How the digital revolution is reshaping industry for a sustainable future

Schneider Electric

By Carlos Urbano, Pacific Zone Vice President, Industry, Schneider Electric
Friday, 01 December, 2023

How the digital revolution is reshaping industry for a sustainable future

As Australia braces for what could be one of the hottest summers on record, the need for meaningful climate change action is clear. Creating a clean environment is paramount, with nations and corporations setting goals for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet industry remains a significant contributor to these emissions, both in Australia and globally. To move towards sustainable manufacturing, companies must change their industrial processes to lessen their environmental impact.

In recent years, the fusion of digital technology, automation, and energy management has sparked a major shift in the industrial sector towards decarbonisation and more sustainable practices.

This transformation is redefining how businesses operate and evaluate success. We’re seeing a shift from a traditional profit-focused model to one prioritising sustainability, environmental responsibility, and innovation. This change is propelled by ethical considerations and increasing pressure from various stakeholders, including investors, consumers, and governments, who are scrutinising corporate environmental practices now more than ever.

Change is therefore essential, and digital technologies play a vital role in achieving sustainable industrial manufacturing.

Embracing digital advancements for sustainability

According to Schneider Electric’s latest Sustainability Index, 78% of business leaders think that digital technologies play a pivotal role in achieving sustainability goals. A further 82% of businesses believe that the benefits of adopting sustainable technology outweigh the costs.

The shift towards sustainability requires a comprehensive review of existing processes, equipment, organisational culture, and technology. The aim is to identify and address inefficiencies and waste. Technology is crucial in this transition, involving measures ranging from replacing inefficient equipment to advanced applications like digital twins and artificial intelligence. These facilitate product redesign for circular economies.

Data-driven decision-making is another key element of industrial sustainability. Manufacturers are urged to use centralised, cloud-based optimisation and project management technologies that provide valuable data-driven insights. These insights enable informed decision-making on environmental actions. Investing in these solutions can result in reduced energy consumption and process efficiency improvements, positively impacting the bottom line.

Businesses can further embrace sustainability by ’digitally retrofitting’ their operations. Intelligent energy management systems (EMSs) offer real-time insights into energy performance, adjusting consumption based on factors such as weather conditions and occupancy. These systems ensure only necessary energy is used, resulting in less waste and lower energy costs.

Technological advancements have made traditional practices, such as relying on bills and spreadsheets, obsolete. Leading changes include the use of digital twins, monitoring, visualisation, and automation. These are proving effective in expanding companies’ understanding of sustainability and reducing emissions.

Collaborative efforts for a greener tomorrow

The path to industrial sustainability is a collective effort. Collaboration among businesses is crucial in adopting digital solutions and electrified technologies for a more sustainable future.

Sustainability goes beyond environmental responsibility, promoting innovation and agility within organisations. Achieving industrial sustainability involves optimising operational efficiency, intelligent energy consumption, and waste reduction.

But one business acting in silo can only get us so far. To achieve the drastic reduction in emissions that we need in order to meet 2050 targets, this will require all industrial players to take action.

The Industrial Sustainability Triad

Sustainability these days encompasses software, automation, and energy. Schneider Electric refers to this as the ‘industrial sustainability triad’. This emerging paradigm encapsulates the sustainability journey, with digital technology playing a central role in shaping more environmentally responsible and efficient industrial operations. Organisations that have harnessed the potential of this digital triad are seeing significant reductions in capital expenditure, downtime, and carbon footprint, as well as a boost in profitability.

Investing in sustainable manufacturing benefits both the environment and business. It involves taking a strategic approach with technology and automation, incorporating decarbonisation and innovative technologies.

Yet the change towards a sustainable economy won’t happen in one day. Manufacturers should start by introducing small technologies in some parts of their factories. Then focus on developing smart technologies, such as IT, data and communication infrastructure. In the meantime, industrial sustainability will continue to evolve through the synergy of digital technology, automation, and energy.

Wherever you’re starting from, now is the time for Australia’s industrial sector to embrace modern technology and approaches to achieve sustainability goals.

Carlos Urbano is Vice President of Industry, Pacific Zone at Schneider Electric, responsible for the continuing growth of the Industrial Automation and Process Automation businesses. Carlos has held multiple roles in Schneider Electric over the past 15 years, most recently as Industry Business Director at Schneider Electric Brazil.

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