Setting your sustainability goals

01 April 2024

David Barrett-Hague highlights two different areas where technology adoption can be employed to help increase the sustainability of an industrial process.

One of the most important considerations when looking for sustainability solutions is to identify the metrics that matter. It is vital to first set your key performance indicators (KPIs) only then can technology help you achieve your goals.

There is an ever-growing number of technologies geared towards achieving sustainability for a variety of industrial processes, and it can seem like control engineers are being pulled in different directions with conflicting pressures – constantly battling between performance metrics and overall sustainability. 

Moreover, industry is now being placed under more environmental scrutiny than ever before, with the drive to NetZero putting yet more pressure onto operators to continuously and proactively suggest sustainability-improving technology. While improving profitability and sustainability can seem conflicting, in digitalisation there is a synergy that can meet both needs while improving the everyday life of the operator. 

For most control engineers the first step in increasing the sustainability of an industrial process is to set the right metrics that align with a company’s corporate objectives. Then, crucially, it is about measurement – you can't change what you can't see. It's relatively inexpensive to add Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) enabled sensors even to legacy technology. That way you can start to understand how much energy is being used, where and how, and will then be able to quickly find energy and cost saving opportunities. Importantly, the rapid return on investment (ROI) from such an approach can be used to fund more extensive modernisation of equipment to more inherently connected and efficient assets.

Take a look at robotics
Another area to consider is the use of industrial robotics. Traditionally robotics was perceived as a high-cost technology only suited to use by large global enterprises, requiring vast amounts of energy and certainly not helping reach sustainability goals. However, as the cost of robotics has come down the technology has become a viable option for a wide range of industrial processes for businesses of any size. Most importantly, modern robots and cobots are more energy-efficient than their predecessors. In some processes they will even consume less power when compared to previous methods. 

Automating and streamlining complex processes also removes repetitive and labour-intensive tasks from the control engineer, delivering two distinct benefits. First, a highly accurate robot or cobot will make the most of both energy and raw material resources, helping to improve sustainability by reducing waste. Second, the busy control engineer can now use their valuable time and on-the-job knowledge to constantly seek new opportunities for sustainability improving activities, rather than manually recording, and reacting to maintenance issues. This all equates to an industrial process operating as sustainably as possible while fully leveraging the invaluable expertise of control engineers, making robotics a crucial technology for improving sustainability.  

David Barrett-Hague is Industrial Automation Marketing Manager at Schneider Electric.

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