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Manufacturing Technology

Sustainable Manufacturing through Digital Innovation

Sustainable manufacturing is not only a requirement, but an opportunity for your business that can make your efforts more respectful to the environment. Furthermore, you can unlock the financial benefits of a circular economy approach that may significantly reduce costs. And how can digital solutions help you here? Or what tools to choose? If you are unsure about any of the answers, this article is for you.

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Almost 68% of manufacturing firms have already made business investments in order to transition their operations to net zero and to be environmentally friendly. A further 22% are planning to do so within the next 12 months.

However, businesses are now under more scrutiny regarding their environmental impact.

Current regulations such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) are compelling companies to disclose their energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions in order to provide the transparency that customers increasingly demand. Indeed, 77% of manufacturers now face Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting requirements from consumers who prefer products with lower environmental footprints.

Moreover, looming resource constraints and the introduction of future legislation that mandates setting science-based targets for emission reductions underscore the urgency for businesses to act.

But we have good news for you. By embracing environmentally friendly practices, you can unlock the financial benefits of a circular economy and significantly reduce costs.

What is sustainable manufacturing and why does it matter?

Sustainable manufacturing is about producing goods in a way that’s friendly to our planet and safe for the people involved. This approach looks at the entire production process – from the materials used to how products are designed, made, and even recycled at the end of their lifespan.

Consider, say, a factory that produces everything from your sneakers to your smartphone but in a way that uses less water and energy, creates less waste, and cuts down on pollution. Generally speaking, this organization ensures that producing goods doesn’t harm our environment or jeopardize future generations’ ability to meet their needs. That sounds a lot better than a company that strains natural resources, wastes a lot of raw materials, and/or creates a significant amount of pollution, etc.

But why does sustainable manufacturing matter so much?

Well, our planet isn’t getting any bigger, but our population and demand for products are. That means we need to find smarter, cleaner ways to produce the goods we rely on every day.

And focusing on sustainable manufacturing processes enables companies to help protect natural resources, reduce their carbon footprint, and even save money by being more efficient.

Plus, it’s good for business – customers today care about the environment and are more likely to support brands that do too.

In short, sustainable manufacturing is good for the earth and a healthy future for all of us.

Benefits of using digital technology for sustainable production

Digital technologies are fundamental in making manufacturing processes leaner, greener, and more efficient. They can optimize every step to ensure it’s as environmentally friendly as possible. For example, with them, you can reduce waste, save energy, and even predict maintenance needs to prevent downtime and excess use of resources.

If manufacturers decide to embrace digital advancements toward sustainability, they will be better positioned to meet their goals more efficiently and pave the way for a more resilient and eco-friendly industrial future.

So, to make the planet greener and drive sustainable manufacturing, this sector should take advantage of technology and innovation. It’s a must, at least for those who want to steer the production system to a cleaner future.

Let’s now examine the environmental benefits of using digital technologies.

The enviromental benefits of using digital technologies - listed below

Better energy efficiency

Who knew that being energy-savvy could come down to embracing technology? With the introduction of smart sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, factories now have the ability to monitor energy consumption like never before. It’s like having a full-time guardian who not only watches over every kilowatt-hour but also finds clever ways to cut down on waste.

Benefits: a noticeable dip in energy bills and helping factories tread more lightly on the planet.

Cutting down air pollution

Reducing emissions is no mean feat, but digital tools are stepping up to the challenge. By pinpointing where and why energy waste occurs, these technologies help manufacturers clean up their act. But it’s not just about optimizing operations for efficiency.

Thanks to the right use of technology, you can move towards cleaner air, decrease carbon emissions and pollution, as well as meet global standards for a healthier environment. And let’s not forget the bonus of smoothly integrating renewable energy, which can further set the stage for a more green manufacturing realm.

Benefits: less release of harmful substances in the production process and use of greener, renewable energy.

Enhanced resource management

In manufacturing, every scrap matters. Digital technologies act as the ultimate resource wranglers – they ensure raw materials find their place and don’t end up as waste. From adjusting production lines to syncing with the supply chain, these tech solutions are all about getting the most out of every resource.

Benefits: manufacturing firms respect the planet’s limits and pave the way for more sustainable practices.

Improved product lifecycle sustainability

Sustainability stretches across a product’s entire life. Thanks to digital innovation, greener product designs are becoming a reality. This tech-savvy approach ensures goods use fewer resources, join the circular economy, and are ready to be reborn once their initial journey ends. It’s a forward-thinking method that companies and stakeholders need to adopt today.

Benefits: reduced waste and better protection of the environment.

The above insights paint a picture of a manufacturing sector that’s thriving. Thanks to digital technologies, manufacturers aren’t making one-time only strides. On the contrary. They:

  • think long term
  • use the benefits of technology to actually improve the manufacturing system
  • contribute to a healthier and more sustainable development.

Which digital solutions to choose to support sustainability?

In the era of Industry 4.0, the quest for net-zero emissions has become more attainable thanks to the advent of digital solutions. These advanced sustainable manufacturing technologies – encompassing automation, EMS, IoT devices, and additive manufacturing – are paving the way for processes that minimize waste and optimize resource usage.

According to the Inspired and Make UK’s report, 92% of manufacturers see the UK’s transition to net zero as a priority to their business.

Digital solutions supporting sustainable practices - listed below.

Energy management systems

Energy management systems (EMSs) leverage automation and data analytics to monitor and control resource use in real-time. They also allow for a level of precision in energy conservation that was previously unattainable. By identifying inefficiencies and optimizing energy distribution based on demand, EMSs contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing operations. Further, they facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources and align manufacturing practices with sustainability goals.

This means better precision, healthier production, plus smart use of energy and natural resources.

IoT devices

These technologies collect and analyze mountains of data from manufacturing operations, identify inefficiencies, and identify areas for improvement. Imagine sensors across a factory floor that monitor energy use, track material waste, and even ensure machines are operating at peak efficiency. Then, there’s the power of simulation and digital twins, which allow manufacturers to test and refine processes in virtual environments before they ever make physical changes.

This means less trial and error, fewer resources used, and a faster route to sustainability.

Additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is a revolutionary approach to creating objects. Unlike traditional methods that involve cutting away material to shape an item (subtractive manufacturing), this type of manufacturing builds objects layer by layer from the bottom up.

It is a method that offers unparalleled flexibility in design and allows for the production of complex geometries that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing techniques. It also promotes sustainability and efficiency, as it minimizes material waste by using only the amount of material necessary for each part.

This means reductions in production time and costs.

To use or not to use digital tools?

Often, manufacturing companies realize the benefits of digital technologies for their business and the environment but still hesitate to choose them. Why?

There are two main reasons: initial investment and the complexity of digital tools.

First up, the cost. Going digital often means upfront investment in new technologies, training for staff, and perhaps even overhauling existing processes. For many businesses, this initial outlay can be daunting. They might worry about the return on this investment and whether the financial benefits, like long-term savings and increased efficiency, will indeed materialize as promised.

Then there’s the complexity factor. Digital tools and systems can be complicated and require a certain level of technical know-how to implement and manage effectively. The thought of integrating sophisticated IoT devices, analytics platforms, or AI into their operations can seem overwhelming to companies that are not tech savvy.

Meanwhile, long-term savings and operational benefits speak for themselves.

Once over the initial hurdles, companies often find that digital technologies lead to significant reductions in energy consumption, waste, and costs. According to a Make UK report, three-quarters of manufacturers expect a return on investment from digital technologies within one to five years. These savings accumulate over time, offset the initial investment, and contribute to a healthier bottom line. Additionally, manufacturers adopting these technologies report increased production flexibility (32%), labor efficiency (31%), and improved profitability (27%) as key benefits.

Moreover, the operational benefits – such as increased productivity, improved product quality, and enhanced flexibility to respond to market changes – can give companies a competitive edge in manufacturing practices. Also, using digital tools enables better data collection and analysis, hence they drive more informed decision-making.

Manufacturers also believe that investing in new digital tech keeps them ahead of the competition. Indeed, without this investment, 73% said they would fall behind their competitors.

The long-term advantages of integrating digital technologies into manufacturing processes are clear. They provide a strong incentive for companies to overcome initial challenges and embrace digital innovation for a more sustainable and prosperous future.

The future of sustainable manufacturing sector

The future of manufacturing industries is intricately linked to digital innovation. As sustainable businesses strive to meet and surpass evolving standards, such technologies are emerging as a crucial strategy.

So, what is waiting for us in the future? Among others:

  • Emission reduction targets – the manufacturing sector in the UK has committed to a significant reduction, aiming for a 67% decrease by 2035 compared to 2018 levels, and achieving net zero, with at least a 90% reduction by 2050.
  • Low-carbon industrial clusters – by 2030, the UK wants to create four low-carbon, and one zero-carbon industrial cluster by 2040. This demonstrates a collective move towards decarbonizing manufacturing processes.

As such, sustainability in manufacturing hinges on the sector’s ability to continuously leverage digital innovations.

Manufacturers not only face the challenge of being the UK's third-highest emitting industrial sector, but also bear the responsibility for a sixth of the country's total emissions. Thanks to digital innovations, they will be able to meet current sustainability standards and set new benchmarks for environmental stewardship in the industry.

Recognizing this, the UK Government has established the Net Zero Council to ensure that the manufacturing sector remains on track to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The future of sustainable manufacturing is, therefore, not just about reducing its own footprint but also aims to develop low-emission technologies and products essential for decarbonizing the broader economy.

Improve sustainable manufacturing processes with technology

The concept of sustainable manufacturing through digital innovation represents a transformative approach that harmonizes the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability. Utilizing key technologies like energy management systems, IoT devices, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing in the production line helps reduce waste and enhance efficiency.

And as we move towards sustainable factories of the future, the commitment to continuous improvement in sustainability performance becomes a must for the long-term viability of manufacturing activities.

This shift to eco-friendly manufacturing practices, supported by sustainable supply chain management and process manufacturing, can minimize negative environmental impacts and set a new standard for manufacturing operations.

Inwedo’s team can play a pivotal role in your journey toward embracing these transformative technologies.

Our specialists can help you with the integration of cutting-edge solutions. They aid manufacturing companies in creating and implementing sustainable manufacturing systems and guide them through the intricacies of technology transfer.

We know that the adoption of sustainable business models and strategies is not easy. Thus, if you need any assistance, reach out to us.

Implement technology that makes manufacturing socially responsible, environmentally friendly, and economically sound

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