Production line of shortbread cookies being filled with jelly by a robot

Surprise! I’ve got a new job! I’m happy to announce that I have taken a new role as the Global Product Marketing Manager for Sustainability & Smart Manufacturing within the ABB Process Industries – Digital business line. What that very long title means is: I am responsible for the product marketing strategy for ABB’s software portfolios that are focused on improving sustainability and operational excellence for industrial processes and manufacturing.

This may come as a surprise to those of you who have been following my career. It was a surprise to me. Up to this point in my career, I have existed in this smart grid / smart buildings / smart cities realm, and I’ve never demonstrated any penchant for industrial processes and manufacturing. So, why move into process industries now?

Our sustainable, decarbonized future will still require stuff. Maybe less of it (hopefully less of it), but as long as society continues to need materials and things to be made, there will be process industries, and there will be manufacturing. It is a worthwhile area to focus on improving.

Some of my favorite Things To Be Made are solar photovolatics, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and battery energy storage systems. According to the International Energy Agency, the shift to a clean energy system is set to drive a huge increase in the requirements for minerals needed to make these technologies such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, & graphite for batteries, rare earth metals for the magnets used in wind turbines and EV motors, and copper & aluminum for the electrical networking of the power grid. Renewables alone are expected to grow as much in the next five years as they did in the past twenty years. So, in order to meet the growing demands of electrification, mineral production and clean energy technology manufacturing will need to grow exponentially. And the crux of this issue: producers are under increasing scrutiny from customers, investors, and the local communities where they operate to achieve enormous growth sustainably and ethically.

Here is where digital solutions come in: software can be used to optimize processes so that you can essentially make as much as possible while using as little resources as possible, whether that’s by reducing the amount of material that has to be scrapped due to quality issues, reducing the power consumption of each process step, or providing tools to your workers that help them do their job more efficiently and safely. This concept can be summed up by using my new favorite word: dematerialization. In his February 2023 Light Metal Age article, Alex Grant describes dematerialization as “technology innovation focused on ‘doing more with less’ by, for instance, achieving higher economic output per mass of natural resources consumed.” He goes on to say, “Almost all new technology creates value for customers by increasing the quality of a product or decreasing the quantity of resources required to make a product… What’s more, the growing focus on reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply chains will only accelerate dematerialization across many industries.” This is why, to me, sustainability and operational excellence go hand-in-hand. To really innovate and optimize your product, it is necessary to reduce your usage of natural resources. Your core business cannot be extricated from your environmental impact.

Clearly, process industries are of vital importance to society’s critical infrastructure, but I have learned over the past few weeks of research that they can also be… delightful. One of ABB’s customers is Wander AG, which produces Ovaltine chocolate milk (This might be unknown to my American friends. Think: Nesquik). As I read about how the Neuenegg plant uses ABB’s Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to coordinate their operations, I was taken back to my summer abroad in Switzerland when I tried Ovaltine for the first time with my labmates in the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne bar. I was also recently enraptured by a Forbes article about how ABB’s technology is enabling Swedish-based circular fashion company Renewcell to recycle old cotton-rich textiles into new fabrics that are now being used by fashion giants like H&M, Inditex (owner of 8 brands including Zara), and Levi’s. (Sustainability + Fashion? I’m in heaven!) These examples illustrate what I am finding so compelling about process industries: I want to be involved in the sustainable production of things that are beautiful, delicious, and meaningful, whether it’s the battery providing your home with electricity, your favorite chocolate, or the garment that makes you feel your best self.

All that to say, sustainability deeply affects every part of our society and economy, and with this next step in my career, I am simply exploring a new, joyful angle. To my lovely friends and colleagues who have asked: The Energy Girl blog will certainly continue, and I hope you’ll stay tuned as I embark on this endeavor and learn even more about sustainability and digitalization.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *