IT in Manufacturing


Bringing brownfield plants back to life

February 2024 IT in Manufacturing


Hennie Colyn, direct sales executive, Process Automation at Schneider Electric.

Today’s brownfield plants are typically characterised by outdated equipment and processes, and face challenges ranging from inefficient operations to safety hazards. However, all is not lost ,as these plants stand to gain a lot from digitalisation and automation.

In contrast to greenfield plants, brownfield plants are generally underused or even abandoned, which makes the move to digitalisation even more compelling, as the infrastructure already exists and can be modernised, with substantial benefits.

Indeed, the integration of digital technologies has the potential to not only address the abovementioned challenges, but also move brownfield plants back into the twenty-twenties, benefiting from increased efficiency, safety and sustainability.

The brownfield plant’s journey towards digitalisation and automation offers important sustainability benefits such as:

• Reduced fossil fuel demand: digitalisation aids in optimising energy usage, leading to a reduction in fossil fuel demand within manufacturing processes.

• Improved green total factor energy efficiency: the adoption of digital technologies enhances overall energy efficiency, contributing to greener and more sustainable operations.

• Decline in pollution-intensive production: digital transformation reduces the production scale of pollution-intensive enterprises, mitigating the environmental impact.

• Carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction: through advanced data analytics and automation, brownfield plants can actively monitor and reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with global sustainability goals.

Despite the above benefits, there will also be some challenges. Like many new or ongoing projects, resistance to change is often the greatest barrier of all. Humans are habitual creatures and the adage ‘if it’s not broken ...’ sums it up nicely. Here, it’s important to roll out a change management strategy that educates employees on the importance of modernisation through digitalisation and automation.

Similarly, when digitalising and automating plants, the changeover must keep pace with the needs and expectations of customers, again ensuring that change management is handled in a sensitive manner.

Importantly, a clear vision for the transformation must be communicated to ensure the abovementioned resistance is handled in a productive manner, ultimately leading to operations that are agile and make the most of this new era of digitalisation and automation.

To bring a brownfield plant back to life, consider the following important steps:

• Evaluate your current digital landscape to understand the existing digital infrastructure and identify areas for improvement.

• Put into place effective leadership, which is crucial for driving digital transformation aligned with broader business strategies.

• Foster a culture that embraces change, coupled with transparent communication, to address concerns and build consensus.

• Optimise existing processes to integrate digital technologies seamlessly for maximum efficiency.

• Prioritise data management and curation, to harness the full potential of digital technologies.

• Identify and deploy technologies tailored to the needs of brownfield plants.

• Develop a skilled and adaptable workforce capable of leveraging digital tools effectively.

• Collaborate with reliable technology partners to ensure a smooth and successful transition.


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