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The environmental impact of investing in sustainable manufacturing is a growing concern. Manufacturers must reduce carbon emissions and use less energy to improve the global environment. Additionally, they need to make their processes safer for employees and the ecosystem. Sustainable manufacturing must be more efficient to meet rising consumer demand and stricter regulations.
While manufacturers can do their part by adopting new technologies and making process improvements, they must also set the right tone from the top and gain buy-in from all stakeholders. In addition, they must consider the costs associated with these changes and any change management implications. Finally, they must be transparent in their reporting and communication about their progress toward sustainability to build trust and credibility with customers and investors (Eastwood and Haapala 2015b).
Manufacturers need a holistic view of the environment as they plan for sustainable manufacturing. The environmental performance of manufacturing processes can be evaluated at various levels: the workstation level, system level, and product level. Workstation-level metrics include coolant consumption, energy usage, and cutting temperature. System-level metrics are more complex and have a process’s total lifecycle assessment (TBL), including all facets required in sustainability evaluation, such as the 6Rs.
Currently, manufacturing uses about one-third of the world’s energy. Consequently, manufacturing emissions are a significant contributor to climate change. Companies that adopt a sustainable approach can reduce their emissions by using lower-energy technologies such as electric drives and arc welding and reducing energy consumption and waste production.
A holistic approach to sustainable manufacturing (SM) considers a business’s production process and logistics. It feels how energy and resources are used and whether or not any unintended environmental impact occurs along the supply chain. For example, if a business uses environmentally harmful methods to transport products to its customers, this does not adhere to sustainable manufacturing principles.
Several researchers have proposed a comprehensive SM framework. It consists of economic, environmental, and social dimensions that are evaluated using specific indicators. These are usually assessed at the plant level but can also be assessed at the production process stages. One example is the OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit, which provides an internationally applicable standard set of indicators that help businesses measure their environmental performance.
The OECD Toolkit is a good starting point for manufacturers looking to improve their sustainability initiatives, but it is not the end-all solution. To truly make an impact, a business must be able to capture and analyze data quickly, efficiently, and from a broad range of sources. Combining information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems by consolidating workloads onto industrial-optimized, intelligent edge computing platforms can enable companies to do just that. This allows businesses to monitor and analyze their machines in near real-time, identifying areas where they can improve their efficiencies and reduce their environmental footprint.
One of the most significant barriers to sustainable manufacturing is cost. Many companies assume that adopting sustainable practices will significantly increase their overheads without offering any real benefits. However, this is only sometimes the case. Sustainable manufacturing can reduce costs in various ways, including increasing efficiency, cutting energy use, and decreasing waste. In addition, implementing sustainable techniques can also help companies qualify for government contracts and attract talent.
The lack of expertise is another common obstacle. Many manufacturers need more internal data scientists or sustainability experts to measure their progress toward sustainable manufacturing goals effectively. This issue can be overcome by partnering with third-party vendors who can provide the necessary skills, software, and insights.
It is crucial to develop SM indices that can be used across the different levels of the product life cycle and the manufacturing plant. This will allow companies to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their current environmental impact. It will also enable them to change their operations and achieve a more sustainable manufacturing process.
The development of SM indices for manufacturing should be based on a holistic approach and incorporate both effectiveness and efficiency. Significance relates to pollution prevention, while efficiency reduces net energy/resource consumption. A combined approach is needed, which includes benchmarking against local and global pollution limits.
As consumers become conscious about their purchasing decisions, they seek companies with environmentally responsible production processes. This can lead to a higher demand for sustainable products and more opportunities for businesses that can meet those demands. However, implementing green manufacturing practices requires more than changing how you produce your products. It also means creating new business opportunities and positively impacting the community.
Among other things, sustainable manufacturing helps reduce the use of non-recyclable and non-degradable materials, significantly affecting the environment. In addition, reducing waste and water usage can cut costs. It can also help your business tap into renewable energy sources and create a more efficient and productive factory floor.
Many companies are choosing to make the switch to sustainable manufacturing. This is because consumers are demanding more environmentally-friendly products and because it can improve the company’s image with employees, customers, and investors. In addition, it can attract a younger workforce as more people seek out companies that take social responsibility seriously.
Some sustainability challenges in manufacturing include a need for knowledge and understanding of the concept and resistance from stakeholders. However, with the right communication and training, companies can overcome these barriers and successfully implement sustainability in their operations.