The Fab Four of Sustainability & Efficiency Enhancement Through Software in Process Automation

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Sustainability has clearly become an integral part of every business agenda. And there was no shortage of challenges for companies in this field over the last twelve months. Worldwide, an increasing number of weather-related and geopolitical events adversely affected people, businesses, and our economy. It is now widely accepted that we need to change the way we do business.

42 percent of C-level executives worldwide list global warming as one of their top three priorities. See the results of Deloitte’s CxO Sustainability Survey 2023. A total of 76 percent of organizations increased their sustainability investments in 2022, and 61 percent expect climate change to have a high/very high impact on their organization’s strategy and operations over the next three years.

More recently, companies have been faced with rising energy and raw material costs. According to INVERTO’s latest Raw Material Study, 90% of all interviewed raw material experts and procurement decision-makers say that rising prices are the factor with the greatest impact on business results.

At the same time, the era of cheap money is over, at least momentarily, requiring a laser-focused approach to investments. The good news is that the deployment of automation and operations management software for the digitalization of plant processes has proven to provide a fast return on investment.

process automation

Software in process automation and digitalization supports sustainability goals

Software helps increase automation, but software for the horizontal integration of automation silos and the vertical integration of IT and OT results in digitalization and significant efficiency gains. Based on field experience from working in full collaboration with customers, we have formulated four responses to this challenge of digitalization and sustainability. This is not “marketing BS” and is grounded in concrete real-life situations of customers.

1. Back to basics: Production efficiency equals environment efficiency

Cutting-edge automation solutions when combined, such as those developed by ProLeiT and AVEVA, enable more precise control of processes due to their advanced properties. The amount of material and energy needed to manufacture products can be reduced significantly as a result. As automation continues to advance, quality also improves, leading to less material and energy-intensive production conditions.

These two features benefit both the environment and a company’s economic performance, as less waste means fewer unnecessary costs.

Henkel, a German chemicals company, was able to increase the energy efficiency of its spray drying capabilities by 3 to 5 percent thanks to a fully integrated layer 2 process control and batch management solution from ProLeiT with Advanced Process Control solution from AVEVA.

2. Better insights: energy data with process data integration

Energy-efficient production is more than just cutting energy consumption, CO₂ emissions, and costs. It also involves bringing energy and production data together. By linking energy consumption and plant status, it is possible to see just how much energy is being consumed while the plant is idle or in another state and whether this energy can be saved. These potential savings are also demonstrated in auxiliary units, such as HVAC systems.

For years, the beverage manufacturer Eckes Granini Deutschland GmbH has been able to track in detail how much energy (electricity, water, compressed air, steam, etc.) is required for the production of a single bottle using ProLeiT’s energy data acquisition solution.

Another customer in the field of metals & manufacturing has also deployed equivalent solutions to track energy consumption per unit produced. Increasingly, manufacturers in various industries are looking to use these insights not only for compliance and ESG reporting but also to unlock new potential for even greater energy efficiency.

3. Greener planning & scheduling

Optimized production planning also helps boost sustainability. Unfavorable production sequences often demand additional changeover, cleaning, and adjustment processes, resulting in increased energy consumption and a rise in air pollutant emissions from cleaning agents and residual material.

However, with the aid of appropriate digital scheduling systems that make efficient use of available capacities and resources, a precise supply of materials and optimum plant utilization can be achieved with ease along the entire value chain.

Older plants often demonstrate considerable potential for optimization. Prime examples are unregulated cooling systems, inadequate oven insulation, and insufficient recovery of process heat. Coupling energy-intensive systems with renewable energy sources, such as solar panels on a workshop roof, also promotes sustainability.

When it comes to sustainability, Weilburger Graphics, a renowned manufacturer of coatings, adhesives, and inks for the graphics industry, places its trust in ProLeiT’s detailed scheduling processes. Production and planned orders are thus visualized based on ERP system data. This also considers the required, existing, and limited capacities, as well as the effects on further orders.

Another client in the brewing industry uses energy management and consumption data to better plan production and shutdown times depending on the respective energy price. This is also a simple way to achieve savings and better energy consumption. However, it requires an accurate understanding of how energy consumption varies through the process, which is where ProLeiT’s solution and expertise come in.

4. Bringing it all together through horizontal and vertical integration

Gas and electricity prices have increased substantially in recent months. Just one of the reasons why energy management is now more important than ever for process companies. Further, strict environmental regulations are making energy-efficient solutions indispensable.

The use of plant-wide process control and orchestration, combined with integrated MES and third-party interfaces to ERP, QMS, and LIMS systems, makes it possible to bridge automation silos, enable paperless production, ensure full traceability throughout the plant, and dynamically adjust production.

Furthermore, it helps operators make the right decisions through proper decision support systems and information, thus increasing safety and reducing stress. This is another part of sustainability and ESG.

A Seeds producer doubled the capacity of the plant while keeping the equipment, staff, and facility constant, generating substantial energy savings vs. the alternative of footprint extension.

Holistic sustainability strategy

Thanks to more than 35 years of experience in process automation, we are not satisfied with just identifying and eliminating peak loads. We go one step further and offer our customers a holistic consulting approach for a sustainable and efficient process concept.

We always have our finger on the pulse and, thanks to our close contact with partners and customers, are also involved in pioneering research projects. This includes, for example, the EU-funded H2020 HYDRACTFLEX project, which is a real game-changer for the sustainable production of beer due to its water-controlled hydraulic valve technology.

Make sure not to miss part 2 of this series and discover when automation really is sustainable and how it augments individual measures in energy management. It is about a holistic approach anchored in deep process knowledge.

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