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May 17, 20244 min read

Engineering Vision in Sustainability and Innovation Leadership

This is a summary from the presentation of the same title by Luca Vezzadini, Applications Engineer at Zivan, at the Future of Electrification 2024 conference. Watch the full session here:

What is “engineering vision”? 

According to Vezzadini, it’s where sustainability and innovation intersect. 

As technology continues its rapid advancement, Vezzadini underscored the importance of recognizing the trends driving its development. For original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) specializing in off-road machinery, advancements like precision agricultural machinery equipped with advanced sensors and automation are a visible result of the invisible trends permeating the sector. 

These technological strides embody what Vezzadini called "visionary leadership," a commitment that marks the first of five tenets comprising engineering vision.

Yet as Vezzadini pointed out, a greener, smarter future is not built on technology alone. Emphasizing the second tenet of leadership commitment, he argues for a complete supply chain overhaul, adopting greener practices in distribution, production, and networking. Such a transformation requires both leadership and the commitment to see it through.

This leads to the third pillar: sustainable finance. Already, financial institutions and investors recognize the importance of environmental stewardship. This is evident from the tax credits and incentives actively mitigating electric vehicle (EV) purchase and ownership costs. Sustainable finance principles also lay the groundwork (sometimes literally) for improved public and private charging infrastructures, such as off-grid EV charging stations, that further drive adoption.

The fourth aspect of engineering vision focuses on compliance and certification. Vezzadini highlighted the importance of rigorous testing protocols for emerging battery and charger technologies in the form of a published Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), involving steps such as:

  • Establishing product category rules
  • Undergoing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • Ensuring quality assurance and external verification

These certifications enable OEMs to forge partnerships with suppliers and vendors who share similar environmental values, providing visible proof of a commitment to sustainability.

Such commitment transitions well into the fifth and final tenet: social equity. Grounded in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, social equity aims to ensure that sustainable practices are fully integrated—from production methods to systemic organizational commitments. An increasing number of bold governmental policies and international partnerships center around these sustainability objectives, aiming to drastically cut emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050.

Where do electric drivetrains fit into this engineering vision? Quite centrally, Vezzadini said.

Battery technology advancements have significantly enhanced the viability and performance of electric powertrains. As a result, modern non-road mobile machinery can operate with zero emissions while offering better total cost of ownership compared to traditional internal combustion engines.

Electric drivetrains are thus pivotal to achieving the many ambitious sustainability goals set for the coming decades. These advancements promote a zero-emission culture that benefits not just the market as a whole, but also every participant along the value chain—from OEMs to end customers.

According to Vezzadini, these benefits overlap with the increasingly stringent regulations mentioned earlier, which are expected to drive investor capital toward electric sectors. This may prove especially relevant for non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) and sectors using equipment like excavators, loaders, and agricultural machinery, where concerns over noise pollution in urban areas are becoming more prominent.

In considering hybrid and electrified machinery, Vezzadini highlighted that the cost and availability of batteries, along with charging infrastructure, remain significant constraints. Addressing these challenges from a united, global front is essential to reduce costs, boost battery supply, and support the development of adequate infrastructure, thereby facilitating genuine growth.

Sustainable design has thus shifted from an optional feature to the central focus. Every link in the production and supply chain—from power generation to the final vehicle deployment—must be driven by a commitment to develop zero-emission machinery.

In this context, Vezzadini identified several emerging trends that promise to drive greater adoption. For example, electrified non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) operates more efficiently while offering enhanced connectivity unattainable with traditional fossil fuel engines. This digitized connectivity, made possible through improved telematics, allows for: 

  • Real-time system monitoring 
  • Predictive vehicle maintenance 
  • Active optimizations to battery life and vehicle performance

Cutting-edge advancements are also making autonomous operations more accessible, encompassing technologies such as mapping, localization, control, and machine learning. These developments are particularly beneficial in traditionally hazardous sectors like mining, paving the way for safer and more environmentally friendly operations.

Although forward-thinking innovations (and their benefits) are indeed driving adoption, Vezzadini reiterated that this is only half the picture. The other half lies in leadership and collaboration—a glaring issue exemplified by the lack of globally standardized EV charging. 

To ensure meaningful development, Vezzadini emphasized the importance of clearly defining sustainable key performance indicators (KPIs). This makes progress both measurable and quantifiable, assessed through metrics such as energy consumption, efficiency, CO2 savings, total cost of ownership, and other benefits to the end-user.

Advancing these KPIs circles back to one key factor: capital. Sustainable investments are crucial, spurring the innovation and infrastructure necessary to achieve global zero-emission targets. We must hope that the vision of an all-electric future fuels the needed progress, policies, and collective commitment to see these goals accomplished.

As Vezzadini aptly worded it, every decision we make today will show in the generation of tomorrow.