Less energy consumption and waste due to IIoT and Augmented Reality

Written by: René Zölfl

Read Time: 5 min

In addition to pressure from regulators, sustainability is a top priority for investors, the public, and employees when selecting partners, customers, and employers. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical industry has committed itself to becoming carbon neutral within the next decade. Also, more sustainable companies reduce their energy consumption and generate less waste – a critical factor for the life science industry.

Digital technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and augmented reality (AR) can help pharmaceutical manufacturers operate more sustainably, environmentally, and socially friendly. In this way, the IIoT can help companies monitor and optimize energy consumption, reduce waste through productivity and quality improvements, and track the environmental impact of their supply chain. For example, IoT sensors can monitor temperature, humidity, and other factors during storage and transportation to ensure products are stored in the right conditions. Other essential starting points for more sustainable production are increasing capacities and avoiding downtime.

This is achieved with ThingWorx Digital Performance Management (DPM) from the US software manufacturer PTC. The solution provides manufacturing teams with a comprehensive decision-making tool that identifies and prioritizes issues that lead to production downtime, helping to prevent further downtime. By understanding the root causes, professionals can identify the most impactful improvements and optimize the number of operating hours in the factories, saving energy in both the process and equipment. Thus, the solution supports a continuous improvement process based on LEAN principles, among other things. As a result, improvements are implemented consistently and sustainably.

Eliminating the root causes of scrap, whether due to machine problems or human error, helps production teams limit the consumption of operational resources in both primary operations and rework, the amount of waste products to be disposed of, and supply chains. By optimizing maintenance with IIoT-powered asset monitoring and predictive maintenance, production teams can maximize the useful life of machines on the shop floor.

Companies that successfully deploy IIoT technologies significantly reduce CO2 emissions, waste, and water consumption and improve energy efficiency. The World Economic Forum lists several projects in its Global Lighthouse Network on how companies have been successfully transformed by implementing industrial IoT sensors and digital platforms, improving their efficiency, growth, and sustainability. Among other things, energy consumption and CO2 emissions have been reduced by a quarter.

Why digital data collection is so important

SIG, an aseptic carton packaging manufacturer, shows this is possible. Although the Swiss company is already sustainably positioned and records key performance indicators (KPIs), such as success, performance, or capacity utilization, through a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), it was necessary to act even more cost-consciously and sustainably to differentiate itself from competitors.

So, the company worked with its partner PTC to connect production processes even more closely and make them more transparent. First, SIG identified areas where the need for manual input could be reduced. The goal is a wholly connected production, allowing all systems and machines to communicate and cooperate.

SIG implemented a flexible IoT solution that enables communication, connectivity, and visibility while leveraging existing systems. PTC helped harmonize disparate data sources and increase visibility across plant operations.

Since there were no more manual entries, the digitalization of data acquisition made it possible to obtain accurate real-time data, creating the basis for operating plants more efficiently - ultimately leading to further reductions in energy and material consumption. For example, micro-failures were now noticed that had previously not been tracked due to manual recordings. With the help of real-time data, previously hidden problems became visible so that downtime and other inconsistencies in the production machines could be eliminated.

How to Uncover Hidden Energy Consumers

In addition, electricity meters could be easily integrated into the production network, revealing that some machines were consuming more energy than necessary. The additional visibility of the energy consumption of the machines is one of many levers to reduce the CO2 footprint. Ultimately, the solution provided full transparency into data that was previously difficult to discover.

From plant managers to corporate decision-makers, cross-operational visibility makes it possible to prioritize tasks and understand which issues need to be addressed. Production managers and operators can pinpoint machines that consume too much energy even when not running, which could indicate a mechanical problem. Or they can act immediately to reduce downtime. In addition, operators no longer have to record downtime, making their jobs easier frantically. And decision-makers now have a solid foundation to improve processes and products.

Digitalization can also bring about more sustainability in other areas. This is demonstrated by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a pharmaceutical company from the USA that specializes in the production of salt culture media at its site in Grand Island, New York.

With the help of the DPM solution, Thermo Fisher accelerates fault analysis, detects bottlenecks in production faster, and can resolve them quickly. When it was introduced, the goal was to double the OEE figure – achieved by 75 percent after just six months. This corresponds to an added value in the millions and a much more sustainable use of resources. Thermo Fisher can also respond to increasing demand with existing resources. This also increases the sustainability of the company.

More sustainable through augmented reality

DPM is an essential building block of a comprehensive IIoT strategy. This also includes augmented reality (AR) applications. For example, virtual tours can be made possible to increase efficiency in maintenance work.

The pharmaceutical company Merck is counting on this at its Haarlem site. More than 3,200 different country-specific medicines and vaccines are produced, packaged, and delivered to 140 countries daily. "Autonomous Guided Vehicles" (AGVs), autonomous material handling robots, are used to move the material. To ensure the entire process runs smoothly, operators and maintenance technicians must be trained – because even a tiny mistake can destroy a whole batch of life-saving medicines. Instead of paper-based work instructions, Merck uses GATE, an AR platform built with PTC's Vuforia Expert Capture, to ensure the error rate is significantly reduced and maintenance is carried out on time. Work instructions, training, or explainer videos are played with step-by-step instructions on computers, laptops, tablets, phones, or SmartGlasses such as RealWear and HoloLens. This provides the necessary security and significantly reduces the company's paper consumption. As a result, Merck reduced its demand for consumables and material waste by a quarter. As a result, manufacturing costs have also decreased. In addition, the company is now experiencing fewer batch losses. These results prove how effectively companies can conserve resources with the help of AR.

AR can also be used to train employees in the sustainable use of resources or how to reduce energy and material consumption. Today, the large number of standard operating procedures (SOPs) has an impact on sustainability measures. Traditionally, these SOPs are delivered on paper, often leading to errors and, subsequently, scrap, waste, or rework. Errors, such as during line release or equipment setup, can also lead to batch contamination or damage to equipment. By digitizing how SOPs are created, managed, deployed, and consumed, AR solutions provide training and manufacturing teams with an electronic way to deliver the information they need in the proper context and on demand.

Research has shown that guiding employees with AR is more effective and sustainable than reading instructions on paper. Customers who have used PTC's AR solutions estimate the potential savings of up to $27 million, with the reduction of scrap and errors making up the bulk of it. In other words, clear, intuitive instructions via AR help prevent excessive resource consumption.

ThingWorx Digital Performance Management

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Tags: Industrial Internet of Things Augmented Reality Life Sciences Sustainability Regulatory Compliance

About the Author

René Zölfl

Rene Zölfl, Global Industry Advisor Life Science, supports life science companies in their transformation towards greater agility through Industry 4.0 and digitalization. He built up the life science market at PTC in Germany. Based on his experience, he has a deep understanding of how new technologies support digital transformation, how manufacturers can benefit from digitalization in different process areas and how regulations impact this change. As Chairman of the PTC Healthcare Executive Advisory Council, Rene organizes and leads joint workshops with PTC's most strategic life science customers and PTC executives on industry topics and requirements.

René is a member of ISPE and participates in the special interest group "Pharma 4.0". He has also contributed as co-author to the acatech Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index, published in March 2017.

René joined PTC in October 2010. Prior to joining PTC, he held various positions in consulting, portfolio management and marketing at Siemens.