How to achieve convergence in digitalization, reliability, sustainability

Digitalization uses digitized data and digital technologies to improve and modify existing processes

By Frederic Baudart April 26, 2024
Courtesy: Accruent


Learning Objectives

  • Understand the difference between digitization and digitalization.
  • Learn when and how digitalization can be implemented in an industrial setting.
  • Using a predictive maintenance example, understand how digitalization can be easily put to use.

Digitalization insights

  • Achieving integration between innovative technologies in industrial workplaces often neglects reliability and sustainability, despite their interconnectedness.
  • Strengthening this connection via digitalization enhances data-driven decision-making and proactive maintenance strategies for improved efficiency and sustainability.

To leverage innovative technologies in the industrial workplace requires a high level of integration, which is something that many modern organizations fail to achieve. This is largely due to a prioritization of digitalization above two other critical components of digital transformation: reliability and sustainability. And the key lies in connecting all three initiatives. Before we explore this connection in more detail, however, it is helpful to understand what each term means and its importance in modern industrial organizations.

Digitization versus digitalization

The terms digitization and digitalization are often used interchangeably to refer to the same idea — the integration of digital technologies throughout an organization’s workflows to further digital transformation initiatives.

Yet, while both concepts are integral components of digital transformation, there are some important distinctions between the terms, particularly in their scope. Digitization quite simply involves converting analog information into a digital format.

Digitalization, however, refers to the use of digitized data and digital technologies to change a business model and provide new value and processing opportunities. Digitalization is not just a buzzword; it offers organizations many benefits including:

  • Improved efficiency: Digital technologies streamline business processes and help organizations replace time-consuming manual processes, saving time and money.

  • Increased productivity: Automation and data-driven decision-making enhance overall productivity.

  • Enhanced innovation: Real-time data and insights help identify opportunities for improvement while fostering a culture of continuous innovation.

  • Improved customer experience: Digitalization allows organizations to better understand and meet their customers’ needs, improving overall satisfaction.

  • Competitive advantage: Companies that embrace digitalization gain a competitive edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Discover how the convergence of digitalization, reliability and sustainability enhance industrial systems and processes.

Discover how the convergence of digitalization, reliability and sustainability enhance industrial systems and processes. Courtesy: Accruent

What is reliability?

Reliability refers to the ability of systems, equipment and processes to consistently perform their intended functions over a specified period under normal operating conditions. Reliability is an essential component in ensuring the efficient and continuous operation of industrial facilities, reducing unplanned downtime and preventing costly disruptions to production processes.

While reliability metrics can differ among organizations, key aspects of reliability in an industrial setting typically include:

  • Equipment performance: Systems and equipment should consistently meet performance standards without unexpected failures. This can include machinery, control systems, sensors and other components that are essential to production processes.

  • Consistency: Industrial processes must be predictable and repeatable to maintain efficiency and meet production targets.

  • Maintainability: The ability to maintain and repair systems and equipment contributes to their overall reliability. Efficient maintenance procedures help reduce downtime, ensure that equipment performs at an optimal level and reduce costs associated with repairs.

  • Availability: Unplanned downtime can have enormous costs, making continuous availability a key aspect of reliability.

  • Life cycle considerations: Reliability encompasses the entire life cycle of industrial systems, from design and installation to maintenance and eventual replacement. Efficient design and routine maintenance throughout the life cycle contribute to long-term reliability.

  • Safety: Reliability is closely correlated with safety in industrial environments. Unreliable systems can pose significant safety risks to workers and the industrial environment. Ensuring the reliability of safety-critical systems is paramount.

What is sustainability?

In an industrial setting, sustainability refers to an organization’s ability to maintain or support operations at a specific level without damaging or depleting the resources on which they rely. A commitment to sustainability is important for many reasons, including:

  • Resource conservation: By minimizing waste and optimizing resource consumption, industrial facilities can operate more efficiently while reducing their environmental footprint.

  • Regulatory compliance: Adopting sustainable practices helps ensure compliance with applicable regulations, minimizing the risk of legal issues and potential fines.

  • Economic viability: Sustainable practices contribute to cost savings, which are realized through waste reduction, recycling, energy-efficient equipment, reduced maintenance costs and other factors.

  • Informed decision-making: Measures such as conducting life cycle assessments help stakeholders understand the impact of their products or processes from sourcing to end-of-life disposal. This information enables informed operational decisions and other initiatives such as minimizing the organization’s environmental footprint.

Digitalization strengthens reliability, sustainability connection

There is a strong correlation between reliability and sustainability, as sustainable equipment and systems are dependent on reliable resources and processes. The integration of digital technologies further strengthens this connection in several ways.

  • First, digitalization provides the tools needed to collect and analyze data to make informed decisions. Data-driven organizations, in turn, can improve reliability by identifying inefficiencies, improving processes and reducing waste.

  • Second, smart technologies enable real-time monitoring and control of energy consumption. This improves the identification of energy-saving opportunities and the implementation of measures to improve overall energy efficiency.

  • Third, digitalization facilitates proactive maintenance strategies, including preventive and predictive maintenance. Through sensors and analytics tools, maintenance teams can anticipate equipment failures and schedule maintenance before unplanned downtime occurs.

The struggle for modern organizations

Despite the benefits of achieving reliability and sustainability in industrial processes, modern organizations often make the mistake of focusing too much on digitalization at the expense of sustainability goals. This can occur for many reasons, including overemphasizing efficiency and the unintended consequences of automation. In terms of the former, the focus on digitalization for efficiency gains tends to prioritize short-term economic benefits over long-term sustainability. For the latter, an overly rigid automation system can limit an organization’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances, creating sustainability challenges.

Some tips to successfully embed digitalization into your workflows to improve reliability and ensure the success of a long-term sustainability program include:

  • Set clear objectives and baseline: Establish a clear objective for your combined program, or programs and choose key performance indicators to measure your baseline performance. This provides a foundation for tracking progress and setting achievable targets.

  • Focus on the basics and data foundation: Prioritize fundamental reliability and sustainability practices and build a robust data foundation that supports both. Accurate and comprehensive data is essential for informed decision-making and identifying areas for improvement.

  • Standardization: Standardize your processes as much as possible to achieve consistency across your operations. This not only improves efficiency but also facilitates the integration of digital technologies.

  • Make data accessible: Ensure that relevant data is easily accessible throughout your organization. A transparent and accessible data ecosystem encourages collaboration and empowers employees to contribute to sustainability efforts. Clearly highlight data that has benefits for both reliability and sustainability with the same, or little additional, effort.

Putting digital transformation into practice

To better understand the points discussed above, it’s helpful to consider a hypothetical.

Imagine a manufacturing plant has recently undergone a digital transformation — meaning that the organization has defined and implemented a series of digital transformation initiatives. The plant now boasts a comprehensive network of sensors that continuously collect performance data on metrics such as temperature and energy consumption. The data is then seamlessly analyzed in real time using analytics algorithms and displayed on a user-friendly interface that allows stakeholders to derive actionable insights and make informed decisions to optimize operations.

For instance, suppose that a member of the maintenance team notices that one machine often operates at a higher temperature than similar equipment. This prompts a technician to inspect the machine and he discovers an issue with the machine’s cooling system. The issue is corrected promptly and the plant avoids a potential breakdown while extending the life span of the equipment.

In terms of energy consumption, suppose that real-time data analysis helps technicians identify several machines that are consuming excessive energy during idle periods. They can then take steps, such as implementing automated shutdown protocols to minimize waste. Due to these digital initiatives, the plant experiences a significant improvement in its operations’ reliability. Equipment failures and unplanned downtime are dramatically reduced. The plant also achieves greater sustainability by optimizing energy usage, minimizing waste and prolonging the life span of its assets. In this way, the successful integration of digital technologies not only improves reliability but also contributes to larger goals of achieving sustainability in industrial workplaces.

Embracing the unlikely trio of digitalization, reliability and sustainability is not just a strategic choice; it’s a commitment to building a future where innovation, reliability and sustainability coexist harmoniously in the industrial workplace to ensure that you continue to thrive.

Author Bio: Frederic Baudart, CMRP, is Senior Product marketing manager at Accruent.