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Transforming sustainability

Published by , Senior Editor
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Sustainability is becoming one of the hottest topics across processing industries, as companies concentrate on lowering emissions, waste and energy consumption. A focus on sustainability has a broad impact across businesses and demands a strategic approach to ensure that goals are met and implications are fully understood.

Digital technologies are key enablers to meeting sustainability goals and have been used for decades to lower energy consumption or reduce waste generation and emissions. But the impact and value delivered goes beyond efficiency, to address key business needs for agility and talent that further enable sustainable business.

Reaping rewards

Digital tools have long helped with sustainability goals, as digitalisation efforts have often targeted efficiency improvements. It is nothing ‘new’ that digital tools have this value-add for organisations. However, while energy consumption reduction has historically been measured in monetary terms, the industry is moving towards more specific metrics around processes and amount of energy saved.

Processes that lead to reduced energy consumption can lead to more business profit. Knowledge automation, for example, that promotes better onboarding, or more technical guidance, will not only attract and retain talent but also help curb unintended manual mistakes on the factory floor. Additionally, many digital solutions enable better operational flexibility, so assets can more effectively respond to market changes.

Today, company boards actively seek out measurements that are not necessarily dollar-related. CO2 emissions related to energy of the process is the most obvious, and digital technologies make tracking and improving performance against this metric easier and more visible.

Other efficiency metrics are also important including on-spec production or quality of production. If a poor-quality batch is produced, that batch is immediately considered waste because it is not a valued product. Any technology capable of improving the quality of the batches could ultimately improve what companies sell to consumers, in turn creating less waste and greater efficiency.

Further driving operational effectiveness, scheduling tools help businesses increase the efficiency of the production planning process in order to eliminate waste down the line. Scheduling tools can help companies decide when to make which product based on customer demand and in which order to make them — resulting in less energy usage and less waste in production. These are also great tools to aid in recycling processes, finding more efficient ways to use post-consumer plastic.

Advanced technology can also drill down into specific emissions that are tracked, correlating certain emissions with several steps in a reaction. For example, digital simulations will help organisations notate data about each procedure and make choices on alternative processes. For existing production, digital solutions enable careful tracking of emissions and discharges. This is not something that can be done on a manual level, as so many processes are too complex to track and adjust. Advanced digital tools, meanwhile, help workers see the value in adjustments and guide them in how to make them.

In the volatile industrial market, making business profitability sustainable is crucial. Another key technology advancement that helps keep businesses more financially sustainable is reliability software that predicts equipment break-down, sometimes weeks in advance of an unplanned or unforeseen event. Without predictive maintenance tools that help companies avoid breakdown events, there would be major profit losses in productivity downtime, and extra costs associated with immediate maintenance activities. Moreover, some outages can lead to unplanned emissions.

Predictive maintenance is not just a digital transformation tool, helping plants with operational efficiencies. It has a direct impact on a business’s bottom line, helping reduce unplanned downtime as well as keeping machines running to their performance limits. Reliability software in the maintenance process is truly a value creator in that sense. It knows the limits of machines, so it helps organisations get the most out of them from a production standpoint, knowing they are not going to cause damage or break down.


Continuing the predictive maintenance theme, ensuring advanced warning of equipment or asset malfunction or breakdown also helps reduce unsafe plant events that can endanger workers’ lives.

Ensuring the safety of factory workers, as well as the surrounding community is paramount – and technology that leads to more plant process reliability is key in making this happen. This also overlaps a little with the topic of talent sustainability. Making factory jobs safer and better protecting workers through increased plant reliability, makes industrial careers more attractive.

Technology also helps improve workflows, so workers can more fully contribute to business operations, and often gain insight on the overall business. And employees can become effective more quickly through operator training simulation, allowing new recruits to get a feel for their responsibilities, plant operations, and the different and challenging circumstances that may arise in those operations, in a simulated setting.

It allows them to make mistakes and learn in a closed environment that does not have real-world impact. Using technology to better train talent is a huge value-add for a company, but it also helps make the work and onboarding processes easier and more attractive to new talent.

Additionally, software that helps guide talent to be more efficient in their work completely changes the nature of these industrial roles, bringing them into the modern age and removing a layer of complexity that has historically always existed in the factory.

Digital transformation provides the solutions to address all these challenges, enabling better control of the aspects of business that can be managed, as well as the flexibility to respond to market changes.”

Written by Paige Marie Morse, Industry Director, AspenTech.

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