Manufacturing faces sustainability hurdles in the coming years. While climate change goals are decades in the future, in many cases, they will require major change in business processes and company culture, not to mention infrastructure funding. Technology can hold the key to scaling solutions and designing sustainability into products and services and process and infrastructure design. Many organizations have work to do, but some are leading the way in adopting sustainable practices.
Seth Harris, director of sustainability for the Americas at Emerson, outlines four fundamental technologies to support environmental sustainability and how its manufacturing customers are already stepping up to the challenge.
Sensors and measurement technologies are the foundation upon which other technologies are deployed. They provide the necessary data to measure and improve sustainable operations. “Sensors eliminate blind spots in operations,” Harris says. “Whether detecting emissions from leaks, calculating combustion inefficiencies and excess consumption of energy sources, or monitoring the conversion of raw materials to desired end products, measurement technologies generate the information on which all decisions and actions are based.”
Customer example: A chemical producer in Singapore had more than 150 steam traps throughout its facility, many of which were leaking but undiscovered until routine walkarounds were conducted. By remotely monitoring these steam traps using acoustic measurement sensors combined with remote monitoring services, the producer was able to pinpoint leaks immediately, resulting in a 7% savings in its energy bill.
Operational control systems
If sensors are the foundation, control systems are the walls, taking the data and building infrastructure for process decision-making. Control systems and technologies have evolved over the past 30 years, from automation to real-time and anticipatory control of production processes. “Institutionalizing the knowledge and skills of a plant’s best operators in the form of advanced process control and model predictive control provides high repeatability, reduced human error, and maximum yield from raw materials,” Harris says. “This eliminates waste and rework, lowers cost of energy and provides dynamic management of control strategies for maximum performance.”
Customer example: Many refiners and chemical companies use Emerson’s burner and boiler management solutions to optimize combustion processes to lower their energy consumption, better maintain desired operating temperatures, and lower their emissions.
Field control technologies
“Valves and actuators physically manipulate the manufacturing process. They are the muscle of the plant,” Harris says. Operational decisions made by data from measurement and software tools then go to control elements to adjust the manufacturing process and heed production improvements. “With an eye toward sustainability, these improvements can optimize for energy use and emissions. In fact, poorly performing valves are responsible for an estimated 60% of all industrial fugitive emissions,” Harris says. “Poorly performing valves also cause quality issues, which can result in excess consumption of raw materials or off-spec products that must be reworked, essentially doubling the production cost of goods sold.”
Customer example: Several oil and gas companies are using improved sealing technologies in Emerson valves and regulators to eliminate fugitive emissions and leaks.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the brain and nervous system of the plant, learning from plant data and production outcomes overtime. Data can also be modeled in digital twins to adjust operating strategy to match fluctuating market conditions. “These optimization opportunities can affect long-term equipment reliability, energy consumption across an enterprise, elimination of wasteful operating habits and more,” Harris says. “While manufacturers have historically used these tools ‘offline,’ away from day-to-day operations, industrial optimization software is increasingly being integrated with real-time control systems, enabling dynamic adjustments to operating strategies in response to market changes.”
Customer example: A major global personal products manufacturer has reduced its cost of compressed air on toothpaste production lines by more than 15% using Emerson sensors and software.
The Plantweb™ digital ecosystem is Emerson’s automation platform for sensing, control and optimization software, which was used in the previous case studies. “Our technologies are used both by traditional industries looking to reduce their impact as well as by emerging industries looking to accelerate the energy transition to clean fuels and electricity,” Harris says.
Carbon footprint: 5 industry examples for improvement
- Optimize combustion performance—Refiners, chemical producers, and other energy intensive facilities that use fired processes like boilers and furnaces can reduce wasted energy consumption and correspondingly lower emissions through optimized combustion.
- Compressed air management—Consumer packaged goods companies or others highly dependent on compressed air can often save 15% or more of their total energy cost through sensor and software solutions.
- Leak prevention—Most manufacturers and producers have extraordinarily high leakage of steam, gas, and other materials, in addition to compressed air. Finding and preventing these leaks can have a big impact on their footprint.
- Energy and raw material source selection—A company’s carbon footprint extends beyond its manufacturing process. Being selective about where and from whom a company sources consumables can immediately impact its measured footprint.
- Electrification and renewable resources—Converting processes which currently are powered via fossil fuel combustion will have an enormous impact, especially as the generation of electricity becomes more renewable.