Businesses must capitalise on Industry 4.0 to drive resource revolution, says techUK

EXCLUSIVE: Business investment in digital technologies such as blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can kickstart a resource-efficient economic boom within the UK.

techUK's Susanne Baker, pictured here speaking at edie Live, noted that effective adoption of digital technologies could cut resource costs by £10bn

techUK's Susanne Baker, pictured here speaking at edie Live, noted that effective adoption of digital technologies could cut resource costs by £10bn

That is the view of techUK’s head of programmes Susanne Baker, who claimed that the UK is well-placed to benefit from resource efficiency enabled by digital technology.

Speaking at the Resource Efficiency theatre at day one of edie Live today (22 May), Baker noted that effective adoption of digital technologies could cut resource costs by £10bn.

While the likes of blockchain, AI and the internet of Things (IoT) are all hot topics in the media, most of these technologies have so far had limited take up and remain the preserve of early adopters. Baker urged businesses to capitalise on the UK’s thriving digital sector and world-leading research and innovation centres.

Baker said: “There is a huge amount of innovation that is out there to take advantage of, particularly because we do have such a rich environment of tech firms. 

“We don't need Government intervention to get on board with this. We are already seeing sectors such as automotive and construction using digital technology to design and maintain infrastructure.”

Predictive maintenance models

One area of interest for sustainability professionals is IoT. Baker noted the emergence into the market of IoT-enabled predictive maintenance models, which are helping to prevent equipment failures, boost product quality, ultimately, drive profit.

“That in the future is going to be hugely significant, both in a business and domestic environment,” she said.

“Could it be that in the future, rather than waiting for appliances and products to break and having to repair them, we will know in advance when we have to repair something and have enough time to book engineers and have those spare parts?” 

Blockchain and 3D printing

Blockchain technology is another emerging digital technology causing a stir in corporate sustainability. Acting as a digital ledger, blockchain creates a verifiable audit trail that can be used for any transaction, and this is where its impact on sustainability begins to take shape. Blockchain can be implemented – and in some cases, is already used – across numerous sectors, from forestry and fisheries to carbon accounting and energy.

Baker made a reference to machine learning start-up Verv, whose renewable energy trading platform allows customers with renewable energy supplies and battery storage to sell surplus power directly to their neighbours. The London-based firm last month conducted the UK’s first physical blockchain energy trade at a Hackney housing estate.

In the future, blockchain could play a role in digitally tracking waste through the entire supply chain, Baker said.

“Blockchain is a potential option for tracking hazardous waste through the system in a robust way,” she said. “Or we could use that and send out those type of models to track materials and products throughout the entire supply chain. 

“Another interesting development is in 3D printing, which is already being used to generate spare parts. That is already happening now - what if that was rolled out to consumers?”

Register for edie Live day two!

There’s still time to attend for Day Two of edie Live, where you can listen to industry experts including Ikea, Kingfisher and Whitbread as well as attending topical roundtables and attending one-to-one advice clinics. For more information or to register, click here.

George Ogleby


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