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Digitalization Paves the Way to Sustainable Manufacturing

It pays off to take sustainability and climate-smart production seriously. According to several studies, companies that have started to invest heavily in low-carbon solutions are already outperforming their peers. For becoming more sustainable, a lot can be achieved through digitalization.

Due to significant post-COVID stimulus packages, many companies are now investing in smart manufacturing capabilities. Majority of these investments involve digitalization in some form or another. Besides, the applications criteria of EU packages require that the projects support a green transition and digitalization.

“Digitalization of production in all its forms has been in talks for a while already. What we are seeing now are new ways to reduce downtime in factories, improve efficiency and even to create new offerings. All of these are important not only in gaining competitive advantage but also from the point of view of sustainability,” says Max Falenius, Vice President of Sales & Service Solutions at Etteplan’s Software and Embedded Solutions Business Unit.

He points out that climate change is increasingly a business issue for many reasons. For instance, customers use environmental metrics as a purchasing criterium.

New skills and talent are in demand

When a company upgrades its manufacturing site or embarks on a journey to become a digital service provider, one essential thing is to keep the workforce on board. New machinery and digital tools require new skills.

However, attracting and maintaining talent is a significant headache in several companies. According to a recent Gartner survey, 57% of manufacturing leaders say that their organization lacks skilled workers to support digitization plans.

Etteplan works with many manufacturing clients, and the struggle to find and keep skilled workers does not come as a surprise to Max Falenius.

“Industrial employers need to narrow the skills gap fast and improve the employee experience. Digitalization provides ways to do this in a smart way. For instance, it is possible to deliver technical information in formats that are easy to understand and available at the right time. But often partnering is the most efficient and fastest way to acquire the necessary skill sets,” he says.

“In addition, the new generations will not be satisfied with old-fashioned user interfaces and a poor user experience. To narrow the competence gap, we must develop modern solutions that are easy to use and approvable to all.”

From data to insight

A critical obstacle for advancing digital transformation is lack of data. Or rather, there is data, but it is not utilized in a smart way.

“At worst, the digitalized production process can be highly fragmented. This can be seen visually. There are many different user interfaces and portals from each system supplier to deliver data from different parts of the production process and the supply chains. Fragmented data is rarely used, and the potential for additional value is lost. The company has loads of data but little knowledge that would lead to insight”, says Falenius.

To drive value, all company data should be in one place. Production assets and machinery must be integrated with other smart factory solutions and building blocks to reap the benefits from intelligent production sites. This is the best way to discover bottlenecks and motivate staff to use data creatively to solve different problems.

“Making production smart is not just incremental optimization. It is increased customer value in the form of new products, improved customer experience and innovations. Business value is increasingly moving from traditional hardware to intelligent solutions”, concludes Max Falenius.