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) promises a digital transformation that will not only allow industries to deliver products and services more quickly, but also more sustainably than is currently possible.

4IR technologies make it possible to link large numbers of devices and sensors and different types of infrastructure 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).
  • 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.

Increasing interest towards green values, the growth of the service industry and changing legislation are making industries focus on sustainability aspects.

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 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 renewable energy and materials?” 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 innovations 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.

How mining and metal industries can become greener

There are opportunities to apply 4IR technologies in the mining and metals industry. Dr. Horn noted 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.

Real-time digital tools, such as simulation and digital twinning, together with 5G….. generate potentially large environmental gains.

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.

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.

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.

Sustainable factory of the future

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

At the Oulu facility in Finland, Nokia’s industrial-grade Private network 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 success in adopting and implementing 4IR technologies at scale. It’s also delivered sustainability benefits. These include:

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 for a greener planet

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. 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.