HomeBuildings‘Greta dislikes you, but we like Greta’ – Sandvik on industrial revolution and the smartest little tool-house in Sweden (pt1)

‘Greta dislikes you, but we like Greta’ – Sandvik on industrial revolution and the smartest little tool-house in Sweden (pt1)

“The world is changing, and changing extremely fast,” explains Swedish manufacturer Sandvik at PI World 2019 in Gothenburg this week. The firm, a ‘lighthouse’ smart manufacturer for the World Economic Forum, says industrialists must drive digital change in order to save the planet.  

During a morning keynote at the event, Claes Nord, experience specialist at Sandvik Coromant, puts up an image of Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish environmentalist. “I think, she doesn’t like you,” he tells a massed audience from the industrial sector – gathered in Gothenburg to discuss data analytics using the PI System, a stalwart for IT/OT convergence. 

At about the same time, Thunberg, who has energised climate activists to strike against the impact of global warming, is speaking at a meeting of the Senate climate crisis task force in Washington DC. “She doesn’t like production. Because she thinks we are destroying the planet,” says Nord.

Swedish industrialists will feel close scrutiny of their environmental credentials, as Thunberg tells industry to shape up, and fast, and the country itself nurtures a green reputation at the top of the global sustainability index. In Gothenburg, Nord hints at the shame of it, when counting up history’s ‘industrial revolutions’, between the introduction of steam (the first) and the rise of digital tech (the fourth). 

“There is an industrial revolution people in Sweden don’t want to talk about. I call it the Industry 3.5, in the 1980s, when the solution was to move production to low-cost countries. It didn’t work. It wasn’t the solution. The cheapest place on the planet right now, in 2019, to produce what we produce is in Sweden.”

Thunberg thinks no company, anywhere, has made sufficient progress to tackle climate change. But big Swedish brands have responded to the shifting mood; most notably, for the general public, IKEA has removed single-use plastics, and put a 2030 deadline on renewable materials. 

Sandvik Coromant, which makes heavy-duty drilling and cutting tools, claims it is doing its best, at least. It is the only production facility in the country to gain recognition in the World Economic Forum’s review (compiled by McKinsey & Company) of the greenest factories in the world — and one of only nine in Europe and 16 worldwide. 

The company has made clear its support for the United Nations’ ‘sustainable development goals’ (SDGs) from 2016. It feels close to Thunberg, says Nord, as an activist and a Swede, from alumni stock. “We like Greta. Her grandfather used to work at Sandvik Coromant as a controller, and her mother used to sing in Sandvik Coromant choir. But that’s not why like her. We like her because has a point,” he says.

Nord’s presentation at PI World goes by the header, ‘people, planet, profit’. It is arguable how the company prioritises these when making business investments in digital technology. “We’re not only the market leader, we’re also the price leader… [But] the distance to number two is getting closer. So there’s pressure to change the way we produce.”

In an idiosyncratic, lively presentation, Nord – in what appeared to be a banana-coloured denim jacket, complete with company logos (see image) – slips between his firm’s creation story and change strategy, utilising emotive love/hate language to emphasise the stakes in play.  

“We love people… We love automation and data… We love additive manufacturing,” he says, articulating the solution for industry. 

Sandvik has 42,000 employees in 160-odd countries across three divisions. Industrial tool maker Sandvik Coromant, Nord’s employer, incorporates 23 international brands, including Seco (also in Sweden), Walter (in Germany), and Dormer Pramet and Impero (both in Italy).

Besides, Sandvik Materials Technology (SMT), the company’s original business, produces high-performance metals and alloys, and Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology (SMRT) makes machinery for mining – for drilling, cutting, and crushing rock underground.

The company makes 80 per cent of the world’s razor blade steel. It provides the metal composite in YKK (“the Rolls Royce of”) zippers. It provides drills to the likes of Airbus, Boeing, and Rolls Royce itself in the air-line industry. “Those are our customers. You know who we are.”

The group is headquartered in Sandviken, a way north of Gothenburg; Sandvik Coromant operates out of Gimo, on the site of an old carpentry, which the company’s founder purchased when house hunting one summer in 1951. “It’s a village, in the middle of nowhere. If you blink, you’ll miss it. But for us, it’s the centre of the world.”

It is also the smartest factory in Sweden, according to the McKinsey review for the World Economic Forum; one showing the kind of commitment to sustainable production that Thunberg might acknowledge. But how? 

This article is continued here: ‘Smash-proof guitars and ‘insane’ amounts of data – Sandvik, the smartest little tool-house in Sweden (pt2)

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