The current decade is all about being sustainable, eco-friendly, green and whatever other way you want to call it. What does it really mean and what challenges are on the way for a greener planet? Let’s see.
Sustainable manufacturing refers to the minimisation of negative environmental impacts, energy use reduction and ways of saving natural resources at a manufacturing plant. You shouldn’t just think of environmental damage in terms of cut down forests or waste thrown into rivers – things that are not as obvious, such as sky high energy usage, also result in the shortage of natural resources.
The following 4 themes present both challenges and opportunities for a sustainable future and have to be addressed:
Big Data and Internet of Things
These two highly popular concepts are not only capable of leading to a better decision-making but also to a reduction of bad environmental effects. This is possible due to data being collected from a system rather than a machine, which reduces resource consumption. All aspects of a business are interconnected and thinking that big data has nothing to do with manufacturing is a huge mistake.
Energy use reduction
Whenever you want to track how things have changed in a given time period you need to measure it. Companies generally tend to measure their usage of resources in order to look for any possibilities to reduce costs. By implementing a long-term improvement project this can become possible and savings can go down as much as by 10 per cent. These improvements don’t have to result in a massive investment, simple things have proven to work best, such as switching off the lighting and machines or using most energy-efficient devices (e.g. light bulbs). Reduced energy usage equals fewer resources used and less environmental damage.
Having the employees on board with the new improvement scheme is essential to the overall success of the cause. Regular meetings, incentives and a personal example of directors are the best ways to explain to people what you want and why it is essential. However, in sustainable manufacturing not only the employees and workers need to know about the plan, ‘people’ in this sense also refers to potential employees, customers, suppliers and the local (and even regional and national) community. But educating employees is clearly the first priority. Not many people, no matter how educated and skilled they are, understand what sustainability really means and thus, would not be prone to a quick change. Asking employees to brainstorm and crowd-source ideas is also one way to do it. Training should be frequent and reflect the constant changes in the industry, as well as having practical sustainability programmes for the young generations in addition to boardroom meetings.
Whilst technology is often seen as a solution for everything, it can also cause a lot of challenges. Many people think that the primary goal of being eco-friendly is to reduce the effects of manufacturing, thus achieving a more sustainable future, however manufacturing itself has to become sustainable. Designing machines that can, for instance, emit fresh air or discharge clean water, is the only way to have an environmentally-friendly factory.