New professor predicts a total green transition of industry
The global economy is in the midst of a booming industrial revolution driven by digitalisation, providing companies with entirely new technological opportunities to accelerate the green transition. War, pandemic and climate awareness could perhaps make the transition to happen faster than we had expected.
It has been called Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution. And you can recognise it by its digital technologies that are developing exponentially.
"In practice, this means that the changes are unstoppable and far more extensive than the industrial revolutions we have already put behind us," says Charles Møller, who is a new professor at the Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering at Aarhus University.
Frightening? Perhaps. But if companies understand how to exploit the potentials of change, they can pave a new path for a sustainable future.
"And the window of opportunity is open right now," says the professor.
He believes that companies have a tight timeline, and even though it can be expensive to enter Industry 4.0, all research suggests that investments in smart production equipment, robot technology, software, sensors and artificial intelligence will be crucial for their very existence in just a few years.
"More companies have to realise the need to invest in digital acceleration of the green transition. And they have to do it now. We’re heading towards a completely new industrial reality, and the coming years will be an elimination race. The global winners will be those ready to reap the green potentials of technology," he says.
Digital forces change everything
Charles Møller conducts research into automation, smart factories and digital manufacturing, and he is one of Denmark's leading experts in the interplay between technology, operations and management. In his career as a researcher, he has collaborated with hundreds of companies and therefore knows the consequences of digitalisation for the industry from the inside.
"Physical industry is merging with the digital world, and in many cases, the new technological possibilities have not only renewed companies' ways of manufacturing, but have also renewed the very core of their business models. In fact, I’d say that it may be time to redefine our perception of what a manufacturing company is. A factory’s no longer a factory in the original sense of the word. It’s a value chain that is connected by IT, and value here means in a life-cycle perspective," he says.
Digitalisation has completely reshuffled modern industries, and we have only seen the beginning, the professor believes:
"We’re used to thinking about Industry 4.0 as something to do with robots that make factory workers unemployed. But the changes are now percolating all the way up to senior management functions, because all of a sudden companies have a completely new foundation for working with knowledge and for making business decisions. In the future, everything will be based on big data, and use of data will be the focal point of modern production."
Winners and losers of the crises
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the world in 2020, and it confronted business and industry with the most serious economic crisis in recent history. A couple of years later came the war in Ukraine and the subsequent supply and energy crisis we are currently experiencing. This has forced companies across sectors to think in new ways, and it has given a major boost to global digitalisation of industry according to Charles Møller:
"We can see that the companies with a high degree of digitalisation have also performed best in the two crises. Why? Because they can act on data, understand the global systems, test scenarios and react quickly. They’re simply more robust."
And these are the same companies that are currently leading the way in the green transition.
The fact is that digitalisation is boosting the sustainable transformation of industry, explains the professor. They are conjoined twins or two sides of the same coin. The concept is called Twin Transition, and the EU is currently investing billions in research and development in the area.
"The digital revolution is driving the green transition. Access to data has created new opportunities for climate and environment efforts, and along with a growing climate consciousness, new political regulations have given companies a green bottom line to navigate by,” says Charles Møller.
A total green transition may be on the way
Charles Møller therefore sees a light in this decade’s crises. He points out that the new constraints given by the global warming, pandemic and war could be the start of a total green transformation of industry.
"We have access to new exponential growth technologies, and we have a hyper-connected world and a set of historical circumstances that call for a transition of traditional industries. From a scientific perspective, this is a window of opportunity for creating the dramatic changes required by the green transition," he says.
He expects that the path to a sustainable future will very much be through collaboration. Industry and universities must work even closer together to develop and implement digital manufacturing, and companies must prepare themselves for new types of symbiotic collaboration regarding supply chains, raw materials, upcycling and energy.
"We’re used to thinking linearly about manufacturing as something that takes place at a factory where we take in raw materials, process them and sell them at a higher price. This perception belongs to a chapter of industrial history that will end very soon. We’re looking towards a scenario in which all growth in society and all industrial processes and production methods will become disconnected from the use of raw materials and carbon emissions in a fully sustainable circular economy. It’s something we’ve been talking about for many years, and right now we have a chance to realise it," says Charles Møller.
Charles Møller took up the position of professor at the Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering at Aarhus University on 1 March 2023. He will be heading a new scientific initiative within digital manufacturing.
PROFESSOR CHARLES MØLLER
Aarhus University aims to develop a new strategic initiative within digital manufacturing and smart factories, and Charles Møller will be in charge of this.
Charles Møller comes from a position as a professor at Aalborg University and researches into the interplay between operations and information systems in industry with focus on technology, processes and management. His current research areas include ERP/MES systems, IT/OT integration, development of digital supply chains, smart factories and smart manufacturing.
Charles Møller helped establish the Manufacturing Academy of Denmark (MADE) and is still active in the organisation and its activities.
He is also affiliated with the regional EU Innovation Factory North programme, which aims at increasing digitalisation in small and medium-sized Danish enterprises.
Charles Møller has a background in engineering with an MSc (Electrical Engineering) from the Technical University of Denmark and a PhD (Industrial Engineering) from Aalborg University.
Charles Møller, professor, Institut for Mekanik og Produktion