How can technology allow Manufacturers to achieve Sustainable Manufacturing?

Scott Batchelor

In an ever-changing and adapting world, there remains one common issue that affects a multitude of industries: Sustainability and the need to be green. 

The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and global environmental activism have increased the need to minimise wastage- not only from a financial perspective, but in terms of sustainability and reducing carbon footprints. 

Now more than ever, it is important that manufacturers leverage technology to stay relevant in a rapidly changing market. 

Two popular methods of ensuring this are Lean and Green transformations, which, when backed by robust technology solutions, can drastically improve the internal systems and reduce overall waste. 

Lean manufacturing

What is lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing occurs when manufacturers implement lean processes, tools and methodologies to eliminate waste, cut costs and reduce time-to-market.

Lean technology processes are devised by identifying the value of a product from the standpoint of the customer or end user, eliminating processes that do not result in overall value, and re-organising the remaining processes into a tight workflow. This is most often achieved by the creation of bespoke software products which allow for an overall reduction in financial, time and product waste.

What are the benefits of Lean manufacturing?   

Technologies associated with Lean manufacturing eliminate wasted time, create more efficient workflows, reduce capital expenditure, reduce paperwork and improve inventory efficiency.

A good example of lean manufacturing can be seen in our recent work with Warburtons

Together, we were able to identify a key part of their quality assurance process which relied on paper processing. Significant manual work was required each week to record and share data using paper-based records, which sapped valuable time from team members and prevented the data from being immediately available to other business units.

We created a digital system, which not only allows records to be immediately accessible to those who need it, but reduces the risk of inaccurate information being recorded, allows QA staff to remain focused on high-level tasking, and ultimately reduces carbon waste.    

Big Data in Lean Manufacturing

Using digital systems to handle your businesses’ data, including third-party services which can help improve delivery speed, can help achieve a Lean manufacturing model and allow access to the benefits it brings.

Each of the examples below has the ability to streamline your manufacturing process, reduce expenditure on un-optimised processes and allow your staff to better spend their time on strategic operations:

  • Real-time route optimization
  • Crowd-based pickup and delivery
  • Strategic network planning
  • Operational capacity planning
  • Customer loyalty management
  • Service improvement and product innovation
  • Risk evaluation and resilience planning
  • Market intelligence for SMEs
  • Financial demand and supply chain analytics
  • Address verification
  • Environmental intelligence

One company who took the plunge into big data are Rolls Royce. Sensors incorporated into their aircraft engines now collate more than 70 million data points a year, for analysis by AI, ML and sophisticated analytics tools. Rolls Royce engineers then use this data to service their engines remotely, avoiding costly catastrophic breakages.

BI and ERP Software

Business intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software collect the data necessary to make the crucial decisions that dictate how lean you can make your processes.

In implementing either BI or ERP systems, you gain the ability to access the data crucial to build accurate strategy, identify key areas of unnecessary loss in the manufacturing process, optimising these areas to reduce overall financial and product waste.

These systems also allow you to visualise the performance of your workforce. This can prove crucial in finding areas of resistance where employees are currently underperforming. This allows you to investigate the reasons why certain processes are producing excess financial and product waste.

Another major affordance of BI and ERP systems is the ability to create tree map analysis. These high-level hierarchical visualisations allow you to quantify the value of each department within your business, allowing for easy recognition of where processes could benefit from lean processing.

An example of this can be seen in McDonalds, who implemented global BI strategy in a bid to save wasted money and drive global growth. With newfound access to real-time analytics, they were able to improve tasking for their managerial staff and reduce the amount of time and expenditure spent on reporting. This ultimately allowed them to open more branches 24/7, driving and increasing profitability.

Green manufacturing

What is Green Manufacturing?

Green manufacturing refers to production processes that pollute less and create less overall production waste as a primary function. 

This can include anything from implementing new technology products which alter existing processes ( generally to use fewer resources such as water and electricity) to identifying areas of ‘green change’, which help to create more durable products with replaceable parts.

In an ever-changing world, where climate change becomes a growing concern of consumers, the benefits of moving to a green manufacturing model range far beyond the immediate benefit for the environment. 

What are the benefits of Green Manufacturing?

  1. Reduce energy-related costs. Energy and water costs are a prime concern for manufacturers. Using technology to identify and manage these improvements can reduce these expenses. These changes often equate to annual savings as opposed to quicker, short-term cost reductions.
  2. Attract new customers and increase sales. Green and sustainable practices can make your company more marketable. Consumers are more conscious of the environment, and making improvements will strengthen your reputation. 
  3. Tax incentives. There are a variety of tax allowances for manufacturers who proactively implement more sustainable improvements. There may be incentives available to your business. Check out: https://www.gov.uk/green-taxes-and-reliefs.

In addition, you may be eligible for R&D Tax Credits, which are awarded to businesses who develop their offering with new technology and services. You can find out more here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/corporation-tax-research-and-development-rd-relief

AI in Green Manufacturing

The concept of artificial intelligence is thrown around a lot, and it can be difficult to identify the real uses or benefits it can have for a business. Green manufacturing is one of the few industries where the use of AI is tried and tested, with proven results.

For example, one of the key ways AI is used in energy management modelling. This allows businesses to audit and reduce the wastage produced by their systems. It also helps lay green foundations for new systems, avoiding over-design which can often result in wasted resources, energy and cost.

A good example of AI in manufacturing can be seen in homeware retailer Crate&Barrel. They recently implemented AI technology to improve route optimisation and delivery performance. This enables them to track the real time location of their shipments and ensure that they are not wasting un-necessary fuel and time by using unnecessarily long pathways. 

Remote Working

As COVID-19 accelerates the transition to remote working, it is easily forgotten that the process has huge implications for sustainability. Without the overheads of keeping offices and workstations running, a business's carbon footprint is massively reduced.

But how does this translate to manufacturing, where an in-person approach has long been crucial to operations.

New developments in the technology sector have enabled staff to remotely operate robotics, allowing them to continue to perform manufacturing processes which previously required physical presence. This minimises costs, keeps carbon expenditure to a minimum and can even aid in identifying machine-based issues before they cause catastrophic failure. 

In addition, it allows for employees to collaborate faster over generative design. This reduces the amount of times necessary for meetings, allows for faster iterations of design work and less wastage of valuable internal resources.

In short, remote working staff can now make a difference to the sustainability of a business with no drop-off in productivity, enabling increases in profit margins and providing the opportunity for ‘green’ PR campaigns.

Summary

The comparison between the Lean and Green manufacturing concepts shows that they

are complementary and to some degree overlapping. Both concepts promote resource

productivity. Reduction of waste in terms of inventory, staff and profits are all enabled by the Lean concept. Although there are often benefits to sustainability when implementing lean technologies, this is not the key focus.

Green technologies maintain focus on environmental impact, the marketing opportunities that come with this, and the financial savings that can be made in taking a sustainable approach. Although there are certainly financial savings to be made in adopting a green methodology, the core focus remains reducing your businesses’ carbon footprint and the brand opportunities that come with this.

Both Green and Lean processes can be achieved by implementing new technologies, and in many cases, there are government support initiatives available to businesses who are thinking over undergoing this type of digital transformation.
Learn more about how we can help your businesses implement lean and green through our digital transformation services.

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