Disclaimer: This article is published in partnership with Siemens. Siemens is paying for my engagement, not for promotional purpose. Opinions are my own.
So, what is the future for humanity, and where does technology with a purpose fit? Can we envision a new era of sustainability powered by IoT?
A discussion between Peter Körte & Martin Powell
In an exchange recently between Dr Peter Körte, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Strategy Officer of Siemens AG, with Martin Powell, Head of Sustainability & Environment Initiatives at Siemens Financial Services, tackled these questions in a discussion facilitated by Oisin Lunny as the host.
This exchange took place during the Hannover Messe week (12- 16th April 2021), as part of Siemens events in a specially constructed virtual environment. I would recommend to find time to visit this three-day event as it will be available for some weeks. It really is worth it, sign up here, sie.ag/3tnhVD4 to gain access .
So, can IoT and Sustainability fit together to give us real economic growth?
How important in our personal lives, where we live and work, can sustainability play an increasingly important part?
The session took much of the current and latest technology offered by Siemens. It gave it a glimpse into the growing impact sustainability will have both on the shop floor, in the board rooms and all around us, in our cities, as well as our living and working environments.
The main point was recognizing resources are finite, and it is the application of digital technology and application like smart grids, through digital twins will help us all do more with fewer resources.
The move towards greener cities and factories will have a real impact. The ability to model and provide new ways to make viable business cases with confidence comes from collecting and understanding the data through applying different technology evaluations.
Firstly, there was a focus on quality improvements.
Technology offers the ability to optimize a motor or reduce waste on production floors, such as Automotive body parts having high failure rates from welding or rework costs for car paint shops. Saving can significantly improve productivity by levels of possibly up to 20% in saving by using an array of sensors, cameras, X-rays, digital modelling, data analytics and critical measuring analytics. This reduced scrap rates, giving improved ROI’s and saving finite materials, helping the environment. Focusing on the quality may not seem to be saving the world, but it is making it a better, more effective sustaining place.
Building sustainability into our Cities
Equally, there is a need for change in our cities and how cities have been relatively wasteful as systems have run independently. Today, we can now model these systems as Ecosystems that have as their aim real benefit to the citizen.
Examples are how our building interact with the grid, as we have the opportunity to turn the building into mini power stations, generating and contributing back excess power or having this shared within the community. Energy flows can be modelled in a digital environment to validate and build the business case for change showing the value and creating a new energy market.
Also, the movement of people in and around a city needs a multi-model ecosystem thinking we can achieve cleaner, greener solutions, improve the commuters experience and reduce congestion and bring about potential behavioral change,
Building a momentum of Incremental innovation improvements
The argument is if you can project sustainability forward through the combination of the use of technology collecting data operating in multiple Ecosystems, you can generate thousands of incremental (and distinctive) innovation improvements. A key is getting a common data platform and then set about synchronizing it or connecting it up. Hence, the opportunity opens up to predict different futures to reduce waste, congestion, improve air quality or improve productivity.
Martin gave an insightful statement that I wanted to quote here:
“The role of IoT in achieving sustainable outcomes is seeing that IoT brings real proximity of different infrastructure into a single analytical space, so you can investigate and prove an outcome. This allows you then to demonstrate a viable business case for doing something that offers more confidence so that more projects are realized. We can model these systems as ecosystems that deliver real benefit to the citizen.”
Both speakers’ had the opinion that technology and sustainability overlap.
It is the growing IoT role to focus on achieving these sustainable outcomes. For example, Siemens Financial Services are now creating new financing models that can be increasingly “proved out” in both the factory and in our cities through relating to performance data and environmental impact. This financing support incentivizes renewable energy, enabling clients or institutions to increasingly address the “pace and scale” of some tough challenges in more shared risk management ways that can realize on a case by case, individual by an individual basis.
Then the discussion turned more specifically to the Digital Twin.
Siemens are a pioneering leader in the Digital Twin, with a very comprehensive digital twin, Xcelerator, for merging the physical and virtual environments. For example, through the Xecutable offering they are deploying the applications for visual sensors, alongside physical sensors to model and simulate the more problematic elements that are hard to capture by physical sensors alone, helping find digitally enables solutions to help overcome the difficulty simply measuring them just in the physical environment.
Peter used the example of the motor and the need to understand its centrifugal forces. Through taking digital approaches and applying network training and simulation on the parameters, virtual sensors are applied to look at cell levels to explore and reduce or determine variability. So, we can today augment physical sensors to understand our environment better.
Now take this Xecutable Digital Twin and virtually take this to a manufacturing plant level by repeatedly optimizing until you are satisfied you have achieved the right mix. In Peter’s example, the saving by approaching planning virtually in this way you can save up to 20% in productivity savings, smaller designed plants, using less energy and materials as they have been optimized and matched. That is doing more with less, a more sustainable environment.
Peter’s summed this up with, “I firmly believe the concept of a digital twin is going to revolutionize the way we think and operate a factory in the future“.
Perhaps Terabytes at a time
Cities can also achieve much by deploying technologies, not so much in one big bite but individual bites. As Martin remarked, “The beauty of a digital twin is you can model within the constraints you are looking at” (a transport network or energy network, for instance) and capture the inputs and outputs as it gives a city a chance to change infrastructure and reduce the pressures. His view is that short-term levers and good long-term planning can combine using technology modelling to manage and assess future options using data insights.
The discussion covered several other points that all lead to technology’s value and how it can generate a more sustainable future through so many greener solutions and ESG aspects.
The increasing power of the Ecosystem
My other point I wanted to pick up on a promising discussion and exchange around Ecosystems and their value. We are in a world we can no longer do it alone; we are becoming highly dependent on others. To make ecosystems work, you need to tightly integrate and weave those valuable to you in your ecosystem environment.
For example, we are all on a new journey towards a world of decarbonization, of achieving more efficiency in supply chains, maximizing resources, not wasting them. As we learn to work in more collaborative environments, we need common standards and guidelines and that most people can see the world as something that needs to be sustainably supported.
The ecosystem thinking gives a new operating frame to apply technology and model our world, factory or building in both physical and virtual ways to manage in new and more efficient ways.
In summary, this session was indeed a stimulating one, enabling the listener to open up their thinking and appreciate there is a valuable pathway to building a more sustainable future by putting technology to good purpose.
My conclusion from listening to this exchange; we do need to find the stronger correlations between technology and sustainability to build these out with a committed common purpose.