“What this fourth industrial revolution technology offers us is very detailed data resulting in greater global transparency and visibility,” says Johannes Holtbrügge, senior manager for digital transformation at Henkel, a global manufacturer for adhesive technologies and consumer goods. “That allows a business like ours to understand where we can cut energy usage, as well as find ways of reducing waste and excessive water consumption, helping us to have a positive impact on the environment,” he says.
Henkel’s Laundry and Home Care business unit makes detergent brands such as Bloo, Colour Catcher, Dylong and Jeyes, and the company is looking to the new technology to help it remove all carbon emissions from its production processes and become a climate-positive company by 2030 – meaning surplus CO2-free energy produced can be used by third parties.
Starting in 2013, Henkel began installing thousands of sensors in its 30 Laundry and Home Care factories worldwide, measuring everything from electricity consumption to water pressure in real time. “This has brought us transparency and insight and has enabled us to benchmark and compare factories so that they can learn from each other. Clever use of this data has helped us to reduce our energy consumption and slash waste,” says Holtbrügge.
Previously, energy usage was measured by sending an engineer to read the meter. With the network of sensors, a continuous flow of data is available about energy use, water consumption and gas supply from factories across the US, north America, Asia, Africa and Europe. This data can, for instance, be combined and analysed to show how compressed air that powers machinery can be used and distributed efficiently. Or if the sensors alert engineers to a sudden drop in water pressure, that suggests there must be a leak somewhere. Speedy location of leaks reduces water consumption. Before the sensors, it could have taken days to become aware that there was a fault.
Meanwhile, connecting factory workers digitally is also paying environmental dividends. Safety inspections in the factories are conducted by staff equipped with iPads, enabling them to record anomalies on an app and document them with photos. Previously, inspections were recorded on paper. There have been some 200,000 factory walkarounds using this connected worker system and they have improved factory safety and saved considerable resources.
These initiatives have helped Henkel make significant savings in energy use and have firmly placed it on its way to hitting its 2030 climate-positivity targets. Since 2011, the company has made a 16% to 18% energy saving by using these digital capabilities alongside other efficiency savings. Some 3.5m tonnes of CO2 have been taken out of the production process over the past 15 years, saving about €10m (£8.5m) annually on energy bills, the company says.