The rise of the machines: AI powering manufacturing advancement

The manufacturing industry's contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions comes primarily from its intensive energy use.

In the UK, manufacturing output is higher now than it was 30 years ago and companies want to work more efficiently to use less energy so that their operations are more profitable and more environmentally sustainable. One way to do this is by bringing AI (artificial intelligence) onto the shop floor.

How is AI going to make such a difference? According to The Manufacturer, it's going to connect with IOT (Internet of Things) devices, to create 'smart machines'. This will, in time, enable the machines to not just work more efficiently on the tasks they are programmed for, but also adapt to continuously changing tasks and learn from it.

E.ON Optimum Manufacturing

Our new Optimum Manufacturing service, which is powered by Sight Machine, is helping manufacturers to optimise their business by connecting energy, building and process data to solve manufacturing use cases, be it energy and carbon reduction, increased throughput and quality or reduced waste, to drive profitability and sustainability across their plants.

Sight Machine's IOT-enabled digital manufacturing platform combines AI, machine learning and advanced analytics to identify ways to save energy and increase efficiency.

Manufacturing AI at work

With a smart factory run by computers comes increased security risks and many UK manufacturers have already been victims of cyber attacks, which can cause disruption ranging from a couple of hours downtime to serious financial loss.

To address this side of the AI revolution in manufacturing, Microsoft has just announced major improvements to its cloud computing system specifically for manufacturers using IOT factories to improve profits and environmental performance.

Another way AI can help transform manufacturing is through generative design, which uses cloud computing to identify better ways of creating things so they use less materials and energy. It's already being used in many industries to transform the manufacture of aircraft, vehicles and tools.

So it's safe to say that the new industrial revolution is underway, and this one will be driven by AI to help improve the impact that manufacturing has on the natural world.

Busy Berlin airport to transform into pioneering energy hub

When one of Germany's oldest airports closes its runway, it will become home to one of the largest urban development projects in Europe.

The space where 20 million people a year now rush off on new adventures, will transform into a research and industrial park for urban technologies and a residential quarter with up to 6,000 flats — all built with the energy of tomorrow in mind.

E.ON and Berliner Stadtwerke will supply heat and cooling to this new district, known as Berlin TXL, using a pioneering low-temperature network called LowEx.

This environmentally friendly technology is similar to district heating – where one energy centre generates heat and power and is connected to homes or businesses through a network of pipes. LowEx however, operates at much lower temperatures – no higher than 40 degrees Celsius. This reduces heat loss and makes the system more efficient.

Unlike other districts, the energy in Berlin TXL will be generated, stored and consumed there. It will be home to a mix of power plants with sustainable energy at their heart, including air source heat pumps, photovoltaic and geothermal energy, combined heat and power, and waste water heat.

The LowEx network will also be able to take in energy from renewable energy sources on site, so businesses and residents in the district fitted with renewable systems can make, as well as consume energy.

The need for innovative heat and power solutions has never been greater. The heating and cooling in our buildings and industry makes up half of the EU's energy consumption. As Germany's largest city, Berlin is working hard to tackle its CO2 emissions and aims to be “climate neutral" by 2050.

Our next-generation energy solutions are a perfect fit for this new district, which is set to be a meeting place for entrepreneurs, students, investors, manufacturers, and scientists. Working together, we will be able to develop new solutions for the cities of tomorrow.

With innovative projects like this taking place around Europe, we are working to support a brighter future for us all.

Busy Berlin airport to transform into pioneering energy hub

When one of Germany's oldest airports closes its runway, it will become home to one of the largest urban development projects in Europe.

The space where 20 million people a year now rush off on new adventures, will transform into a research and industrial park for urban technologies and a residential quarter with up to 6,000 flats — all built with the energy of tomorrow in mind.

E.ON and Berliner Stadtwerke will supply heat and cooling to this new district, known as Berlin TXL, using a pioneering low-temperature network called LowEx.

This environmentally friendly technology is similar to district heating – where one energy centre generates heat and power and is connected to homes or businesses through a network of pipes. LowEx however, operates at much lower temperatures – no higher than 40 degrees Celsius. This reduces heat loss and makes the system more efficient.

Unlike other districts, the energy in Berlin TXL will be generated, stored and consumed there. It will be home to a mix of power plants with sustainable energy at their heart, including air source heat pumps, photovoltaic and geothermal energy, combined heat and power, and waste water heat.

The LowEx network will also be able to take in energy from renewable energy sources on site, so businesses and residents in the district fitted with renewable systems can make, as well as consume energy.

The need for innovative heat and power solutions has never been greater. The heating and cooling in our buildings and industry makes up half of the EU's energy consumption. As Germany's largest city, Berlin is working hard to tackle its CO2 emissions and aims to be “climate neutral" by 2050.

Our next-generation energy solutions are a perfect fit for this new district, which is set to be a meeting place for entrepreneurs, students, investors, manufacturers, and scientists. Working together, we will be able to develop new solutions for the cities of tomorrow.

With innovative projects like this taking place around Europe, we are working to support a brighter future for us all.

Energy Managers: Putting forward the case for promotion

And while 92%(2) of staff who manage their company’s energy believe office colleagues would be able to identify them as the decision-maker for energy, in reality nearly half of employees (49%) say they do not know who manages energy in their workplace.

Clearly, energy managers need a boost and some recognition for all the good work they do. That’s why we are providing advice to energy managers to help give their careers a boost in the form of tips aimed at supporting them to take a step up the ladder.

Energy in manufacturing: Why an energy strategy should be part of your business strategy

More than ever before, manufacturers are now discussing energy at board level – highlighting that it is an increasing concern for business. We wanted to find out why, so we partnered with Manufacturing Management to interview 50 leading UK producers to gain a greater understanding of the concerns within industry.

Currently cost focused:

The primary consideration in the sector – perhaps unsurprisingly – centres around the cost of energy with 68% of respondents agreeing that prices are a bigger issue now than in the past. As a consequence 91% of manufacturers are looking to lower their energy use. Furthermore, more than half (53.5%) of respondents warned these high energy prices are affecting their business’ competitiveness.

As such, it is concerning so see that 13% surveyed have ‘no idea at all’ about how their company buys energy and a further 16% have ‘limited’ knowledge. It also comes as a surprise that only 47% see implementing a formal energy policy as an immediate concern – although 76% say it they are intending to implement one within five years.

Businesses can’t afford to wait. This delay could cause the them to miss out on extensive savings and further compromise their competitiveness in an already challenging market.

So why aren’t those manufacturers moving sooner?

Whilst there is a clear acknowledgement from business leaders that an energy policy will bring wider benefits to their enterprise (77% agreed), our survey suggests that for some there’s simply too much advice. Manufactures don’t know where to begin and who to trust – this may be why the implementation of an effective energy policy is pushed down the pecking order. They’re equally likely to go to their supplier, a known energy company, a facilities management organisation or a public / forth sector trust.

Additionally, others are wary of the upfront investment required within an energy strategy. However, there are short-term fixes that can be put in place and delaying the investment needed often means paying more in the long run.

For businesses, if they can have a one-stop-shop – a partner who they could go to for holistic, impartial energy-related advice, from purchasing to energy efficiency to self-generation – it would be very beneficial. We’re already doing this at E.ON. We have solutions engineers who carry out site surveys to understand production processes and identify how, where and when energy is being used. We then work with our customer’s to develop a strategy that’s just right for them. We take an agnostic approach and look at the whole solution.

Annalisa Bell, strategic account manager at E.ON commented: “It’s important to have a holistic approach to energy management. Being energy efficient is key to helping companies achieve sustainability goals, reducing costs and ultimately making them more competitive, streamlined and resilient. It’s great that 77% believe that energy efficiency will create benefits, but those that don’t need to be shown the benefits it can bring.”

Looking into the crystal ball

It is also important to explore the wider context. After all, the manufacturing industry does not exist in isolation. While cost is more than likely to remain the dominant factor in shaping energy policy, environmental factors will play an increasing role in influencing the industry. Only 6.7% of respondents thought that pressure to be greener was shaping their energy policy, but that number rises to 22% when asked about the picture in five years’ time. We believe that is a conservative estimation.

While the manufacturing industry is more insulated from end-consumer expectations, it is often only a rung or two removed from consumer-focused businesses – which are increasingly putting pressure on their supply chain to prove their social and environmental credentials.

Looking at trends across consumer goods markets, there is plenty of evidence of companies receiving a premium when they produce goods that are environmentally sustainable or help to reduce the environmental burden. From Parley’s sunglasses made from recycled ocean plastic, to Adidas’s new soles that will be made from recycled plastic, increasing the energy efficiency of your manufacturing plant and doesn’t simply offer cost savings on your energy bills – it increases your competitiveness.

In the future this may also be a necessity, rather than an aspiration. The views of consumers are only part of the equation for manufacturers: the pressure to be greener will also be felt from the Government. There seems to be an awareness of this amongst some respondents, with 28.9% of leaders citing the need to reduce emissions, rising to 37.8% in five years. Developments in environmental policy are hard to predict, but if current trends around emissions continue, we reckon it is a safe bet for manufacturers to take proactive steps to future proof their business, by implementing effective energy strategies that will reduce their emissions.

Looking at energy solutions

Each business is unique and the solutions required should be individually tailored to its need. This is why working with solutions engineer to assess the businesses energy requirements and ability to invest is crucial.

Russell Roof Tiles is one business that implemented its own energy strategy and reaped the benefits. Its approach was onsite generation. This is a savvy way to cut costs – after all around 60% of every energy bill is comprised of taxes and levies.

The projected cost savings of 18.6% in the first 12 months should equate to over £1.2 million in savings over the duration of the contract – savings which can then be driven back into the business.

For other manufacturing businesses, ensuring the machines are kept running is an important part of their competitive business strategy, and which is where storage solutions – which ensure a resilient supply as well as keeping their costs down – can come in.

Conclusion

The manufacturing industry is largely aware of the importance of managing its energy policies effectively, to decrease costs and future-proof against both consumer opinion and potential environmental policies instigated by the government.

However, a combination of fear of upfront investment and a lack of understanding on where to get expert advice is pushing the creation of an energy plan down the agenda. Getting good energy advice doesn’t need to be difficult –we can provide a one stop shop and work with you to develop an energy strategy as unique as your business.

Find out more about energy efficiency for manufacturing.

A sustainable energy partnership

Helping Russel Roof Tiles cut costs and carbon emissions

 

We’re helping Russell Roof Tiles benefit from sustainable on-site generation and potential new revenue streams. And by working in partnership with us for the next 15 years we’ll meet their long-term operational needs.

In a demanding climate for UK manufacturing, Russell Roof Tiles needed to reduce their manufacturing costs and maximise their competitive advantage as a leader in sustainability and responsible sourcing - by improving the efficiency and reliability of their on-site energy generation and management.

We designed, built and installed a sustainable 240kW combined heat and power (CHP) system and a new boiler, which provides Russell Roof Tiles with 100% of their thermal needs and around 70% of their electrical demand. We expect to save 18.6% in the first 12 months, which equates to around £72,000 and over £1.2 million over the duration of the contract.

"The relationship with E.ON has been seamless all the way through the process. And with the expertise they brought to ourselves, being an innovator in the roof tile market, we feel this really helped the business grow and set us up for future growth."

Andrew Hayward, Managing Director at Russell Roof Tiles

CHP will give Russell Roof Tiles a secure, self-sufficient, sustainable energy supply tailored to the tile making process, as well as more predictable energy costs and new sources of revenue, now and in the future. Our expertise and flexible operation strategy will also help them maximise energy efficiency and guarantee performance.

 

See all our case studies

The smart future of energy use

It’s the current buzz phrase when it comes to reducing energy costs and being more sustainable: being smart. Of course, many businesses have smart meters to monitor use, help keep costs down and reduce the environmental impact of producing energy. It’s estimated that the global smart meter market will grow by 23% by 2025. And through smart technology such as Combined Heat and Power plants, customers have more control than ever over their energy consumption and production.

But there’s also a need for thinking smarter when it comes to business energy use. That’s the responsibility of each business’s Energy Decision Makers (EDMs). They have been charged with devising and implementing a cohesive, costed and sustainable corporate energy strategy. But the key to its success comes not from smart ideas themselves, but rather from getting understanding and buy-in for them from both the business’s leaders and the users across the staff.

EDMs from across a range of sectors have plans in place to save costs and reduce the corporate carbon footprint – everything from encouraging PCs to be turned off each night to sensors that detect if toilet lights need to be on.

They just need widespread buy-in for these plans to become fully effective. After all, the quantity of energy a business consumes is determined, to a degree, by the people using that energy; by those turning on the lights, leaving machines on standby and so on.

To be successful, an energy-use policy also needs to be championed by a board-level director. Herein lies the challenge: A third of EDMs did not believe their board places importance on energy as an overall business strategy. An added problem is that only 47% say staff understand their energy policies. That may be down to the EDMs themselves; the survey indicates that only 17% of the 750 businesses regularly discussed sustainability issues with staff and almost a third (31%) never do so. If it’s buy-in they are seeking, communication is the cornerstone.

That communications message should be based on the huge implications of wasting energy. Not only does it affect the company’s bottom line, but it affects environmental protection. Energy-use reduction is a core part of UK and EU environmental policy, with sustainability and renewable energy an essential part of that. Introducing solar panels and implementing LED lighting are examples of policies that meet this expectation. Having a sustainable energy strategy should form a part of a corporate social responsibility policy. Any strategy to reduce power usage requires staff to understand why changes in attitudes and practices need to be adopted, according to the survey. Showing clear and direct links between behavioural changes and impacts on company finances is one way; highlighting the reduced carbon footprint, celebrating cost savings and even passing on some of those costs in ways of bonuses are others.

Taken from a business survey by The Daily Telegraph and YouGov, 2016.

 

Sustainability and business success go hand in hand. We teamed up with The Telegraph to help businesses better understand how they could reduce costs and become more self-sufficient.

Fill in a quick form to download the free report.

How can boards be switched on to energy?

One word comes to mind – more. In the light of the findings in the Telegraph/YouGov survey on energy attitudes, awareness and policies across British industry, since 2016 business energy policy has slipped down the list of priorities both in boardrooms and among employees.

Awareness of how companies buy energy has weakened, and the proportion of decision makers who discuss sustainability issues with employees has dropped from almost 70% to just 40%. While the respondent samples were not identical between the two years, the drop is remarkable.

This is perhaps due in part to the closure of the ESOS (Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme) compliance obligation period, resulting in the assumption that energy efficiency is no longer an issue. But there also appears to be a conviction among managers across industry that investment in energy efficiency will not pay off in their tenure.

Lagging behind the hospitality, tourism and travel and retail sectors, manufacturing seems to be the industry sector least concerned by the issue of energy. This is surprising, given that almost three in 10 of manufacturers spend more than £250,000 a year on energy, as opposed to the 16% in retail that spend the same amount.

Barely a quarter of decision makers in manufacturing consider the price of energy to be a threat to their business, whereas that figure goes up to around four in ten in retail and hospitality.

In manufacturing, only 15% of employees understand their company’s energy policy, against 29% in hospitality and almost 40% in retail. In both manufacturing and hospitality, 45% of managers were neutral about whether their boards consider an energy strategy as part of an overall business strategy; 42% didn’t think it was important at all.

However, in retail, more than two thirds of managers said it was important to their boards. While businesses in all sectors said that energy efficiency is important, along with compliance with energy legislation, only retail shows a marked interest in the value of energy self-sufficiency.

The conclusion is that there is a degree of complacency over energy policy in manufacturing, and to a slightly lesser degree in hospitality, but that it is far less of an issue in the more cutthroat environment of retail. With the end of ESOS, it seems, many decision makers took their eye off the ball regarding the benefits of energy efficiency.

It is probable that the commercial pressures that concentrate minds in retail will come to bear on hospitality and manufacturing. When that happens, the importance of having a proper focus on energy policy at board level, and an awareness of energy efficiency and sustainability throughout workforces, will most likely happen. Until then, retail leads the way, hospitality follows and manufacturing lags well behind both.

 

Sustainability and business success go hand in hand. We teamed up with The Telegraph to help businesses better understand how they could reduce costs and become more self-sufficient. 

Fill in a quick form to download the free report.

 

Who will pay for electric car parks?

The Government and local authorities will drive the huge increase needed in the number of charging points on highways and in residential areas, but who will provide them for private businesses?

The announcement of a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in the UK from 2040 has spurred serious consideration about the mass use of electric vehicles (EV). For years EVs looked more like futuristic transport visions to file away with flying cars – but no longer. The Government is going full speed towards a greener future, making these considerations increasingly pressing.

In London, vehicles failing to meet strict emission standards will also face additional charges from September 2020, marking a clear indication that petrol and diesel are swiftly becoming the black sheep of the fuel family. That said, there is no point in having an electric car without the infrastructure to support it. A growing number of local and public authorities are also changing to EV fleets for all their departments and installing EV charging points. However, while the Government and local authorities will drive the huge increase needed in the number of charging points on highways and in residential areas, less attention has been paid to the role of private businesses in providing them.

Switching on to plugging in

EV charging is not only a great selling point for employers, as well as hoteliers, restaurants and retailers, but it also integrates with a broader shift to affordable green energy solutions and their many benefits.

Dr Chris Horne, Head of Origination Sales at E.ON says that “anyone who provides parking spaces for customers and staff should be considering the installation of charging points”, as customers and employees are beginning to expect that charging facilities are available and will start to make decisions based on whether or not they can charge their vehicle.

“Installing several charging points now – or even if they only install one, carrying out the civil and electrical preparations for further points – will prepare for the rapid growth in demand in the next few years while minimising the cost and disruption caused during the installation works,” he adds.

Free EV charging does make a company hugely attractive for staff and visitors to plug in when they visit. But for businesses, the key question is what happens if every traveller needs to recharge their batteries at your expense.

Electric deal

Free charging is probably not sustainable for businesses long-term. There are costs involved up front, with the biggest often associated with running suitable electricity cables to the EV charge posts, says Dr Horne, particularly if they are some way from the nearest electricity distribution panel. “Ongoing costs of operation are important to understand,” he says. “These will cover maintenance of the posts, annual safety inspection and tests, operation of the back-end systems that control access to the posts, end-user billing and 24/7 support.”

As more people charge their EVs away from home, it will become commonplace to charge for the energy supplied, with employees regularly charging up potentially liable for a benefit-in-kind tax liability. A reasonable fee could cover the operating costs of the charging posts and still remain low, however. The evolution of EVs is making this a particularly pressing issue. A major benefit of owning one of the later generations of EV is that average commutes are far less than the energy storage capacity of the latest vehicles.

So at the end of a commute home it will soon be possible to use any leftover charge as a supplementary energy supply for the home itself – leading to businesses potentially having to power far more than simply journeys to and from home. Challenges such as these mean that establishing cost-effective ways to fund vehicle charging schemes are vital and should be brought well forward in executive discussions. EVs are the future and it is urgent that more organisations fully consider the fitting of the infrastructure and the long-term provision of the energy needed to keep all those vehicles on the road.

Ultimately, there will always be a cost for any company willing to pay for all its staff and customer journeys. But if doing so becomes a point of difference among less generous competitors, perhaps it is an investment that will pay off.

 

This artilce originally appeared in The Telegraph. 

Sustainability and business success go hand in hand. We teamed up with The Telegraph to help businesses better understand how they could reduce costs and become more self-sufficient. 

Fill in a quick form to download the free report.

Retail leads in energy strategy

Times are tough for retailers, especially when they have to compete against online sellers with low overheads and limited stockholding. They can expect to see profit margins drop by 3% to 5% this year, according to the Retail Profitability Challenge, as a result of property taxes and rents, a drop in the value of Sterling and increased staffing costs due to the minimum wage and apprenticeship levy. These are all outside the direct control of managers, but one issue driving this drop in profitability can be addressed by retailers: energy costs. This may explain why energy decision makers in retail are far more likely to have a handle on energy costs than in other industries.

According to figures from The Daily Telegraph and YouGov, more than three quarters of managers in retail (76%) have at least some idea as to how their business buys its energy compared with manufacturing (68%) or hospitality (61%).

As a result, retailers tend to spend less on energy, while staying mindful of the impact a poor cost-cutting decision would have on the customer experience. For example, they are far more liberal in their approach to heating and cooling in their stores – hot and bothered customers are, clearly, less likely to buy.

Energy plays such an important part in the overall costs of retail that two thirds in that sector (compared with fewer than half elsewhere) think it should be a board-level issue.

In fact, 72% are sufficiently concerned about energy costs to be actively seeking ways to reduce consumption. This could explain why retailers are far more likely to have a manager whose remit specifically includes energy.

It appears to be reaping rewards as retailers up their game when it comes to making savings and reducing use – for example, in becoming energy self-sufficient via solar panels and battery storage. By generating their own energy, they can even create revenue from selling the excess.

There have been various products and solutions to help businesses reduce their energy usage, not least ESOS, the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme that was introduced to ensure countries comply with the EU Energy Efficiency Directive.

The ESOS process goes from assessment to recommending efficiency savings, with audits carried out by independent experts from the Carbon Trust.

As that organisation says: “Saving energy is one of the simplest ways to increase profits. A 20% cut in energy costs represents the same bottom line benefit as a 5% increase in sales.” It seems bricks-and-mortar retailers are already on the case when it comes to controlling these particular costs.

 

Sustainability and business success go hand in hand. We teamed up with The Telegraph to help businesses better understand how they could reduce costs and become more self-sufficient.

Fill in a quick form to download the free report.