4 Feb 2020

How a deep understanding of data enables industrial symbiosis

Today, all around the world, many industrial companies are facing the exact same challenges; improving operational sustainability, reducing waste, and transitioning to cleaner or more sustainable energy sources.

There’s no ‘quick fix’ for any of these issues, but one strategy that many companies are pursuing is industrial symbiosis—the concept of building relationships, sharing resources, and collaborating within industrial clusters to reduce wastage and drive mutual value.

But, before organisations can see the benefits of industrial symbiosis, they must first identify the right opportunities to explore within their cluster. And the key to doing that accurately and effectively is structured data.

By using industry 4.0 technologies such as IoT devices to track, measure, and assess key operational areas, clusters can identify the added value that can be filled by symbiosis. The data gathered using these technologies helps to create and enable effective industrial symbiosis in five key ways:

1. Supporting network-first product design

With insight into data gathered from across the cluster network, new products can be designed to make the most of network by-products and existing processes. That might involve using specific materials or by-products discarded by another process to create new products, or using existing machinery in an innovative new way to support a new production process.

2. Enabling innovation and business model optimisation

With a strong overview of operations across the cluster, organisations can quickly identify opportunities for business model improvement. Those opportunities could include creating innovative new products, turning data and analytics into value-generating digital services, and selling products ‘as a service’ where leased products are supported by integrated data services, managed by the manufacturer.

3. Identifying opportunities for operational improvement

With access to data from across shared facilities, organisations can identify issues with their own individual processes and make valuable improvements to things like waste management – driving the cluster towards a zero-waste economy.

4. Identifying new industrial symbiosis networks

Before symbiosis begins, data from shared resources can help identify parties that should be involved in collaborative projects, based on the specific needs that are identified and recognised by the different actors within a cluster.

5. Roadmap development and benchmarking

When industrial symbiosis is happening, having process and operation data gathered from industry 4.0 technologies helps you understand the value adds between industrial sites within a cluster. Understanding this way of working for creating opportunities helps to find new opportunities between industries within the cluster.

The other side of the story

While deploying these technologies and harnessing the data from them carries clear advantages for industrial clusters eager to explore symbiosis, getting started isn’t as simple as deploying a handful of devices and recording some results. There are several significant data challenges that remain in their way:

  • Because industrial clusters are often very physically close to one another, geographical contexts need to be factored into a data catalogue, which can be a complex process.
  • To find strong opportunities for collaboration, data around organisational culture and behavior should also be considered. However, this is almost always qualitative data, making it hard to both collect and analyse through traditional data structures.
  • Building a culture of trust and collaboration is difficult. Manufacturers have spent a lot of time and effort ensuring that their data never leaves the walls of the business. Shifting to a collaborative, sharing culture for mutual benefit represents a significant cultural shift.
  • The boundaries of industrial clusters change frequently, with operations moving geographically, and parties scaling their operations up and down within the cluster. So, all boundaries for analysis must be flexible.
  • Having multiple parties involved means there is a lot of different data to validate before any analysis can begin—much of it coming from diverse sources of varying quality without a common structure.
  • For industrial clusters to effectively achieve symbiosis, the industrial partners must map out the entire lifecycle of their data—alongside company development roadmaps—to build up a complete understanding of what symbiosis can bring to them.

While complex, these challenges are certainly not insurmountable. And with such significant business and operational rewards on the line, it’s no longer a case of whether clusters want to face these issues – it’s a matter of deciding how they’re going to do it.

How Royal HaskoningDHV can help industrial clusters become future-proof

As explained above, data is an incredibly valuable resource for industrial clusters that want to explore symbiosis and prepare for a more efficient digital future. However, collecting, organising, structuring, validating and mapping that data can be extremely challenging.

At Royal HaskoningDHV, we’ve developed a systematic approach to help you examine your cluster, from environmental, technical, financial, IT/OT, organisational and legal perspectives—helping you uncover valuable opportunities for symbiosis.

In addition to providing strong design engineering expertise and dedicated self-developed cloud solutions, we collaborate with our partners to deliver a full spectrum of data lifecycle solutions. Together, we help industrial clusters pursue circular economy opportunities, like industrial symbiosis, and create innovative new business models, like Take Back Chemicals, while improving trust among parties in industrial clusters by harnessing the power of data combined with the engineering knowledge. We’ve helped several well-known industrial clusters better understand their opportunities, through our DBFMO (design, build, finance, maintain, operate) solutions. With a combination of turn-key solutions to accelerate digital transformation and purpose-built data structures, we have all of the resources and expertise needed to ease industry 4.0 adoption, face major industrial challenges like energy transition, and effectively achieve symbiosis.

To find out more about our unique DBFMO solution, or the digital technologies we use to help industrial clusters transform their operations in the industry 4.0 era, get in touch.


In this blog you’ll learn:

  1. How industry 4.0 data creates opportunities to uncover new synergies in industrial clusters.
  2. Why it’s difficult to harness and master data within industrial clusters without expert help.
  3. How Royal HaskoningDHV can help industrial clusters transform and create new business models with our DBFMO value proposition and our turn-key solutions.

Curious to learn how we can help you improve your production site?

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Bart Vander Velpen
Global Business Director Industry 4.0

View author bio


Tong Wang
Industry 4.0 consultant for High Performing Production Sites

High performing production sites