Research—PLM and Digital Thread Address Key Sustainability Challenges

  • “Spotlight on the Future” Report Highlights How PLM and Digital Thread Solutions Address Key Challenges with Sustainability Data Accuracy, Availability, and Analysis 
  • Aras Research Finds That Three Out of Four Companies Feel Pressured by Regulation, Customers, Investors, and Employees to Become More Sustainable 

Most news invading my email client these days involves companies sending out some questionnaires and compiling a report. This one from PLM and Digital Thread developer Aras called “Spotlight on the Future 2024,” focuses on sustainability.

The report highlights that three out of four companies say they feel pressured by customers, investors, and even their own workforce to operate more sustainably. The research also uncovered a potential reason why in-demand sustainability initiatives are not implemented sooner: a majority of companies reported that in order to do so, they must greatly improve the collection and processing of their data.

“Progress towards greater sustainability is key to continuing economic advancement,” said Roque Martin, CEO of Aras. Whether in the U.S., Europe, or Japan, 90% of companies who took our survey say that management has already recognized that sustainability is an important contributor to future business success.”  

The so-called three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – already play a central role in the implementation of companies’ sustainability goals. 83% of the companies surveyed said that the lower consumption of raw materials and products is already a high priority. In addition, 70% of companies are already relying on the use of recycled machines, the conversion of existing systems, and the return of materials to the economic cycle. Interestingly, with 84% of companies reducing, 72% reusing, and 70% recycling, industrial companies in the United States are at the front of the pack when compared to other nations’ sustainability efforts. 

74% of respondents acknowledge that they are missing data (i.e. from suppliers); 72% of companies said they have poorly prepared data; and 67% admit that they simply lack the ability to properly manage their data. 

A throwaway economy is being replaced by a production model based on reuse. However, for the transition from linear resource processing to a circular economy to succeed, companies have to think about and plan their development and production processes differently. To fully take advantage of the green potential, companies must not only collect and analyze their data from the design and manufacturing phase, but also integrate the supply chain. 

Aras’ “Spotlight on the Future 2024” study, conducted in December 2023, surveyed 835 executives from Europe, the US, and Japan. Survey participants work in companies with a minimum turnover of 40 million euros in the automotive, aerospace & defense, mechanical engineering, medical technology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and food industries.

Siemens and BASF Collaborate on Driving Circular Economy

Many new notes have come my way touting material innovations developing non-petroleum-based plastics. These biodegradable plastics hold great promise for reducing our waste problems globally. This news comes in the manufacturing component area from Siemens.

  • Siemens circuit breaker is the first electrical safety product to use plastic components where fossil raw materials have been replaced by biomethane derived from recycled biowaste.
  • The material changeover in the SIRIUS 3RV2 circuit breaker production will reduce the emission of carbon dioxide equivalents by ~270 tons per year
  • SIRIUS 3RV2 is one of the first products covered by the recently launched Siemens EcoTech label

Siemens Smart Infrastructure and BASF have announced the first electrical safety product to include components made from biomass-balanced plastics. Used across industrial and infrastructure applications, Siemens SIRIUS 3RV2 circuit breaker is now being manufactured using Ultramid BMBcertTM and Ultradur BMBcertTM from BASF, where fossil feedstock at the beginning of the value chain is replaced by biomethane derived from renewable sources such as agricultural waste. Both materials offer the same quality and performance as conventional plastics. The material changeover in the SIRIUS 3RV2 circuit breaker production will reduce the emission of carbon dioxide equivalents by ~270 tons per year1. Customers using these products contribute to a circular economy towards a more sustainable future.

The move supports Siemens´ sustainability goals in the areas of decarbonization and resource efficiency, outlined within its DEGREE framework, with the company following a 1.5°C science-based decarbonization target, including a 90 percent reduction target for scope 1 and 2 until 2030, and the application of a Robust Eco Design for 100 percent of relevant product families by 2030.

In the coming months, Siemens plans to expand the use of sustainable materials across the broader SIRIUS industrial controls portfolio. In addition to product design and features, as well as manufacturing and supply processes, the choice of materials plays a major role in further reducing carbon emissions and conserving natural resources. The SIRIUS 3RV2 circuit breaker meets the strict criteria of the recently introduced Siemens EcoTech label, designed to give customers a comprehensive insight into product performance across selected environmental criteria. In addition to most of the product housing and functional parts being made from biomass-balanced plastic, the product also offers lower power consumption over its lifetime compared to its predecessor. 

Honeywell and Weatherford Partner to Deliver an Emissions Management Solution

Emissions management relates to many things. Ecology, cleaning the environment, climate change. In an industrial context, I think it is the essence of Lean—reduction of waste. That is a business value as well as other values. Honeywell has added many products and services over the past few years. This one is interesting.

Honeywell and Weatherford on May 9 announced a partnership to deliver a comprehensive emissions management solution for the energy industry. The agreement combines Honeywell’s emissions management suite with Weatherford’s Cygnet SCADA platform, providing customers with a powerful tool to monitor, report, and take measures to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, flammable hydrocarbons, and other potentially dangerous and toxic gases.

The integrated solution enables upstream oil and gas operators to track emissions data in near real-time, identify and address potential issues, and meet regulatory requirements. The collaboration also provides customers with access to advanced analytics and reporting capabilities, helping them make data-driven decisions to reduce emissions, improve environmental performance and meet their environmental goals.

The collaboration is part of Honeywell’s broader effort to help the energy industry reduce its environmental footprint. In addition, it also further supports Honeywell’s alignment of its portfolio with three compelling megatrends, including the energy transition.

Fero Labs Redefines Trust in AI for Industrial Live Predictions

Fero Labs has developed software to help certain types of process manufacturing plants improve quality output economically when given a random mix of feedstock. I wrote about the company last August—A Better Way to Control Process Quality.

They sent a new press release, and I must admit that I understood almost nothing in it:

Fero Labs, the only Profitable Sustainability Platform for industrial optimization, announced the release of their ground-breaking feature ‘ExplainIt for Live Predictions’ which expands a factory’s production knowledge in real-time. This advanced feature for cross-functional teams increases trust in AI predictions by disclosing real-time text explanations about abnormal factors influencing their live production.

There were way too many marketing-type phrases in there. Worst of all was the concept of “trust in AI predictions.” So, I asked the very patient publicist. She suggested that I talk with Berk Birand, Fero Labs Co-founder and CEO. And, I did. He was most helpful.

We caught up from my last article about their ability to use the huge data sets manufacturers have accumulated over the past decade using advanced statistical methods and “white box machine learning (ML)” to help engineers optimize their plants. Make them more profitable and reduce waste (sustainability). Therefore the “Profitable Sustainability” company.

Birand took me through an example that I could understand, since I had a customer in the 90s who did this sort of process.

Imagine a plant with piles of scrap steel in a yard. They have an electric arc furnace that melts all that disparate steel that will be poured out eventually to make their final product. Given that the feedstock has high variability as to the composition of the steel, the typical plant overdesigns the process to allow for variations. This, of course, is wasteful on the surface. But if the final chemical analysis shows that the output will not make the desired tensile strength or other spec, then the waste is even higher.

What if you accumulated the data (feedstock, process, finished steel) over time built a modern AI model? Its predictions could be used to drive profits, reduce waste, save time. But, would anyone trust yet another advanced process control system? We all know that models eventually goes out of whack sometimes and sometimes gets the wrong answer.

Here comes the “trust” part of the trust in AI model. They built an explainable model from the beginning. It can predict characteristics, say tensile strength of the mix because of chromium or carbon levels and so forth. Since we know that every model is wrong sometimes,  they built in confidence levels in the prediction engine. Their AI looks at the material composition and suggests adding chemicals to the mix, but it gives an explanation and a confidence level. The engineer looks at the confidence report (I am confident in this prediction or I’m not confident in this prediction) and can decide whether to go with the AI or to go with gut feel based on years of experience.

He convinced me. Fero Labs has developed an AI engine that gives the engineer a level of trust in the prediction.

More explanation from the press release:

Expanding on Fero Labs’ white-box ML, which provides full transparency of Fero’s powerful machine learning models, the new ExplainIt feature provides a contextual explanation of anomalous factors involved in each live production optimization.

This type of analysis is typically addressed through linear Root Cause Analysis (RCA) tools. Unlike traditional methods, Fero Labs’ solution is non-linear, much like process operations, and delivers results in seconds rather than the hours or days typically needed. Traditional methods generally require the engineer to preselect a small sample of factors to investigate, which can introduce potentially misleading biases. Fero Labs’ software has the power to evaluate all relevant factors which improves insight and prediction accuracy.

First All-natural Beverage Industry Plastic Bottle Cap

Completely biodegradable solution to replace conventional petroleum-based plastic bottle cap.

Material science plus manufacturability are providing some really cool sustainability products. One reason dire projections seldom come true—humans are problem solvers. It just takes longer than today’s news cycle to solve some of the problems. We will get there eventually. We always do.

This news comes from a company I’ve just heard about—Beyond Plastic, along with CJ Biomaterials and Techlong International. 

Note: Previously I’ve written about PlantSwitch, a company producing plastic tableware from agricultural byproducts. Who’s next?

Beyond Plastic has introduced the first-ever completely biodegradable plastic bottle cap to hit the market. The closure is made from polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a biopolymer created using bacteria fermentation. The new, eco-friendly cap looks, feels, and performs just like traditional petroleum-based plastic caps but brings transformative advantages — it’s recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable even in the most sensitive conditions. The Beyond Plastic bottle cap contains zero microplastics and causes no harm to the environment, unlike traditional plastics. 

To make this vision a reality, Beyond Plastic has strategically partnered with two leading value chain giants to make this sustainable solution a success — CJ Biomaterials and Techlong International. “We are proud to be working with Beyond Plastic in the development of this game-changing bottle cap,” said Max Senechal, Chief Commercial Officer at CJ Biomaterials. “As a global leader in the manufacture of PHA, we are committed to introducing revolutionary, eco-friendly solutions to replace traditional plastics. This collaboration with Beyond Plastic is helping to transform the plastics industry with sensible, sustainable technology, and we’re excited about the progressive impact this will have on a commercial scale.”

PHA holds great promise as a solution to the plastic crisis, and greater adoption will necessitate extensive testing and experimentation. To date, integrating PHA into existing systems has not been a straightforward process. Adapting conventional equipment that is typically used for petroleum-based plastics to effectively accommodate PHA adds a layer of complexity.

“Providing a PHA resin is not enough, you have to be able to provide a full turnkey solution that includes the adapted machinery to work with the material as seamlessly as it would running traditional polymers. We approach this as a packaged and complete solution. We are thrilled to help Beyond Plastic on their mission, and we’re excited to see that with our equipment they’re able to make the right modifications that turn PHA into a real-world, viable solution for the marketplace, ” said Keith Boss, CEO at Techlong International, Inc.

“The success of commercializing PHA depends on many factors, one of which is having great partnerships with leaders that both support and promote your vision. That’s exactly what we’ve found with both CJ Biomaterials and Techlong. With their help, leadership, and knack for innovation, we’re poised to revolutionize the plastics industry, help businesses have a positive impact, and significantly reduce plastic pollution, creating a cleaner planet for generations to come — it’s a win-win-win scenario,” said Lance Collins, CEO of Beyond Plastic.

The Beyond Plastic bottle cap is made from polyhydroxyalkanoate, a biopolymer created using bacteria fermentation. The cap contains zero microplastics and causes no harm to the environment.

About Beyond Plastic 

Beyond Plastic is creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly future using Mother Nature’s plastic. Our goal is to provide sustainable replacement plastic packaging options by pioneering the first 100% bio-based and 100% RCB — Recyclable, Compostable and Biodegradable — scalable solutions on the market. Beyond Plastic was established by Lance Collins, as a continuation project to Lance’s Carbon Negative ZENWTR beverage brand. The first water brand created using Certified 100% Ocean Bound plastic.

About CJ Biomaterials, Inc.

Headquartered in Woburn, MA, USA, CJ Biomaterials develops meaningful solutions that positively affect our planet, human health and well-being by addressing the challenges posed by plastic waste. The company invents and manufactures biopolymers and bio-based chemicals as part of a long-term vision to create a more sustainable future, by enabling true circular solutions that replace many non-recyclable, non-reusable and fossil fuel-based plastics and chemicals. CJ Biomaterials is a global leader in the manufacture of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs)–both polymers and associated basic chemicals. CJ Biomaterials, a business unit of CJ BIO, is part of CJ CheilJedang, a global lifestyle company with a vision to inspire a new life filled with health, happiness, and convenience.

About Techlong International Inc

Techlong International Inc is a worldwide leading supplier of equipment to the beverage industry. Customized to the needs of the customer our equipment offers the most adapted solutions, first-class product and sustainable packaging answers. Our Jeepine Compression Cap Manufacturing machines complement the other machines in our portfolio aimed at providing our customers with a turnkey bottling factory one-stop solution.

IDTechEx Finds CO2-Derived Concrete Can Build a Net-Negative Future

Many companies have found solid reasons for attempting to achieve a net-negative CO2 future. The business value continues to grow. I told my typically conservative boss early on at Automation World that the next issue’s topic was Green (as it was known then). He gave me “that” look. I told him think green as in the color of American dollar bills. What’s good for the environment is also good for business. After all, eliminating waste is a central tenet of Lean.

This news of a report from UK analyst firm IDTechEx written by Analyst Eva Pope recently came my way. It is worth checking out the report for ideas that go far beyond concrete production.

She leads with this thought. In a world with a growing population and a rapidly expanding construction sector to match, how do we prevent building homes from damaging our climate? Concrete is the second most consumed material on Earth, but its key ingredient, cement, is responsible for 7% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The answer could come from thin air – CO2-derived building materials.

The new IDTechEx report “Carbon Dioxide Utilization 2024-2044: Technologies, Market Forecasts, and Players” explores many ways to valorize captured carbon dioxide to create useful products. Among these, CO2-derived building materials showed particular promise due to performance improvements and cost-competitiveness, as well as sustainability benefits. IDTechEx forecasts over 170 million tonnes of captured CO2 will be utilized in building materials by 2044.

Carbon dioxide can be utilized in concrete production in three different ways: injection of CO2 during curing of precast concrete, injection of CO2 during mixing of ready-mixed concrete, and formation of carbonate aggregates/additives.

Unlike some other carbon dioxide utilization pathways, such as the conversion to e-fuels, which requires large amounts of energy and green hydrogen (often prohibitively expensive), the basic mineralization chemistry underpinning the uptake of CO2 during concrete manufacturing is thermodynamically favored and less energy-intensive because stable metal carbonates are formed. These carbonates represent effectively permanent sequestration of CO2, so CO2-derived building materials double up as simultaneous carbon dioxide utilization and carbon dioxide storage. The process is compatible with many different sources of CO2.

Concrete production is typically low-margin, and willingness to pay a green premium is low. Therefore, widespread deployment of CO2-derived concrete will rely on CO2 utilization technology players, creating easy-to-adopt solutions that are minimally disruptive to existing manufacturing processes. In CO2-aided curing, some players have targeted retrofittable curing chambers. Elsewhere, plug-and-play and mobile unit solutions are also being commercialized.

Although the production of CO2-derived concrete is more expensive than conventional concrete, revenue can be generated through waste disposal fees and carbon credit sales, with some players already reporting to achieve price parity. In the future, stronger regulatory support (for example, increased carbon pricing) will accelerate uptake further, with IDTechEx forecasting over 170 million tonnes of captured CO2 will be utilized in building materials by 2044. With carbon capture solutions for cement kilns continuing to develop, CO2 could be sourced from cement production, creating a circular solution.

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