Juergen Maier, former Chief Executive of Siemens UK and the current Chair of Digital Catapult, delivered a keynote speech on 'Delivering a Responsible and Decarbonising Made Smarter' at this year's MACH Exhibition.
The British-Austrian businessman started his keynote, which he was originally due to give in 2020, with a moment of reflection. He joked by saying that having already written this speech, he thought his preparation for this year would be minimal. Where in actual fact, he had to tear up his notes from two years ago and start from scratch – such has been the change in attitudes, advancements and actions around digital technology and net zero.
“In two years, the world has completely changed. Energy prices are obviously one of the key issues recently. But, we have prepared ourselves for this fourth industrial revolution. We have spent 10 years in this country, investing in Catapults, such as the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Digital Catapult and in the Made Smarter programme. I think we have created an ecosystem to support companies during the pressures of needing to work remotely because of COVID. If you then include the rising energy prices, these problems have got everybody to focus on digital technology and net zero.”
The digital ecosystem that Juergen eludes to has built up increasing confidence and expertise to navigate through the ever changing landscape of technological advancement. While the UK has invested unprecedented amounts of money in digital transformation, the scale needs to be increased, according to Juergen.
“We’ve invested over the last 10 years,” he says. “Probably more than we ever have before – if you include the Catapults and everything else, we might be investing around 5/6/700 million a year. It needs to be two or three fold that amount. But look, we’re investing more than ever. What industry leaders need to do now is really show how valuable this investment has been and continues to be, in terms of raising productivity, improving our net zero performance and in terms of increased exports. If that happens, I’m sure we’ll convince the policymakers to keep investing in us.”
Already this year, we at The Manufacturer have heard keynotes speeches on sustainability that have argued the case for a particular renewable energy source to accelerate the UK’s advancements in decarbonisation. Juergen briefly gave reference to the capability of such energies; hydrogen, wind and solar. However, he was more concerned on the how we use them.
He says, “I’m a massive fan of renewable energy sources. Offshore wind is great and I absolutely think we need to scale hydrogen also for many manufacturing processes such as in steel plants and in glassmaking, for example. But, we never talk enough about where the energy is being used. Industrial energy use stands at 30% of the energy that’s being used – that can be cut dramatically through process optimisation, through better investment, in simple low energy motors. We all know what needs to be done, but we haven’t quite done enough of it.
” But, I do think that has changed. Because right now it’s a case of survival, isn’t it? Energy prices are so high, quite frankly, unless you do this now you just can’t afford the energy bills.”
SME and start-up manufacturers have been at the heart of sustainable innovation and leadership in recent years. Juergen’s keynote mentioned Crystal Doors, a manufacturer in Rochdale that last year won a Queens Award for Enterprise in sustainable development. The company were mentioned during the Sustainability Series of our podcast. Britishvolt, that has recently completed the UK’s first large scale gigafactory in Northumberland, began this journey as a start-up.
“My experience has been that that SMEs love to learn from each other,” says Juergen. “So, to create platforms, like Made Smarter, where small to medium sized companies can engage and learn, but also come together and share that knowledge and leadership and really enthuse their own community is vital. They can say show how they’ve made strides with net zero, and they can say to others, ‘I can help you achieve this.’ It’s that sort of enthusiasm that we need, and I do think we’re building that enthusiasm and that movement, we just need to do more of that.”
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