Sustainable Manufacturing: Fixing The Factory Floor
The pressure is on the manufacturing industry to make sustainability a priority. But implementing economically-sound processes that minimize environmental impact is a daunting proposition that involves every step of a product's lifecycle from design, sourcing, manufacturing to delivery, service and beyond. In this article by Forbes, Vincent Rutgers discusses how leveraging digital technology is the answer to manufacturing's sustainability problem.
Sustainable manufacturing—the production of goods through economically-sound processes that minimize environmental impact—will most likely require the transformation of the entire manufacturing and industrial system. Manufacturers will need to look at how they design, source, manufacture, deliver, and service all their products. It’s a daunting proposition. But it’s one manufacturers need to address as the sustainability imperative continues to grow.
Whether it’s in response to stakeholder demands, regulatory mandates, a concern for the environment, or plain financial gain, manufacturers can no longer confine sustainability to aspirational targets printed in their annual reports. To make the necessary progress, they will instead need to commit to clear action. And that action will have to start on the factory floor.
Leveraging digital technology and renewable energy
Currently, manufacturing processes use roughly one-third of the world’s energy. Even in lower-intensity sectors—those outside of such top users as chemicals, refining, and paper—energy often represents a significant cost. And that only stands to rise as global energy prices increase. By building sustainable practices into processes, manufacturers can tackle their single largest sustainability obstacle while at the same time working to minimize environmental impact and conserve resources.
Through the use of digital technology, manufacturers may already have a head start in their sustainability journey. In recent years, the implementation of lean processes using digital capabilities have boosted productivity, created safer workplaces, and reduced costs. What this automation through digital technology can also provide manufacturers is greater visibility into their production processes, equipment wear-and-tear, and, more importantly, energy usage. Armed with this data, organizations can then optimize production and improve predictive maintenance to diminish energy loads as well as reduce material and water waste—all key factors in building sustainability.
But that may not be enough. Building a more sustainable factory floor should also mean greater use of renewable energy—now increasingly competitive in terms of cost. There are a few ways to do this. Many manufacturers are taking advantage of power purchasing agreements, which can lock in fixed prices for a supply of renewable energy, sometimes for as long as 15 or 20 years. In other instances, manufacturers with large campuses are even investing in on-site generation, using solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal pumps to power their facilities.
By reducing waste and water usage, adjusting energy loads, and tapping into renewable resources, the factories of the future have the potential to drive measurable sustainability outcomes as well as reduced costs. This is particularly important as energy efficiency improvements are now being increasingly mandated by licensing authorities at the launch of a manufacturing operation or upon review once operational.