Building a Sustainable Future by Digitalising Operations
Published on : Saturday 06-05-2023
An interview with Anil Bhatia, Vice President & Managing Director – India, Emerson.
Most companies today are at various stages of their digital transformation journey. Is this the right time to factor in sustainability in this equation?
At its core, digital transformation for an industrial process involves using technology solutions to improve productivity, enhance operational performance, and augment customer experience. By deploying the digital solutions, you achieve better energy optimisation and management, increased operational efficiency, and asset reliability, leading to reduced downtime and preventing loss of production. So, in fact, digital solutions are already factored into today’s imperative to reduce carbon footprint, reduce waste, and optimise energy management to enhance sustainability. Emerson’s expertise in digital transformation and sustainability-enhancing products and software solutions provides the right actionable insights for optimised energy management driven by net-zero goals.
As the industry continues to invest in digital transformation initiatives, it is critical that companies deliver a timely return on investment and achieve the expected sustainability goals. Having a partner like Emerson – one that can guide them on their digital transformation journey, bring the right technologies and services, and implement solutions – can mean the difference between success and failure.It's indeed the right time to build a long-term digital transformation adoption vision and roadmap that is sustainable.
What are the opportunities digitalisation offers to incorporate sustainability measures in a typical industry?
Digitalisation offers ample opportunities to incorporate sustainability measures in virtually any typical industry operations. For example, the energy sector has been an early adopter of digital technologies. Power utilities are using emerging technologies to facilitate grid management and operations. Oil and gas companies have long used digital technologies to improve decision making for exploration and production assets, including reservoirs and pipelines. The industrial sector has used process controls and automation for decades, particularly in manufacturing and heavy industry, to maximise production while minimising energy use.
The first major area of the energy system that must be addressed is the supply of lower carbon forms of primary energy. Emerson’s portfolio of advanced digital technologies enables more effective low-carbon energy solutions. Today, Hydrogen is termed as the fuel of the future and has the potential to drive sustainability and carbon reduction objectives. As a leading expert in hydrogen production and fuel cells, Emerson is helping OEMs with hydrogen fuel production solutions, such as building electrolyzers and fueling equipment to drive energy transformation and decarbonisation.
Emerson is involved in both the generation and distribution of electricity. Low-carbon, renewable-dominated electricity systems will require the use of batteries in large scale storage.
Improving energy efficiency and emissions control remains a critical sustainability strategy that Emerson has helped our customers achieve for decades. While companies invest in new, cleaner energy alternatives, they must also look for complementary ways to reduce emissions in the short, medium and long terms. Digital solutions for managing emissions are being utilised to detect and measure emissions, prevent emissions leaks, and operate with more efficient processes. Predictive emissions monitoring and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technology are also emerging as important capabilities for meeting net-zero goals.
The IoT Breakthrough Awards named Emerson the ‘Industrial IoT Company of the Year’ for the fifth time in January 2023. This award recognises Emerson’s leading global industrial IoT expertise provided through our Plantweb digital ecosystem with AspenTech asset optimisation software.
What will be the right approach for those in early stages of digitalisation to build sustainable solutions right from the beginning?
Leveraging decades of innovation and expertise in digitalisation, Emerson can support the right approach for industries to build sustainable solutions right from the inception stage. We’ve been working with customers on digital transformation since before it had a name, and we’ve seen repeatedly how a practical approach that generates short-term wins with measurable gains can be replicated for enterprise-wide impact. I believe this is the key to success in this evolving sustainability and energy transition landscape. Here are four steps for the right approach.
1. Start with the goal in mind, for any sustainability project of any size. While many digital transformation initiatives start with technology, successful programs start with a clear end goal – know what exactly you want to accomplish.
2. Put your data to work. With the right tools, a company’s vast array of operational information becomes powerful, informing more effective business decisions. Emerson’s and AspenTech’s operational analytics portfolios enable companies to backhaul this data intelligently, and optimise their operations in the areas of safety, reliability, production, energy, and emissions. Solutions range from easy-to-deploy analytics that immediately provide insights into asset health, to comprehensive software platforms that combine collaboration tools with artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve even the most advanced operational challenges. Digital twins for manufacturing plants, pipelines and oil fields enable companies to simulate operations to optimise production, drive energy efficiency, and facilitate decarbonisation.
3. Empower your workforce. Today’s manufacturing roles require knowledge of technology, engineering, and data science to guide organisations to success. Our digital technologies and services are equipping teams with the insights they need to make better, more informed decisions. Our applications are designed to facilitate work process changes and engage the workforce – a critical element in digital transformation.
4. Multiply your successes. Too often, companies undertake digital projects to solve a specific problem, without thinking about how to scale these solutions across their facility or enterprise. The big gains that are possible with digital transformation are typically the sum of dozens of initial wins that are effectively scaled and replicated. For example, a $50,000 annual benefit on an individual piece of equipment can be replicated to 1,000 assets across the enterprise to realise a $50 million annual benefit. This approach builds return on investment, maintains momentum and keeps digital transformation investments on track.
When it comes to digitalisation, the MSMEs are at a distinct disadvantage in the absence of the right skills and inadequate budgets. How can they benefit in such a scenario?
At the outset, for any size of the organisation, digitalisation projects are generally top-driven and unless the management sees a long-term business benefit, it will never be capitalised. With reference to my responses above, I think the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises can start small, see the return on investments, reap the benefits and replicate the success for larger project sizes. There are inexpensive tools to measure Digital Maturity with Emerson and you can arrive at a baseline, where you are currently at and decide where you want to be in the near and distant future. My recommendation to them would be to choose projects that have the maximum business impact and also ensure the return on investment is achieved within a year’s time. It is actually a snowball effect to reap benefits as the MSME embarks on the digitalisation journey.
The finite nature of natural resources is leading to a greater appreciation for a circular economy. How difficult is it in practice?
If you need motivation to skip the plastic cup at your meal today, consider this: Scientists found that even Arctic sea ice is no longer plastic-free. Humanity has a waste problem. Globally, we generate about 1.3 billion tonnes of trash per year, far more than we can properly process or recycle. Because we waste so much, we must extract unsustainable quantities of natural resources to keep pace with growing consumption. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has calculated that flow of materials through acquisition, transportation, processing, manufacturing, use and disposal are already responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. The UN International Resources Panel projects the use of natural resources to more than double by 2050. Most of our global economy is designed for linear economy – take, make, waste – rather than circular economy. To create a truly circular economy, the world must overcome the following four barriers, drawn from a report published by Deloitte and Utrecht University.
The barriers listed here – cultural, regulatory, technological and market issues – prevent companies, governments, and consumers from solving our trash problem and making better use of natural resources. Each of these barriers must be overcome, but we cannot rely exclusively on companies, governments, or consumers to do it all. We need innovative public-private partnerships, which offer unique financial, intellectual, and operational assets that can be strategically deployed to solve big problems that couldn't be solved alone. We also need to ensure that the most vulnerable people in society have a strong voice in designing solutions so that their concerns about jobs and health are assured. This is an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ moment in history. As a small step towards this journey, all of Emerson’s businesses in India stopped using plastic bottles and distributed steel bottles to all our employees. We have also stopped all unnecessary paper printing and made our processes paper free.
With so many digitalisation programs in place, how are you helping industry in decision making and prioritising?
Our enhanced software platforms unify data, people, and systems. They drive improvement in operational areas and workplace efficiency through automated workflows, process optimisation tools, and advanced analytics that provide critical operator insights. This new approach brings about a cultural change and the way our customers conduct business. These are now called decision support systems. From identifying the bad actors, eliminating them to de-bottleneck processes moving to predict emissions – not just production planning – decision support is at the heart of our technology. Emerson uses a Digital Maturity Model Quick Index, an online interactive diagnostic tool to help companies benchmark their competitiveness against industry peers. The intent of this tool is to show how to evaluate an organisation to determine what operational areas are likely to yield the largest return on investment and discover what digital transformation projects will tie to your business key performance indicators. The tool scores operational maturity across key domains including reliability, energy and environmental sustainability, production, safety, security, systems and data, and organisational effectiveness. The tool helps companies assess these key business areas in developing a roadmap to achieve the goals of their digital transformation initiatives. Commercially too, we take the burden off capital expenditures by offering subscription-based software licenses. This operational expenditure model is in the spirit of true partnership, that we make money only when our customer makes money. Thus, decision-making from an investment perspective is also made easy.
Our leadership in this space has been recognised. We are grateful to be named 2023 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year for Energy Management. Emerson was also named by Fortune Magazine as one of “America’s Most Innovative Companies” for 2023.
Anil Bhatia is the Vice President and Managing Director for Emerson, based at the headquarters in Mumbai. In his current role, Anil drives growth for multiple business groups, focusing on providing process automation solutions across industries, with major focus on digital transformation. He is championing the campaign on diversity and inclusion for the organisation in India.
Emerson has been recognised in a substantial way for our efforts in innovation and energy efficiency and has been named an ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year for our energy management leadership. Emerson has been named one the Most Innovative Companies by Fortune Magazine. Emerson is ranked #33 on the list of 300 companies.