Ireland’s Ambition for Industry 4.0 Can Only Be Realised Through a Revolution in Electricity

Guest post by Chris Collins, Country President for Ireland, Schneider Electric

In 2019, Ireland’s Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation laid out its Industry 4.0 Strategy: a vision that by 2025 Ireland will be a ‘competitive, innovation-driven manufacturing hub at the frontier of the fourth industrial revolution and the forefront of Industry 4.0 development and adoption.’

The intervening years have proven challenging for the industry worldwide, with manufacturers and life sciences suppliers struggling to augment production levels to meet a growing and shifting demand. The realisation of the strategy within such tight timelines seems daunting. Alongside macroeconomic challenges, industry is also grappling with the imperative to reduce carbon emissions and meet the government’s commitment to a 51% reduction in emissions by the end of this decade, and net zero emissions by no later than 2050.

Achieving net zero cannot be separated from the aims of Industry 4.0, which promises a digital revolution in industry, transformed through technology-enabled efficiency, automation and connectivity. To flourish, there must be a digital relationship between manufacturing businesses and their supply chain, partners, and customers, as well as site-specific innovation. All this can only be fuelled by clean, green electricity that empowers industrial innovation without compromising emissions targets.

Achieving Industry 4.0 will require a simultaneous revolution in energy. Electricity 4.0 is our vision of a new industrial era. Put together, they will ensure Ireland maintains its position as a competitive manufacturing hub while also setting the standard for green innovation through clean, digitally enabled energy efficiency.

Electricity 4.0 – the Future of a Net Zero Ireland

Across the world, smart technologies are helping manufacturers improve productivity. Internet of Things connected devices and cloud infrastructure transform inefficient production lines into next-generation smart factories. Industry 4.0 technologies now facilitate communication between devices, control systems and cloud data systems to ensure the best decisions are made at every step of production, based on rich data and powered by automation. The application of smart factory analytics helps manufacturers optimise their production processes, reduce efficiencies and promote greater productivity.

The same principles apply to Electricity 4.0. It is already accepted that electricity is the fastest route to cleaner, smarter, more efficient energy, the best vector for decarbonisation. Electricity 4.0 describes the convergence of digital and electric at scale, driving innovations and efficiency, a fundamental shift in how we use, save and distribute energy.

When electricity meets digital, it becomes controlled, visible, connected, and smarter – delivering more and wasting less. Global management consultancy McKinsey estimates we can reduce about 85% of the emissions we need to cut to reach net zero in Europe using existing technologies. In our experience, energy costs can typically be reduced by between 10% and 30% and maintenance costs between 30% and 50% across smart factories and smart distribution centres.

Despite being one of the fastest ways to reduce consumption, energy efficiency is often overlooked but is vital to improving productivity and decarbonisation. To capitalise on efficiency, manufacturers must be able to quickly and easily measure and track energy use to drive proactive reduction strategies.

However, our research suggests that just 29% of organisations have started measuring energy use and identifying energy waste. Just a third have mapped their current carbon footprint, while one in six has not started mapping carbon emissions.  Reducing the amount of energy waste in production lines, buildings, and transportation through digitisation must be part of the Net Zero energy strategy.  The cleanest watt is the one that never needs to be generated.

The decarbonisation journey demands complete visibility of emissions. This can only be achieved by investment in smart technologies, which provide insight and data that, in turn, streamline operations while empowering intelligent electrical infrastructure decisions. Effective power management, through connected technologies, brings together the principles of Electricity 4.0 to deliver the aims of Industry 4.0 and Net Zero.

Of course, it is not just about ensuring efficiency within existing models. Electrification for Industry 4.0 must incorporate next-generation power supplies such as EV Chargers, Smart Meters and Microgrids. As the race to Net Zero continues apace, this new approach is essential to support the industry 4.0 revolution.

Electricity 4.0 is the here and now. Yet, many organisations and manufacturers in Ireland have not realised the potential of fully utilising it to digitise their operations. To be competitive in today’s hyper-competitive market, manufacturers must adopt the latest innovative products more creatively. At the same time, safeguarding the environment through new policies and solutions and investing in technology will ensure we remain on track to achieving ambitious net zero goals.

The accelerated adoption of electricity 4.0 to power innovative digital technologies will ensure industry can spearhead a green recovery whilst becoming more profitable and productive in the future – putting Ireland back on the manufacturing map.

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