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Smart factories offer efficiencies across the production process. However such intelligence is still slow to fully integrate into the wastewater management process. By Eric Lai, Asia Pacific Regional Business Director of Industry, Grundfos.

Today technology adoption in the manufacturing industry is non-negotiable. In fact, Zebra Technologies found that half of the manufacturers in the Asia Pacific region will have smart factories, compared to the global average of one third.

Smart factories offer efficiencies across the production process, including cloud-based analytics dashboards to identify problem areas, industrial 3D printing to eliminate waste, and predictive maintenance to reduce downtime. However such intelligence is still slow to fully integrate into the wastewater management process – which is often viewed as a necessary output of production, instead of a priority area for companies to get right.

Water as a resource has always seemed readily available at a reasonable price, as compared to the likes of oil and gas, which might explain the lack of urgency to automate wastewater treatment and management at the same pace as other parts of the manufacturing supply chain.

However, today the confluence of population growth, climate change and industrial pollution is threatening the quantity and quality of water available not only for businesses but for human use.

It is the responsibility of major producers and manufacturers to place real focus on helping to resolve this water crisis. Water plays a key role in every industry. For example, millions of gallons of water go into making everyday products – for example, 2,500 litres of water goes into making a cotton t-shirt. In China, agriculture and industry account for 85 per cent of water usage (according to Global Risk Insights, 2017).

Digital automation is hence crucial for companies to be part of the solution rather than the problem for three main reasons – tackling pollution amidst the continuing pressure of region’s water crisis, addressing energy consumption in processes, and building a positive corporate reputation.

Surviving Asia’s Water Crisis

Asia’s water supply is currently under enormous pressure. Water demand is forecast to increase by 55 percent as more cities in Asia urbanise and populations increase.

At the same time, people are competing for diminishing water resources – more than three quarters of the countries in Asia face serious water shortages, according to an Asian Development Bank report.

Climate change is exacerbating this crisis. Not only is global warming moving clouds and rainwater away from equatorial regions in long droughts, at the same time increasing precipitation is threatening livelihoods for many communities across Southeast Asia who are at risk of flooding every year.

According to a study released by Grundfos and Eco-Business Research, 70 percent of sustainability leaders across Southeast Asia predicted that their home country will continue to face extreme weather events over the next decade, taking a significant toll on local economies and infrastructure.

Up to 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed parts of Asia by 2050. If not managed proactively, the lack of safe, high-quality water supply could pose a real threat to continued growth and prosperity for the region.

With that, companies need to do more to ensure that their wastewater treatment and management has as limited impact as possible to the environment, saving our existing water resources. Wastewater is any form of water that has been contaminated by a commercial or domestic process, and is a key by-product of the manufacturing hub of Asia.

Wastewater pollution is especially problematic in developing countries. In fact, the Asian Development Bank estimates that 80 per cent of industrial wastewater is dumped into waterways untreated across the Asia Pacific region. Such industrial water pollution is resulting in massive health and social costs.

Wastewater treatment removes contaminants from water discharged from domestic, industrial or commercial premises as well as surface run-off. Wastewater treatment typically utilises mechanical, biological, and chemical processes to remove these contaminants.

Reducing Energy Consumption

Meanwhile, wastewater treatment and management is highly energy-intensive. According to Organica Water, sifting through wastewater and storm water consumes close up three percent of a developed nation’s electrical power every year.

Underpinning water movement and treatment throughout the production process, pumps are responsible for a staggering 10 percent of global electricity consumption. However, around 4-5 percent of this energy can be saved, if energy efficient pumps are used.

Ensuring that wastewater management is proactively and intelligently managed is no longer a nice-to-have for companies, but essential for responsible operations. Industries need to minimise their carbon footprint to combat the effects of climate change. Industry energy consumption is beginning to see greater scrutiny by the government, in line with the Paris Agreement targets as well.

For example, Singapore’s government is implementing a carbon tax next year which will require the country’s largest emitters – many of which are from the manufacturing industry – to start paying for emissions. Its government agencies are also taking necessary steps: national water agency PUB is developing new technologies to cut energy use in the water treatment process.

And it’s not just the government who care about sustainability.

A Triple Bottom Line

Research has shown that a company’s commitment to sustainability has a positive impact on its reputation, especially when it comes to consumers.

Unilever found that one third of consumers prefer purchasing from companies they believe are doing social or environmental good. Millennials in particular are demanding sustainability as a priority for companies.

Weber Shandwick has also found that consumers want to align themselves with companies with a positive reputation. Around 70 percent of consumers said they would not buy a product if they don’t like the company behind the product – and a poor environmental track record does not reflect well on the company.

In fact, 83 percent consumers in China said that they try to buy products made by a company that does good things for the environment or community – a significantly higher proportion than their counterparts in the US (56 percent) and the UK (44 percent).

In today’s climate, a company’s actions to minimise its impact on the environment can no longer be an afterthought to the production process, but a key consideration factor that results in concrete business outcomes.

What Now?

The process of wastewater treatment varies from simple tanks, relying solely on sedimentation, to the refined treatment processes with advanced biological treatment that we know today.

Treatment aims at reducing the pollution contained in the wastewater such as bacteria and viruses, oxygen consuming components, nutrients, pharmaceuticals, chemical substances and heavy metals before it is discharged to the receiving waters.

For pump manufacturers like Grundfos, the pursuit of digitalisation has meant incorporating intelligence into its products to make them more intuitive and connected, and thus perform more efficiently. Grundfos’ calls this iSolutions – a range of products with a focus on connectivity, intelligent monitoring and adjustment features, optimising water efficiency across the entire system.

Digitalisation opens the doors to a more sustainable business models that not only allows companies to produce more with less, but also avoids unnecessary waste of resources such as energy and water.

For example, pumps play a crucial role in wastewater treatment where dosing exactly the right amount of chemicals is important to reach process targets and ensure the process is safe and reliable.

Under its iSolutions range, Grundfos’ latest SMART Digital XL DDA and DDE dosing pumps is able to dose in accurate measurements, which cuts out unnecessary chemical consumption, while consistently reaching processing targets. Such Industry 4.0 technology leads to less waste and more efficiency, and ultimately less environmental wastage for the producer.

Paradigm Shift Needed

Water is a valuable resource not only to business but to life. Industries need to take a hard look at their wastewater management process, not only because we are facing a water crisis today, but also because of the financial and reputational benefits of reducing energy consumption and limiting our impact on the environment.

Technology has played a key role in modernising factories across Asia. And digital automation may be the key to helping us prevent a large-scale water crisis.

The digital revolution touches all aspects of our human and physical world in many varied and constantly changing ways and it can answer many of our questions, including: How do we live large with a smaller impact? How can we use less but gain more?

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