Get Sustainable Practices Right, Virtually

How heavy industry leaders are committing to digitalization to achieve sustainability

by Denise Börner
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ESI LIVE is a virtual event where progress in digital transformation becomes concrete. The Heavy Machinery edition on May 20, 2021, was one of such occasions where I had the pleasure of hearing from Caterpillar, Cummins, KONE, Volvo CE and more on where they are in their digital transformation journey. The most important lessons I learned in a nutshell: the rich diversity of sustainability goals and the strong commitment to key-enabling, advanced digital technologies in the heavy machinery industry.

1. Sustainable business models | Offering premium quality and excellent after-market solutions for their equipment is a key differentiator and revenue generator, particularly for OEMs of large investment goods who sell maintenance-free, productive, and safe work hours. For OEMs to be able to bring this value to their customer, they must evolve their maintenance activities towards condition-based, 24/7 connected services. How can they achieve this “zero downtime” promise for operators? By supplementing traditional condition monitoring of product assets with physics-based system simulation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to build a virtual representation of their asset. Gian Luigi Di Lodovico, Head of Engineering Solutions at KONE, sees digital twins and advanced hybrid twins as being the backbone of any modern, sustainable asset management strategy – one that enables not predictive maintenance but the improved prescriptive maintenance, based on the current plant condition.

2. Environmental sustainability | With, often, more than half of OEMs global teams out in the fields for maintenance and service operations, the optimization of these activities – in terms of reducing labor, travel time and cost – is mission-critical in achieving ambitious greenhouse emission and carbon neutrality targets. The capabilities offered through advanced digital technologies are crucial because they help companies like KONE, for instance, minimize maintenance travel, which is directly linked to achieving their greenhouse emission goals and reducing the overall carbon footprint while also improving people flow and customer experience. Gian pointed out that already with a basic digital twin solution for predictive maintenance, KONE experiences up to a 30% decrease in call-outs from customers and up to 60% fewer issues because the OEM can detect potential issues in advance. What an achievement and potential if you consider the fact that the digital journey has just begun and KONE is working on advancing the digital twin into a hybrid twin! With this next step, they will be ready to evolve into prescriptive maintenance for their equipment and expect to further improve the numbers above. One aspect to keep in mind here: Condition-monitoring often requires the use of fast-running models to represent the physics of the targeted component or system. Nate Wieland, Sr Technical Team Leader, Virtual Product Development Division at Caterpillar, sees a significant amount of innovation potential arising from using reduced-order models (ROM). ROM is a simplification of a high-fidelity simulation model that preserves essential behavior and dominant effects for the purpose of reducing solution time, compute cost or storage capacity required for more complex models.

3. Sustainable development | The second group of major beneficiaries from combining engineering expertise and advanced virtual capabilities are R&D engineers who start exploring equipment performance fully virtually - with minimum physical prototype and test. Kieran Richards, Global Design Leader at Cummins Power Systems explains that they see Virtual Reality as an integral part of how they design and develop cleaner products and also as a tool of developing greener, more efficient facilities. By doing more virtually, Cummins can avoid issues, reduce changes, rework, waste and scrap, minimize test time and complexity whilst also decreasing the carbon-based emissions of their products and services. This is crucial for achieving the near-term goals of their “Planet 2050” agenda. With regards to agility and flexibility in times of insecurity, Kieran shared another very valid learning: since the pandemic, they had to increase the utilization of digital capabilities outside the centrally available office environment as many of their engineering teams have been working at home. The remote use of Virtual Reality allowed CUMMINS engineers to work more effectively in this distributed virtual world.

4. Sustainable, agile operations | Ultimately, Dr. Harri Kulmala, CEO of the Finish high-tech ecosystem, DIMECC, pointed out that the success of any digital and twin strategy stands and falls with the ability to quickly adapt to environmental changes. While it is crucial to maintain focus on your long-term vision, it’s even more important not to become too rigid in your long-term plans. Instead, remain agile to changes in your environment and be prepared for the next ‘Black Swan Phenomena’ (e.g. Coronavirus) - you cannot predict when, but you know it will certainly happen again. Gian from KONE’s recommendation for being successful with digital twin strategies is: “split investment into pieces, make the development and deployment in incremental steps, and get revenue incrementally.”

5. Diversity for sustainability | Truthfully, this is an old hat yet more valid than ever: we are together on this new digital road ahead of us, bringing in unique skills and expertise, sharing the same vision for the sake of our earth and people. Our ESI LIVE speakers are aligned on the fact that we can only exploit a significant amount of innovation potential and realize systemic changes if we collaborate across the industry, vendors and academia, share resources, competencies, and funding versus building everything on your own.

6. Sustainability needs collective engagement | In the hearts and minds of all our stakeholders, ESI stands for “Get it right”. This is the essence of our brand and the guiding north star for all our activities including our corporate social responsibility. The commitment we share with our ESI Live contributors is to develop solutions that help our customers reduce their environmental footprint while progressing toward our Group’s carbon neutrality as well as engaging employees and other stakeholders in the creation of a more sustainable world. One very concrete action to preserve our planet is, for instance, our commitment to the reforestation of the planet: We at ESI want to plant 10,000 trees by 2025. On behalf of all my ESI colleagues, I want to thank our 5 ESI LIVE speakers for contributing to this effort via the Reforest'Action program, by planting 5 new trees in Southern Portugal.

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These were the lessons I learned from the ESI LIVE Heavy Machinery 2021 digital event (now available ON DEMAND). What about you? Do you agree with our speakers or have you had a different experience?

Also, don’t forget to mark your calendar for the next ESI Live 2021 on November 4. You’ll gain even more concrete, first-hand insights into the digital transformation journeys and ‘real virtual’ sustainable practices in automotive, aerospace, energy and heavy machinery industries. I look forward to seeing you there!

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