Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2021 – Sustainable growth through digitalisation

Posted on 1 Oct 2021 by The Manufacturer

The Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit is taking place this year on 10-11 November in Liverpool. Tom St John spoke to five of our industry leaders about this year’s main theme of ‘Sustainable Growth Through Digitalisation.'

What would truly constitute sustainable growth within manufacturing?

Dave Roberts, Plant Manager at SNA EuropeDave Roberts, Plant Manager at SNA Europe: Sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present while also making sure that future generations can meet theirs.

Our experts refer to the three main pillars of this: economic, environmental, and social. These three pillars are informally referred to as people, planet and profits. If due consideration of these key drivers can be maintained within business models, then everyone benefits in the long run.

Daniel Smale, Head of Continuous Improvement at Gousto

Daniel Smale, Head of Continuous Improvement at Gousto: Sustainability, to me, is about doing and delivering more by consuming less. This applies financially (getting more to the bottom line with less expenditure), operationally (improved throughput/output for less effort) and environmentally (reducing our waste and impact).


Antony Proctor, Operations Director at Grupo Bimbo

Antony Proctor, Operations Director at Grupo Bimbo: I think education is vital, at all levels. Continued focus on STEM subjects, coupled with positioning manufacturing as an engaging environment is key. This is needed to reposition manufacturing as being an interesting and fashionable career.

This would naturally lead to more innovation in the development of processing technologies. Manufacturing will also need to have an underpinning culture of engagement and ownership – too often overlooked as a key enabler for us to be world class in this sector. Digitalisation will give us a competitive edge, but it will barely scratch the surface if the enablers above are not in place.

Andrew Wall Head of Technical Data Management at Airbus Defence and Space

Andrew Wall, Head of Technical Data Management at Airbus Defence and Space: In truth sustainable growth is only partially linked to digitalisation, it is as much to do with the relationships developed and managed across the value chain and up and down the supply chain. Is it possible to be remove paperwork and reduce steps in decision making? Although the increasing development of digital data translation tools will help, it is unrealistic to expect industry to all use the same tool suites.

Andy Carroll, Manufacturing Systems Manager at Rotork

Andy Carroll, Manufacturing Systems Manager at Rotork: Sustainable growth is partly driven by education and then more fundamentally through action. With global news being more and more focus on sustainability linked to climate change people are naturally educating themselves more on what it means and how to change it.

I think the days of sustainability plans being all about LED lighting are gone and a lot of companies are taking it more seriously. The growth is therefore driven by customer expectations and that sustainability is no longer a tick box exercise but in some cases a differentiator and in some cases a base requirement. This then drives the actions and ensure the topic is taking seriously and in doing so drives growth.

How can we better connect and understand the potential waste products that other businesses are creating so others can use them to create a circular economy?

DR: Industry 4.0 will greatly assist in this, enabling the wider business communities to become one single entity in a wholly connected world and where the digitisation of each product lifecycle becomes part of a strategic end-toend supply chain design. This will create responsible and sustainable waste streams.

The potential benefits of moving to a circular economy extend beyond the economy and into the natural environment. By designing our waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating rather than degrading our natural eco systems, the circular economy represents a powerful contribution to achieving global climate targets.

DS: I believe some sort of forum or organisation for potential waste products could be a way forward here. One where companies can list their waste output types/locations etc as well as their needs and find matches.

This would need careful moderation and control to ensure company confidential information and ensure competitive advantage isn’t compromised, but such a thing could lead to better and cheaper circular supply chains.

AP: I think the answer needs to be split to two; one being about defects and one being about bi-products. Regarding defects, we need to change our expectation. It’s difficult to productively handle ad-hoc waste.

Thereby systemising business-to-business uses is tricky and only valid for high value defects. The preference, however, is to have a lower tolerance for poor process solutions and instead minimise defect rate by design.

To maximise the bi-product opportunity should be part of the development and scale-up process. Where likely waste streams are determined as part of the launch stage. And if there is no obvious application then make one.

In either case, the digitalisation aspects are similar. With line performance data and telemetry to be able to track the process and make it efficient to run.

Manufacturing Leaders' Summit 2019
Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2019

AW: When considering this it is important to think about intellectual property and other elements of business security. How can we share safely and encourage ‘Reuse’ or ‘Up-cycling’ without giving away too many trade/ business openings?

That said, the ability to find and support local businesses must be a factor, and encouraging entrepreneurs to salvage/obtain waste products, linked to research into what could be done, the cost then becomes a negative impact on the bottom line which then detracts from the drivers to do the right thing, so perhaps some increased government levies are required?

AC: Industry 4.0 is a great lever for connecting and understanding potential waste products. It will drive data availability across all aspects of the business. A bigger challenge, in my opinion, is how is how that data is shared and utilised outside of individual companies for others to understand and therefore support by working with companies to drive the circular economy principle.

What challenges exist when it comes to ensuring that factories are carbon friendly and future fit?

DR: Pure and Simple – cost! I believe that the majority would unequivocally, embrace the opportunity to have a Carbon Zero facility, however, the way things are currently, the cost far outweighs the benefit.

AW: The first challenge is developing cost effective metrics for monitoring and reporting, then I believe it is a classic case of closing down the easy hits first. (if not already done) then the more difficult to achieve elements, which will require some initiatives and incentives.

DS: Cost and timescales is a challenge as mentioned – but also flexibility. Additionally, leased facilities experience friction between operators and landlords. I believe that, unless genuinely financially beneficial, this will require legislation.

AP: Long term investment is often needed even if it doesn’t generate direct payback. There is a need to speculate on potential benefits, particularly when looking at innovations. The company policy towards environmental impact is key as it will act as a guiding light, even if answers are not clear-cut.

This should be considered as a priority otherwise such major concerns can end up being guided by local managers resulting in regional differences in large firms. The future-focused projects also rarely take account of the environmental payback needed to trade-off between using less efficient old assets and new assets that need to be manufactured and installed from scratch.

AC: I’d consider three major challenges: mindset, cost and timing. Mindset being the first to drive this way of thinking and ensure that these elements are considered at specification stage and not further down the line. Cost – as with anything a business does it must fit into cost boundaries which are obviously tighter than ever given the pandemic and impacts of Brexit.

Finally, timing – with long term investments if you miss the boat it is likely years even decades before replacement is considered and therefore new technology that could be just round the corner may be missed.

Manufacturing Leaders' Summit 2019

Could growth in demand for digital technologies drive even greater energy usage?

DR: There is no doubt that the demand in digital technologies will increase energy usage. However, the development of smart grid systems and battery energy storage technology, such as that being developed by Off Grid Energy Ltd in Rugby, are sustainable methods of integrating digital technology into the traditional electrical grid. The smart grid technology reduces the amount and duration of electricity outages due to enhanced network monitoring.

AW: Of course, greater demand for technologies could easily lead to more energy usage. Take Bitcoin as an example, the more digital reliability, the greater the power needed to keep businesses efficient.

However, with continued research into net zero plants and buildings through “Off Grid” power sources (as mentioned above by Dave) the less the overall impact will be. I am aware that this is being considered and built into new builds, however older buildings and plants may take considerable time to get up to speed.

DS: A good example of this is the ease of digital availability of products and an expectation of next and same day availability. This is leading to more transactions and more movement, both of which consume energy. We may need to control this through cost factors or impact awareness.

AP: A key concern right now is the data-hungry nature of some of the solutions. We need efficient ways to determine what data to hold. This will make processing easier (less significant assets needed) and data storage more compact.

It’s hard to believe that the carbon demand of data storage will offset the mid-term improvements, but we need to get much clearer about what is worthwhile. This is a really good reason to build on the experience of pioneers and developers, rather than have each company starting from a basic level.

Especially when considering that the amount of data we hold results in lock-in with service providers. So not everyone is incentivised to reduce the storage and asset demand.

AC: I agree with the others; if we consider current digital technologies, the continued demand for them could certainly drive even greater energy usage. I’d hope that as digital technologies are developed the power needed for these will reduced.

Why do you think the Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2021 is important for the manufacturing industry?

DR: It will help enable companies, who are at various critical stages of their digital journey, identify how to move to the next stage and more importantly, understand what support is available from the ever-growing Industry 4.0 and Future Factory community.

AW: It is a great opportunity to for like-minded representatives to share thoughts and ideas, including examples of their own experience with each other and vendors. As a consideration, it might be worth including civil engineering organisations to help with the planning of future builds?

DS: The sharing of ideas is the most important thing we can do as leaders. What is obvious to one person or industry is radical in another. We can and must learn from one another.

AC: I’ve mentioned a few times for the need of education and mindset shift. For me, The Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit is a perfect opportunity to upskill ourselves and build that better understanding of how sustainability could be adopted into any business.

Manufacturing Leaders' Summit 2019

Registration Info

Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit is for all senior professionals (at firms with over £100m turnover) responsible for the development of manufacturing businesses including data, technology and innovation, or those looking for new ideas to bring into their business model. To ensure a diverse cross-section of industry ideas and viewpoints, the 200 top-tier attendees are drawn from across a range of sectors including automotive, aerospace, defence, electronics, pharma and food. If you’d like to attend, simply head over to the website and book your ticket. 

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