Part 2: Implementation: Starting to connect

There is no rule for businesses outlining which technological and digital solutions to prioritize as they pursue their sustainability goals. On the contrary: it is about choosing the right components–modular and interoperable.

Selecting from a broad range of digital solutions that can then be implemented in coordination offers exciting possibilities, but the optimal combination will be different for each business.

 

The key here is to recognize that connecting the real and digital worlds does not only mean digitizing certain processes, but also embracing more holistic transformation. The challenge is to find or develop solutions that both tackle a single, isolated problem and can work across a whole business or ecosystem. One challenge may follow the next, but the big picture remains crucial and solutions must be compatible. It will also mean working with partners to jointly accelerate digital transformation tailored to the business’s specific goals. Business platforms such as Siemens Xcelerator provide a single space within which to find these solutions.

 

One likely constant is a need for tools that enable organizations to manage their energy and power systems efficiently. Such software can provide critical solutions as organizations seek to measure the integrated operational performance of their technology-supported networks and respond with precise manual and automated adjustments. And it can operate both at individual facilities and across broader networks – potentially unifying whole districts or cities. Indeed, digital transformation will need to incorporate sustainable networks connecting multiple components across separate sites.

In Wunsiedel, northern Germany, a town known for its annual Luisenberg festival, SWW Wunsiedel GmbH, the local utilities company, has embarked on an ambitious project to build a renewables supply network. “Wunsiedel is no longer just a festival town; it’s also an energy town and is on its way to becoming a smart city,” explained Karl Willi Beck, Wunsiedel’s then Mayor.

 

SWW Wunsiedel GmbH’s initial project encompasses power and heat generation, storage, control, and protection systems, and energy efficiency. Going forward, it envisages a power-to-gas or power-to-liquid plant, as well as pooling solutions involving battery storage and an electrolysis system. Crucially, every component of the system will be connected digitally by Siemens’ industrial IoT solution, which collects and stores operational data and then makes it available to systems operators who use it to optimize efficiency and sustainability. In this sense, says Marco Krasser, Managing Director of SWW Wunsiedel, “Digitalization is not Facebook, Twitter, and the rest – in reality, it is the basis on which we will optimize our lives.”

Digital-twin technologies continue to support that objective. One good example of that is Expo City Dubai, built for the first Expo to be held in the Middle East and intended as a blueprint for smart cities worldwide. Today, long after completion, a digital twin of the site enables its management teams to optimize operations, reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and energy, and enhance visitor comfort and security. Operators monitor the digital twin through a web-based smart city app that generates a constant feed of actionable insight from connected systems across the site.

Digitalization is not Facebook, Twitter, and the rest–in reality, it is the basis on which we will optimize our lives.
Marco Krasser Managing Director, SWW Wunsiedel

The ambition in such projects is to create an eternal feedback loop – a virtuous cycle of continuous learning and improvement. “Digitalization and digital solutions are catalysts,” says Michael Combach, Vice President at Siemens Advanta Consulting. “They boost the impact and effectiveness of companies’ sustainability actions.”

 

Finding new ways to ensure that every organization can pursue its sustainability goals through such projects will also become more important. With the accessibility of high-end solutions on digital business platforms, this digital transformation is becoming deeper and broader. And the evolution of a real-time, immersive industrial metaverse offers even more. Industrial companies of all sizes will be able to create closed-loop digital twins with real-time performance data to run hardware-in-the-loop simulations and AI-accelerated automation processes. This way, businesses can make decisions in real time and in confidence by connecting vivid real-time worlds with physics-based digital models.

 

An example is the Digital Native Factory from Siemens Motion Control in Nanjing, which already comes close to being a ‘meta factory.’ “From the first idea until the start of production, every step was digitally supported,” explains Stefan Krug, Head of Lean Digital Excellence & Project Manager of SNCnew, Siemens AG. “We built up a detailed model of the factories step by step.”

 We simulated the performance of the new factory even before we poured the first concrete.
Stefan Krug, Head of Lean Digital Excellence & Project Manager of SNCnew, Siemens AG 

The digital twin was built from a combination of factory data, production-line data, performance data, and buildings information from the existing sites. “We simulated the performance of the new factory even before we poured the first concrete. We could plan the dimensions of the building, the material flows, and the required media supplies, such as nitrogen, power, and IT far more precisely,” Krug explains.

 

Plant operators could walk through the site virtually using virtual reality glasses, and give feedback to fine-tune the final design. Each step in the planning process was generated, tested, analyzed, and optimized in the digital world – to guarantee the most efficient construction and later production. As a result, productivity could be improved by 20%, volume flexibility by 30%, and material replenishment by 50%, and it made the factory more resource-efficient and sustainable on the way.

 

Elsewhere, low-code software platforms featuring pre-build integrations and other tools will enable users lacking deep technical knowledge to develop apps and interfaces at speed. This will boost businesses’ agility, enabling them to quickly respond to changing market conditions and remaining competitive. The benefits of low code include democratization of software development (citizen developers), ease of use, faster time to value, reduced costs, and accelerated transformation.

Case Study: The University of Birmingham harnesses digital solutions

The University of Birmingham has set up a ‘Living Lab’ to capture data from its building technologies, estates infrastructure, and energy plants at its campuses in the UK and Dubai. The insights gleaned from this will drive R&D and support teaching.

The project uses tools including digital sensor and analytics technologies, AI, decentralized energy generation and storage, and renewable energy. All of these support the university’s sustainability targets on an ongoing basis. The institution has made significant progress in sustainable operations, including achieving its 2020 target of reducing carbon emissions by 20%. But Professor Tim Jones, Provost and Vice-Principal, believes that, through capturing and analyzing far more data about the impacts of its activities, the university will be able to accelerate its decarbonization program even further.

 

“This will enhance our student experience and create new research and innovation opportunities while significantly reducing our carbon footprint,” says Jones.