World Earth Day: How manufacturers can reach net zero

Posted on 22 Apr 2022 by Lanna Deamer

Fero is factory optimisation software for modern manufacturers. The company's software continuously optimises factory production in ever-changing conditions by leveraging white-box machine learning. In doing so, Fero's customers are able to cut waste with confidence to increase sustainability and profits across their entire enterprise. In light of World Earth Day, manufacturers can use this time to reflect on their sustainability goals and seek resources for support, such as artificial intelligence.

Berk Birand, founder and CEO of Fero Labs
Berk Birand, Founder and CEO of Fero Labs

In this article, The Manufacturer speaks with Berk Birand, Founder and CEO of Fero Labs, a company actively reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturers by decreasing the quantity of ingredients by up to 34% and preventing an estimated 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year using AI, according to this recent Climate Change and AI report.

How does Fero’s software work?

We enable plant operators with little to no data science background to understand the root cause of issues they are exploring, using white-box machine learning that takes into account key process parameters and variations. Our software can be deployed in real-time to ensure that the plant operates at peak performance by continuously adjusting to process and market changes.

Unlike black-box machine learning that gives recommendations with no context, Fero is software powered by white-box machine learning that delivers fast, simple answers enterprises can trust. It gives a team the clarity they need to understand the effects of production changes and make them with confidence.

How do you think manufacturers can reach Net Zero?

First, manufacturers must transparently account their emission sources. Next, they should focus on a mixture of short- and long-term solutions. We have seen manufacturers across various sectors reduce both costs and emissions by up to 10%, just by implementing Fero. Longer-term investments include updating manufacturing processes and planning for carbon capture usage and storage.

Last but not least, they should track their progress and ensure that all stakeholders are aligned. Unlike classical process optimisation, the best local decisions may not always lead to the best outcomes for the entire enterprise. Sustainability requires an end-to-end approach that considers every part of the production process.

Over your career, how have you seen attitudes change towards sustainability?

Industry accounts for anywhere between a quarter to a third of global greenhouse emissions, depending on how you define the scope of production. This puts manufacturing at the same scale as energy production — both sectors must adapt if we are to reach net zero by 2050. Manufacturing firms that are stepping up to the challenge realise that taking steps now, rather than later, is what will keep them competitive in the upcoming years. More companies are realising that decarbonisation can happen while boosting profits, and this mindset shift is enabling fundamental change.

What are the common mistakes you see manufacturers make when it comes to sustainability? 

Manufacturers face several challenges when it comes to sustainability, but there are two things that stand out the most. The first is siloed organisational structures, which means each group within a plant tends to focus on its own performance metrics, such as one team will seek to cut raw materials while the other might prioritise increasing throughput. This organisational structure enables local decision-making, but with a complex goal such as reducing emissions, all teams must coordinate across the entire plant. This may impact the manufacturer’s supply chain as well.

The second challenge is a myopic focus on hardware. Adapting a factory to operate more efficiently while being sustainable is not easy. There are new methods of manufacturing available but they are expensive, such as requiring a new replacement of existing machinery with updated equivalents that use less energy. Nowadays hardware is not the only solution to operate a plant more efficiently and factories can enable software to help reduce their emissions by learning how to make better decisions, across an entire plant and the system at large.

What are the first steps a manufacturer should make on a sustainability journey (if they haven’t started yet)?

The first step is to quantify the carbon impact of the business, from the beginning of the supply chain to the final product. This requires sharing relevant information with each organisational team. By having access to this knowledge, manufacturers can prioritise which problems to tackle first in order to make their production more sustainable, build cross-functional teams to address the issues, and explore a variety of solutions instantly. Investing in both short and long-term solutions is necessary to drive sustainable growth and build the factory of the future.

Will a sustainability strategy require manufacturers to onboard specific skills?

A new perspective, sure. But not necessarily new skills; at least immediately. The recent 6th Assessment Report of the IPCC points to a few broad strategies to decarbonise manufacturing, ranging from adopting circular material flows to electrification and fuel switching. Manufacturing companies already have the talent to engage in these transformations. With state-of-the-art hardware and software to empower them, I can see them succeeding in this immense undertaking.

To read more articles like this one, check out our sustainability channel.