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As every engineer is taught, ‘what you can measure, you can manage’. In a dawning age of smart, automated manufacturing, there is a great opportunity to leverage information to improve the environmental footprint of packaging and CPG – according to Marcel Woiton, EMEA OEM sales director, Rockwell Automation.

I think it has become clear that sustainability is one of the drivers of Industry 4.0. Companies today have to navigate their way through a dynamic marketplace with multiples pressures and demands driving adoption of innovative strategies and technologies. Sustainability is one of the key demands, and of course it’s consistent with other goals such as increasing the productivity and agility of a business. There’s no sense in doing one thing without the other.

Automation combined with information is the backbone for all of this. You can go into a plant and see lots of fragmented pockets of automation. Under the Connected Enterprise concept, new and existing equipment starts generating much more data, which is contextualised in a way that helps people make more informed decisions.

Many years ago we started the focus on energy measurement: understanding which parts of the plant consume what. To do that you have to invest in sensors, controls and databases. The next stage is to establish baselines, and once you have this you can start to look at ways of reducing energy consumption.

Without generating such information it’s very hard to understand or manage the improvements in sustainability that more efficient systems and automation are delivering. The same principle applies to managing personal environmental footprint. You need to know the impact in order to improve it. For instance, at Rockwell we get a regular report on our car driving patterns: this gives us insights into how we can make adjustments to reduce our carbon emissions.

In fact, sustainability is one of Rockwell Automation’s own Key Performance Indicators as a business. Looking at our own manufacturing sites, we measure our emissions, consumption, waste generation and water usage. Driving efficiency through automation together with information inherently improves sustainability. But the technology is only an enabler. If we develop new software, controllers, drives or motion devices, it enables OEMs or end users to drive their sustainability goals. But for any organisation, it’s crucial to set goals to improve, otherwise nothing will happen.

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Preventing product waste

Another sustainability contribution of digitisation, in addition to increasing productivity and efficiency of manufacturing, is facilitating reduction of waste. With more secure, more flexible and better managed processes it’s possible to eliminate food waste due to stoppages in the line or avoidable product recalls. For instance, with properly monitored cleaning cycles, it’s possible to prevent salmonella contamination, which of course means protecting consumers and protecting brand reputation, but also preventing food waste.

I also personally believe that the trend for supply chains to get closer and closer to consumers will be an increasingly important area where smart technologies have an impact on sustainability. There’s an opportunity to avoid unnecessarily moving products around if we better understand consumer behaviour and demand, and this will be enabled by the combination of automation and information technologies.

Sustainability across the value chain

Every time we enable companies to increase flexibility or efficiency, or reuse their waste, or use more efficient drives we are offering a chance to boost sustainability. To take some examples from the CPG market, the US-based raw milk processor Milk Specialities implemented our technologies at its plants. Using our manufacturing intelligence technology to monitor water quality in its Californian facility enabled the business to meet a state-mandated water reduction of 30 per cent.

Another client, Noosa Finest Yoghurt, was able to reduce waste from lost batches by 95 per cent thanks to automated operations and plant-wide control systems, at the same time as improving quality assurance and regulatory reporting capabilities. Meanwhile the Kraft Heinz potato brand Ore-Ida was able to increase production capacity by 10 per cent without adding to its footprint by modernising control architecture, incorporating predictive modelling. Its new lines detect and address variability issues, making continuous micro-adjustments to optimise production.

As far as OEMs are concerned, our automation and information technologies are similarly driving more efficient and sustainable solutions. A great example is CMC Machinery, which won the ‘machinery’ category in Packaging Europe’s Sustainability Awards last year for its CartonPack solution. This optimises packaging for variably sized e-commerce multi-unit purchases. Packing bundles in correctly sized boxes saves 30 per cent of corrugated board and eliminates the need for the standard void fillers. In the process it reduces total package volume by up to 60 per cent.


Continual improvement

Independent cart moving technology, represented in the Rockwell portfolio by products such as MagneMotion, can enable greater flexibility and efficiency in manufacturing cycle. It can also help reduce waste by enabling tracking of products all the way through the plant. With full traceability throughout the plant you can avoid recalling a product that doesn’t need to be recalled. We are continuing to invest in moving forward technologies such as MagneMotion and iTRAK, making them applicable to more processes.

Rockwell Automation also continues to work on integration of products and enhancing the software tools in the controllers to filter information more effectively to drive machine and plant efficiency. One level up, we continue to invest in analytics. Sustainability metrics are already enabled in the customisable dashboards in our FactoryTalk. This platform is itself subject to continual improvement. Maybe someday we’ll see a prepopulated sustainability dashboard that helps plant managers manage the key KPIs.