Manufacturing’s green vision

Manufacturing’s green vision


Parag Ladha outlines how Microsoft is redefining the way manufacturers can integrate people, technology and infrastructure to automate operations in more sustainable and profitable ways

Richard Humphreys |

For some manufacturers, the industrial metaverse has become a familiar part of daily operations. Digital twin technology and processes driven by the internet of things (IoT) have been built right into the DNA of these reimagined organisations and drive the implementation of sustainable practices. 

Others, though, struggle to understand these concepts and develop a clear strategy for the adoption of new methodologies so they can hit sustainability goals and remain profitable. 

“In terms of where the industry is at in its sustainability journey, there is a wide range of progress,” says Parag Ladha, director of manufacturing industry marketing at Microsoft. “Microsoft is committed to helping manufacturers accelerate their sustainability journey at any stage by providing data and artificial intelligence solutions for sustainability; meticulously integrating engineered offerings that will meet their needs.” 

These solutions will be key to enable manufacturing companies to be successful in the future. But what do manufacturers need to consider to make progress with sustainability? 

“The top challenges for advancing their environmental commitments are the need for upfront investment, technological debt and organisational prioritisation,” says Ladha. “Measuring emissions needs upfront investment in technology, creating a data foundation and buy-in from all the functions across the manufacturing enterprise to make real advancements happen.” 

According to the World Economic Forum, which published The “No-Excuse” Opportunities to Tackle Scope 3 Emissions in Manufacturing and Value Chains whitepaper in December 2023, the manufacturing sector accounts for 30 per cent of global greenhouse gases emissions, and this figure is continuing to rise. Developing and implementing decarbonisation strategies is not only vital for manufacturers for the long-term sustainability of their business, but also the planet. 

Sustainability strides

“Once a company begins to employ the right tools to measure and understand their carbon footprint, they can then begin to improve operational efficiencies and mitigate the impact of climate change,” says Ladha. “The positive improvements also include improving reputation and brand image while attracting environmentally conscious customers.” 

Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability unifies data to help organisations design and improve sustainability solutions to target their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. Also, Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing can help manufacturers identify areas where they can improve efficiency, reduce waste and minimise their environmental impact. With AI solutions from Microsoft, manufacturers are empowered to increase automation, which can drive sustainability and also create resiliency. 

The new ESG data and reporting capabilities and insights in Microsoft Sustainability Manager enable organisations to “record, report and reduce their environmental impact, streamline supplier engagement and gain actionable insights for more informed decision-making,” says Ladha. “For instance, Microsoft Fabric offers sustainability data solutions to help manufacturers build a single source of truth for ESG data. The Copilot feature in Microsoft Sustainability Manager enables natural-language interaction to help teams understand the complexities inherent to sustainability work. Finally, Intelligent Insights can identify errors or gaps in data so organisations can act quickly and make informed decisions.” 

Partners are integrating the new Microsoft offerings into their solutions. For example, Cognite – a leader in industrial DataOps software – is to integrate flagship product Cognite Data Fusion with the Microsoft Fabric data platform. Cognite Data Fusion already leveraged Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Sustainability Manager to simplify emissions data so that operators can visualise, monitor, optimise and automatically report real-time data from industrial operations. 

Microsoft Sustainability Manager

Microsoft Sustainability Manager enables organisations to record, report and reduce their environmental impact, as well as gain insights to inform decisions

Customers are yielding benefits from Microsoft Sustainability Manager too. Take OSTP Group, the Nordic manufacturer of steel tubes, pipes and fittings. It worked with Microsoft partner Fellowmind to build a solution for carbon dioxide data gathering and reporting. With automated reporting and AI-driven analytics, OSTP aims to spend less time collecting data and more time analysing progress towards its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.

Denmark-based FLSmidth, a provider of equipment and service solutions to the mining and cement industries, aims to reach zero emissions and waste by 2030. It is using Microsoft Sustainability Manager to establish emissions baselines, set incremental goals and track progress to build new sustainability solutions for customers.


FLSmidth is using Microsoft Sustainability Manager to reduce emissions produced within the mining and cement industries

Pharma’s green goals

Chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries are at a critical juncture in their sustainability journey, Ladha points out. 

“There are several key areas where these industries can focus their efforts,” he says. “Green chemistry is a key decarbonisation lever for pharmaceutical manufacturers, who are responsible for a small but growing pool of emissions. Green chemistry solutions aim to reduce the environmental impact of drug production by using renewable energy, biodegradable materials and less toxic chemicals. 

“Some pharmaceutical companies are piloting green chemistry for a small selection of products, but they need to invest in scaling and mainstreaming these solutions to enable operational emissions reductions.” 

In December 2023, The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) reported that pharma companies are increasingly exploring how they can make their manufacturing processes more sustainable, such as investments in cleaner production methods for medicines. 

“These practices can involve a wide range of strategies, from optimising production processes to reducing energy and water usage, to transitioning to renewable energy sources for their operations,” says Ladha. “Also, implementing alternative transportation methods can also help reduce the carbon footprint associated with their products’ distribution.” 

Cutting carbon with AI

AI tools can help manufacturers analyse large amounts of data, identify patterns and make data-driven decisions, which offer the potential to reduce carbon emissions. In Microsoft’s most recent Environmental Sustainability Report, it noted that importing data from top research makes AI run more efficiently on computing hardware and can reduce the operational emissions associated with AI-based tasks. 

“Digital twin technology and AI tools can play a significant role in helping manufacturers establish a better connection between data and machines, increasing productivity and driving sustainability,” says Ladha. “Digital twins enable real-time monitoring and control, the ability to learn with AI and machine learning, and to autonomously update and improve systems and designs over time. 

“By using digital twin technology, manufacturers can create a virtual representation of their operations, allowing them to simulate, monitor and optimise their processes in real-time. This can help manufacturers to identify areas where they can improve efficiency, reduce waste and minimise their environmental impact.” 

Microsoft is working on addressing emissions with Imec, an international technology research and development organisation, which launched a research programme focused on sustainable semiconductor technologies and systems (SSTS). 

The SSTS programme has brought together stakeholders from the semiconductor value chain with the aim of decarbonising the supply chain and products. This programme helps to ensure there is life cycle analysis data available for future technologies’ emissions in chip manufacturing. Ladha says: “Our partnership with Imec is contributing to a new era of visibility and access to complex industrial data, crucial for advancing sustainability and decarbonisation in the semiconductor industry.” 

Research is a key aspect of a two-part carbon footprint reduction process that Ladha says manufacturers embark on. “The first step is to find out the largest sources of emission in the manufacturing value chain,” says Ladha. “This can be achieved by measuring emissions, which requires upfront investment in technology and creating a data foundation. The second step is to take action to reduce emissions. This can be done either by making investments in new equipment and processes or by offsetting emissions by investing in renewable energy. Microsoft provides solutions that help manufacturers leverage data and AI to improve their sustainability. 

“Ultimately, establishing a strong business case and investing in emissions reduction is crucial for organisations. Microsoft can assist manufacturers throughout their sustainability journey, from identifying and monitoring emissions to providing insights that enable them to take necessary steps towards reducing their carbon footprint.” 

Partner perspectives

We asked selected Microsoft partners how Microsoft-powered digital twin technology and IoT-driven processes are helping manufacturers to automate their operations in a sustainable and profitable way 

“Microsoft’s sustainability solutions enable manufacturers to cut costs and carbon emissions,” said Brendan Mislin, general manager of Industry X at Avanade. “For example, Avanade is supporting a European automaker on its journey to become carbon neutral by 2040 and adopt circular economy business models. Our Facility and Environmental Sustainability Tool helps the firm monitor and manage energy usage, and the associated carbon emissions, across its production, office and retail facilities.”  

“Intelligent factories need integrated software solutions to gain real-time visibility of the transformation of raw materials to finished goods by way of automated production processes and data-driven continuous improvement,” said Sree Hameed, consumer products industry strategist at AVEVA.  

“By using IoT devices with Microsoft’s digital twin technology, manufacturers can create more effective planning parameters and reordering through Microsoft Business Central,” said Patrick Johnson, Dynamics 365 Business Central practice manager at LBMC Technology Solutions. “IoT devices enable manufacturers to collect real-time data from their physical assets, machines and systems, and create virtual replicas of them using Microsoft’s digital twin technology.” 

“Using IoT solutions from Rockwell Automation and Microsoft, customers can build advanced cloud-based analytical solutions at enterprise scale, transform connected data into actionable insights, modernise business processes and meet sustainability goals,” said Andrew Ellis, vice president of global portfolio engineering at Rockwell Automation. “Digital twins are quickly becoming a key component of the factory of the future.” 

“Manufacturers can install a secure, real-time pipeline from their plant to Microsoft Azure IoT Hub to power Azure Digital Twins,” said Xavier Mesrobian, vice president of sales and marketing at Skkynet Cloud Systems. “Securing the data means isolating operational technology (OT) networks from IT and the cloud with a demilitarised zone and making only outbound connections through OT firewalls.” 

Read more from these partners as well as AVEVA, Check Point Software Technologies, Fellowmind Group, Metafile Information Systems, Sight Machine and Siemens in the Spring 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.     

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