How to unlock industrial productivity in a sustainable way?

material handling solutions person laptop working

Industrial productivity growth has slowed down in developed countries during the past years, which has major implications on both national economies and export. The world not only faces the challenge of stagnating industrial productivity, however, but also the increasing need for energy as well as rising resource consumption and emissions. Businesses have a central role in solving this challenge. Konecranes supports its customers’ operations with innovative solutions that enhance their productivity, lower their emissions and drive their business forward. This is why we have initiated a new 5-year program, Zero4, that strives to increase industrial productivity by zeroing down four key deficiencies from manufacturing processes.

All production processes require moving of raw-material and products. Transportation of these in any value-adding industrial activity, from assembly plants to hospitals to ports, is called a material flow. The cost of material flows resulting from moving raw-materials and products is close to 10% of companies’ turnover. In addition, material flows account for approximately 5.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 40% of injuries in the manufacturing industry. Therefore, making material flows more efficient, safe, and sustainable has a major impact on the overall industrial productivity and GHG emissions.

Konecranes is on a mission to increase industrial productivity through sustainable improvement of material flows. Zero4 strives to advance digitized material flows that connect automation islands, eco-efficiency, and employees to productivity development. Konecranes has a track record of industry-shaping innovations for over a century and a long history in participating to publicly funded research and innovation projects. Zero4 is a natural continuation to our current research and innovation activities.

The Zero4 program is part of Business Finland’s (government organization for innovation funding and trade, travel and investment promotion) “Veturi” initiative where Finnish companies are invited to solve some of society's most pressing challenges through research, development, and innovation in Finland. “Examples of new opportunities could include real-time visualization of an end-to-end material flow process or an AI optimized equipment selection for minimized energy usage,” says Zero4 program lead Mikael Haag.

The program is set to tackle two major challenges: climate change contributions of material flows and declining productivity in the developed countries. To achieve this, we aim to minimize the four main deficiencies of industrial systems – information barriers, GHG emissions, energy, and accidents.

“Digitalization of intralogistics is one of the key focus areas in the program – how material movements are tracked and the generated new data turned into value adding information that benefits all stakeholders as well as the environment”, Haag continues.

Deep diving into future material flow environments

The objective of the program is to construct a holistic material flow platform that tracks material movement and seamlessly orchestrates, visualizes and optimizes the fleet of intralogistics equipment and material so that needed material is always where it should be, as efficiently as possible.

Optimization of material movement decreases unnecessary energy consumption and limits the generation of GHG emissions. Unlike in the old approach of automating all processes, the focus of Zero4 is not in replacing human by automation. Instead, it focuses on modifying the automatic and autonomous environment and its information flows in a way that they support humans and guide the material flow optimization process.

Program research and innovation activities happen in seven research streams. Each stream contributes to one or more of the key deficiencies identified in the program.

The research streams take a deep dive into areas such as understanding humans’ role in future material flow environments, and building control systems and digital tools by analyzing what is most beneficial for the human. In addition, they research new technologies required by a material flow platform, minimize their energy usage, and innovate solutions to put material flows in novel locations, such as ceilings or walls.

One of the key streams focuses on researching and developing a material flow platform that unifies all material movement under one system and is able to interact with every machine, human operator, and piece of inventory under its supervision.

Finally, to reduce the GHG emissions of material flows, one of the streams focuses on introducing carbon neutral materials and optimizing maintenance and other material flow activities.

The streams orchestrate the program activities and joint projects, offer infrastructure and laboratories to house the experiments, and finally, innovate and commercialize new business models and solutions.

Joining forces to identify material handling solutions of the future

Konecranes’ core competences in the ecosystem are the material handling solutions for the industry and ports, and the development and commercialization of new technology. But development of new solutions is something that we cannot do only ourselves, and this is where Konecranes is set to search for partnerships. Partners and co-innovation will bring new competences to the ecosystem, and enable new research and innovation in new areas, such as virtualization or character recognition competencies.

“Our role is to act as the facilitator and driver of the ecosystem and research activities. In addition, we will lead selected project streams and sub-projects,” Haag says. “We’ve been astonished by the interest the program has sparked. A vast amount of industry-leading and ground-breaking startups, companies, research institutions and universities are eager to join their forces for a smarter, safer and better world. Altogether we are looking for more than 70 partners to join the ecosystem by 2027.”

Tackling some of the biggest industry challenges to make a lasting impact

In addition to the ambitious targets of unlocking industrial productivity, zeroing down GHG emissions, energy waste, safety incidents and information barriers, solutions developed in the program are expected to increase the ecosystem partners’ export significantly during the next five years. The program will significantly boost research, development and innovation activities in Finland and create hundreds of new jobs in the coming years. As part of the program, Konecranes is looking to transform selected existing production plants to global material flow flagship sites and model factories to test developed solutions.

Business Finland has granted altogether EUR 70 million to the Zero4 program. Funding is divided between Konecranes and the ecosystem partners. EUR 20 million of the funding is allocated to Konecranes, whereas ecosystem partners are to receive up to EUR 50 million.


Interested to know more? Visit our program webpage to read more, join the ecosystem and subscribe to our newsletter.

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