The Sustainable Finance Podcast: The digital transformation in manufacturing

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In a recent episode of the Sustainable Finance Podcast, Craig Coulter, strategy & operations and sustainability leader of EY’s Global Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility team, shares his insights on the challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0, or Smart Manufacturing.

Coulter’s expertise is developing go-to-market strategic direction while integrating ESG and decarbonization across manufacturing, supply chains and procurement compliance. Coulter began by addressing risks and opportunities post-Covid as businesses gear up to incorporate digital technologies. 

“A recent survey that I took a look at, almost 50% of our clients are talking about how sustainability is one of the most important drivers in terms of their supply chain and manufacturing, but only about 15% of them are really addressing that as they look at manufacturing globally . . . and organizational change is the number one challenge.” 

As Coulter explains, “You have manufacturing, which is a challenging industry, you have digital transformation, which is an ongoing issue — a huge opportunity, but also challenge — and then sustainability is yet another major topic that you have to try to weave together. . . . We want to be that trusted third party to help our clients bring all that together.”

Coulter gives some examples of traditional artificial intelligence capabilities and generative AI in this transition. 

“We have a digital twin of our entire innovation hub building for energy management purposes. So you can see a very specific visual of where there are potential gaps in terms of energy efficiency, what’s cold, what’s hot?”

When it comes to machine learning and predictive maintenance, Coulter explains that “you can have algorithms to help improve that: Maybe it’s ordering — you find a log jam because you don’t have enough of a particular component. Maybe it’s a labor issue — you don’t have people on the ground that are able to move fast enough.”

In Coulter’s experience, one of the biggest issues for manufacturers is “how they can better connect with their customers. Often, many manufacturers don’t have the visibility to know who their customers are, how their products are being used, having that feedback. This is where I see Gen AI having potentially tremendous impact . . . and using those large language models to bring their clients closer to them.”

Coulter also talks about how digital technologies can help integrate regulatory requirements into business models and take advantage of the vast opportunities sustainability offers in terms of efficiencies and responding to market forces, whether that’s entire platforms that focus on energy management and cost optimization or, “as simple as adding sensors to machines in a facility or in the field and be able to do predictive maintenance.”

“Efficiencies driving through digital manufacturing is a targeted outcome that we all see. It saves money, and often saves energy.” And that might entail, says Coulter, “new products and new sustainable product opportunities that are changing the market. . . . I think we’ll see more and more companies that are getting their digital house in order and are ready to execute. They’ll start to take more risks there. And that’s where there’s opportunities that can really be game changing for our clients.”

For more insights, including perspectives on disruption of business models by AI and partnerships with Microsoft and AspenTech, watch the full interview on The Sustainable Finance Podcast.

Read more: The Sustainable Finance Podcast: The Tri-Gen system

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