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Finding Opportunities in Sustainability-Driven Production

Sept. 28, 2023
Manufacturers embed sustainability and resilience principles into their operations to increase competitiveness and resilience.

Manufacturing and production sectors are essential drivers for economic growth (making up 16% of global GDP), but pose serious environmental risks that must be collaboratively addressed. The industrial sector alone consumes about 54% of the world’s total delivered energy.

With this awareness, manufacturers are embedding sustainability and resilience principles into their operations to increase competitiveness. It forces them to re-evaluate not only the way they think about and design products, technologies, processes and business models, but also how they optimize value created by those resources.

Consider the decarbonization agenda, where manufacturers are realizing that they need to go beyond the confines of their own carbon-neutral operations. In order to progress, each manufacturer would need to calculate their cradle-to-gate product carbon footprint (PCF). It’s a tricky undertaking that starts with an understanding of the manufacturer’s level of data maturity and further requires the manufacturer to reach beyond its own carbon-neutral operations.

Members of the World Economic Forum’s Advanced Manufacturing and Value Chains community worked on a pilot project to develop a blueprint for securely exchanging PCF data along manufacturing and supply networks. In one implementation, Arçelik, Siemens and Dow designed a simulated supply network for an Arçelik washing machine that uses a Siemens controller and resins from Dow to exchange PCF data across companies. The peer-to-peer data exchange relied on crypto technology-based trust mechanisms to provide verifiable data. This model charts a course for using data-driven tools to set accurate emissions baselines that reflect not only their own emissions, but also upstream supply chain data.

Beyond such frontier technologies, there are countless ways to instigate resource efficiency, energy consumption and circularity at the practice level.

The ability to extend the lifetime of robots is a standout example. ABB’s sizeable robotics portfolio can vouch that up to 80% of a robot’s components can be reused. Nearly all ABB robots used in the automotive industry get a second life and a fifth will get a third.  

Taking into account that robots have an average service life of about 30 years, robot manufacturers are recalibrating business models by designing smart, reliable products, while at the same time shifting to service-oriented solutions. The IFR reports that ABB, Fanuc, KUKA and Yaskawa are among manufacturers running dedicated repair centers for refurbishing industrial robots. Oftentimes, it is more cost-effective to ship spare parts to the customer, where engineers or technicians can repair machines on site.

For the Sept/Oct 2023 issue, we invited subject matter experts to highlight the sustainability dimensions to their solutions. As Adithi Murthy discusses in “Bringing Sustainability from the Boardroom to Ground Level,” no single measure can accomplish the comprehensive enhancements necessary to secure a sustainable future. Her contribution to the sustainability topic involves driving down energy costs and consumption by using smart sensing technologies to update system design.

Then, in two separate articles, Machine Design’s technical editor, Sharon Spielman, surveys sustainability in additive manufacturing. In “Advancing Sustainability in 3D Printing,” she shows how 3D printing promotes lower carbon footprints when engineers create and test new designs with minimal material consumption. And in “Shaping Sustainability in 3D Printing,” a use case on Metafold—a developer of Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) cloud-based software—reveals an unabashed interplay between sustainability and competitiveness.

For Eryn Devola, vice president of Sustainability for Siemens Digital Industries, sustainability should never be a “bolt-on solution.” Instead, embracing a data-driven, digital twin methodology makes sense because it carries domain knowledge to every decision made throughout the product lifecycle and ecosystem. (Read “Making Production Sustainable with Digital Tools.”)

Contributors demonstrated that a sustainability strategy requires holistic thinking—a commitment that extends from the drawing board to the shop floor and all the way through the value chain. These leaders understand the implications of being contributors of global emissions. And because they’re also problem solvers, they’re willing to navigate speedbumps that stand in the way of improving overall environmental performance.

One last note: Theirs are certainly not the only work worth highlighting. You may access many more ideas on disruptive and innovative technologies by simply plugging the term “sustainability” into Machine Design’s search engine.

Tell us your sustainability story. Reach me at [email protected].

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