Tipping the balance for the green agenda

Posted on 10 Jun 2022 by The Manufacturer

The Manufacturer speaks to BT’s Principal Principal Consultant, David Wrout, and Tech for Good Manager, Ian Caveney, about how the company is assisting manufacturers along their net zero journey.

BT recently announced the next phase of its Green Tech Innovation Platform (or Green TIP for short), which will see the company in collaboration with scale-ups to develop breakthrough technology and foster green innovation partnerships, with a view to help manufacturing organisations in reaching their net zero carbon emissions targets. 

This second phase of the platform will develop new digital solutions to support Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) manufacturing businesses as they seek to adopt more sustainable manufacturing processes. The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) is also collaborating on the new phase of the project, bringing its sector experience and expertise to the ongoing development of the platform. 

tablet factory operations digital

There is currently a perfect storm of key technologies coming together to drive the next wave of digital change within manufacturing

Green shoots 

Ian Caveney, Tech for Good Manager, BT
Ian Caveney, Tech for Good Manager, BT

“The Green Tech Innovation Platform was set up in 2020 to establish a route for BT to find new breakthrough technology and partnerships that will help our customers progress to a circular and net zero emissions world,” Ian explains.  

To do this BT is working with Plug and Play, an innovation platform headquartered in Silicon Valley, to support scale-up selection and in finding the right ecosystem of partners to work with to drive that innovation process. 

Not only do Plug and Play invest in early-stage start-ups and scale ups, the company also work with a large number of corporate customers across the globe, thus providing a link between the two. BT develop a brief for Plug and Play to uncover early-stage companies and then work through a process of shortlisting prior to determining who to partner with and move the technology towards proof of concept.  

In the first phase of the platform BT worked with Glasgow based scale-up iOpt, for example, on using its IoT platform which enables real-time information and alerts on the condition of properties for social housing providers. BT is also working with Everimpact to deploy environment monitoring solutions for local authorities to help reach their sustainability goals. 

This latest version of the platform, however, will focus on the opportunities around manufacturing and the need for the sector to become more circular and move to net zero. That fits well with BT’s current product portfolio, and the fact that the company is now working in partnership with the MTC.

BT is supporting Glasgow based scale-up iOpt on using its Internet of Things (IoT) platform

BT is supporting Glasgow based scale-up iOpt on using its Internet of Things (IoT) platform which enables real-time information and alerts on the condition of properties for social housing providers

FMCG focus 

The FMCG sector is currently the largest manufacturing market in the UK, accounting for 14% of all goods manufactured in the country. A recent report commissioned by BT and developed by Accenture has forecast that information and communications technology (ICT), including 5G, can help reduce global carbon emissions from the manufacturing sector by 13% by 2030, which is equivalent to 1.3 gigatons of CO2e. 

In addition, BT has also undertaken research with the MTC around the challenges within the sector. “Waste was a key issue,” says Ian. “Manufacturing companies can spend around 4-10% of annual turnover on waste, according to Make UK. That’s something that can be addressed by being more circular. By bringing on the MTC, they can add their expertise and advise on the technology and solutions we’re developing.”  

Dave Wrout, BT’s Principal Technology Partner
Dave Wrout, BT’s Principal Technology Partner

“We wanted to start with a bite-sized chunk,” adds Dave. “Smart manufacturing is such a large space with various profiles of organisations. Therefore, the initial focus will be on FMCG and consumer packaged goods (CPGs) organisations and operations which is a valid and effective starting point.” 

However, BT see huge scope to take the platform further and wider. Although phase two will begin with FMCG, there is an opportunity to transfer the rationale to other types of similar profile organisations – different forms of manufacturing, industrial settings, transport hubs etc. 

Three’s a charm 

Phase two of the platform will address three main areas within FMCG manufacturing – operation design and planning; production resource optimisation; and circularity and supply chain. Each area will look at the production process in its entirety and where the pinch points and opportunities are. 

“We chose these three areas through a process of workshopping with Plug and Play, MTC and colleagues at BT to validate where we think the opportunities are for digital tech to play a role in this process,” adds Ian.  

Operation design and planning will look at solutions that use data and digital technology to improve modelling and visualisation of a production process, making it simpler to redesign legacy manufacturing processes with a stainability focus. 

Dave adds: “Manufacturers of all profiles, whether they are FMCG or not, have existing assets and operations they want to move forward in terms of net carbon zero and sustainability. And more sustainable operations often equal more effective operations. This area is about recognising how we can integrate new technology to help enhance those assets and operations, without having to rip and replace existing, expensive and well working assets, or re-engineering major processes.” 

The focus for production resource optimisation is on manufacturers who, rather than redesigning and starting from scratch, are looking at potential opportunities to modify and add to what they already have in place. For example, driving AI and efficiency in terms of energy usage, looking at how digital solutions can modify existing production processes or finding ways to be more resource efficient. This could be through supporting waste reduction in production processes or harnessing additional outputs from the shop floor such as water, heat and energy. 

Finally, circularity and supply chain will look at uncovering new digital solutions to help track the flow of products, components and materials to provide improved resource management and decision making across all stages of the production cycle, and empowering consumers to make better choices. This will support the sector to address the depletion of finite resources and how to embed circularity into production processes. “We’re looking at circularity in its entirety and how you apply it to the entire production cycle, not just what happens on the shop floor,” continues Ian. 

The technology 

The UK has some fairly ambitious carbon reduction targets to meet over the next few decades, therefore, Dave has stated that BT is not being overly prescriptive in terms of the technology that pushes the green agenda forward and haven’t given Plug and Play or BT’s innovation scout network instructions to focus any particular technology. 

“We’d rather it start with the problem, in terms of the challenge areas that exist, and what new and emerging tech and digital capability is out there,” Dave adds. “That said, we have a number of ideas in terms of the candidate capabilities that are emerging, and this is where it starts moving into the classic Industry 4.0 space in terms of exciting, emerging digital technologies coming together and converging to drive the next wave of development in the market. 

“We’re seeing new networking technologies like 5G, for example; that rare mix of high speed, low latency, wireless cellular connectivity, both indoors and outdoors. That’s going to be a catalyst for the next wave of IoT, not just on the shop floor, but in supply chains as well.” 

Dave adds that a plethora of connected things means lots of data, and so BT are also witnessing an increasing prevalence of data insights, the importance of analytics in terms of interpreting that data, and deploying that data in the right place, in the right way, and to the right person.  

In addition, there has also been an emergence of visualisation technologies, particularly in the context of pre-planning, forecasting and building in a virtual world prior to a physical build, where existing assets and environments may need to be adjusted at a cost.  

“The role of technologies like digital twins and visual simulation (that advanced planning that enables you to build and break things virtually), is going to be increasingly important,” Dave continues. “And then there’s other technologies like distributed ledger technology (DLT), Blockchain capabilities, and the role of AI and machine learning, so it’s very exciting. 

“Our focus is around how we bring these different technologies together, and ultimately integrate them digitally onto a single digital platform so that we can make them accessible and consumable for businesses of all sizes and profiles.” 

Laser focus 

Many businesses within the start-up and scale-up world were created specially to address a major customer problem, and as such, have a razor-like focus on the issue at hand, and can adapt and iterate very quickly. For BT therefore, it makes perfect sense to partner with these best of breed companies who already have proven technology.  

What they are missing, however, is the connectivity and the managed services that go around that product or proposition. “We benefit from improving our propositions for our customers, but the start-up or scale-up benefits from BT’s customer base, expertise and technical advice in those processes,” adds Ian. 

This ties in to the partnership that has been established with the MTC, and there has been something of a radical shift in terms of how BT is working and developing. Dave explains that previously, there had been a ‘build it and they will come’ ethos. This has now shifted more towards open innovation and a co-creation agenda in recent years. “Working with key industry experts, customers and also with start-ups and scale-ups, means we’re not developing in isolation, and we are able to expand our reach and access to what’s happening, where, and what’s important to who. 

“In this context we were introduced to the MTC through our collaboration with UK Tech start-up nexGworx and I remember my first visit to the MTC; I was blown away by the expertise, the facilities, the people and the skill sets of the other tech organisations they’re already working with. We realised the clear possibilities of co-creating together, not just in manufacturing, but as the membership at the MTC suggests, transportation, logistics and retail, so it’s a 360-degree environment for co-creation.” 

“In addition, BT has also undertaken research with the MTC around the challenges within the sector. “Waste was a key issue,” says Ian. “Manufacturing companies can spend around 4-10% of annual turnover on waste. That’s something that can be addressed by being more circular,” added Ian.

Current challenges for FMCG manufacturers 

Obviously there are clear challenges that currently exist for FMCG manufacturers, and manufacturers in general. Operating in a post-pandemic and post-Brexit world, interruptions to operations and keeping things moving through the pandemic has clearly created problems. Therefore, there is currently a degree of focus around those issues, which often take priority over embracing new technology.  

We are also operating in a world whereby supply chains and operations are affected by natural or human disaster, such as the current conflict in Ukraine.  

However, at a more micro level, there is also another level of complexity and difficulty faced by organisations who want to operate more sustainably, specifically the degree to which they remodel and refit existing environments.  

There are also challenges around people and resources; the juggling act between managing day-to-day operations versus embarking on something new. As we move into new areas and begin to operate differently, that will often demand new skills and expertise to make that happen. Dave adds: “Hopefully the role that we can play for UK PLC moving forward is to provide those skill sets and expertise; helping organisations to make that change and drive forward in a positive direction.” 

He continues: “Despite the challenges, there are some exciting opportunities; a perfect storm where there are a number of key technologies coming together to drive the next wave of digital change. 5G is unlocking mass IoT, mass IoT unlocking data, and data unlocking analytics, AI and machine learning. The key moving forward as we take this from proof of concept to scale, is how we then make that more digitally accessible for organisations of all profiles to be able to adopt.” 

Ian concludes: “By collaborating with the MTC, customers and contacts we will learn what actually works best and move from the potential of technology to proving what can be done around improved efficiencies, reducing energy, removing travel and improving traceability in the supply chain.  

“While we may have just one customer who benefits from an initial solution, the point is that long-term, it will enable the broader sector and all types of different companies to benefit from new technology and how it can support them in their net zero transition, as well as day-to-day business case management.” 

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