Digital technologies can support industries in achieving their sustainability and net-zero emissions goals.
Efficiency is the greatest driver of sustainability, but also of profitability, says industrial software multinational Aveva global head of digital acceleration Michele Cacciari.
"Digital technologies can become an important enabler of a sustainability journey by first unlocking the efficiency of existing facilities and then, over the short- to medium-term, processes can be modified and changed to enable new feedstocks to be used. Eventually, old equipment that consumes less energy can be replaced and, over the longer term, technologies can help a company move to using new energy sources, such as hydrogen," he adds.
Using artificial intelligence and virtual reality, an industrial company can ensure engineering efficiency, operational agility, asset reliability and remote collaboration, which will help to improve efficiencies of existing plants and help to reduce its carbon footprint, he points out.
"A sustainable business is a profitable business; they should not be considered separately. The global drive to sustainability is creating new business opportunities to meet sustainability requirements, with expected investments to total $4-trillion to $10-trillion over the next few years," comments Cacciari.
Environmental sustainability regulations are also adding to the challenges in the industrial world. The top five challenges facing industrial companies include improving the sustainability of existing plants and ensuring that all supply chains and projects are changed to reduce their carbon footprints, he says.
The other big challenges include meeting circular economy demands and demands from new-generation customers, investing in new materials, processes and facilities and automating operations to ensure personnel avoid working in hazardous places.
Further, industrial facilities can use digital solutions with their existing equipment, enabling industries to optimise their operations according to both profitability and sustainability goals, using digital technologies to provide real-time insight into the operations, he adds.
"Companies, therefore, can operate their plants using profitability and sustainability as their lenses, and optimise their equipment and operations based on these two metrics. This is part of the overall concept of a sustainability journey, which requires short-term gains to be made, mainly related to improving the efficiency of the plant, which can be done by leveraging digital technologies," he says.
Aveva, which is known for its focus on engineering data, acquired industrial software company OSISoft, which is known for its operational data solutions, in 2020.
"Operational data and engineering data together are the two legs that industrial companies must use to run their digital transformation projects. This industrial information can have a sustainability impact and support them to meet their sustainability goals, mainly through the use of simulations and digital twins, learning and training and product optimisation, all of which are relevant for traditional industrial companies," Cacciari says.
Real-time industrial information enables companies to monitor key performance indicators for new requirements, such as knowing how much carbon, for example, each process uses and how carbon flows throughout the company and, thereby, help a company to manage the way it uses resources.
Further, sustainability challenges can be solved by adopting a strategy from a carbon and sustainability perspective, but this requires a clear understanding of a plant's baseline performance and how it can be aligned to market pressures, he says.
"Sustainability can be improved with existing technologies. Further, 80% of global emissions are related to energy and, if companies can optimise their processes and supply chains, they can make a significant impact on reducing energy-related emissions.
"Optimising energy consumption also makes processes and supply chains more profitable, freeing up cash that can be used to support companies in the next step of their sustainability journey and energy transition," Cacciari says.
*Cacciari was speaking at the twenty-eighth annual X-Change User Conference, held in the Drakensburg, from May 8 to 10. Schalk Burger attended the conference as a guest of Industry Software Solutions & Support.