Sustainable Manufacturing: Only a Few Bumps in the Road Before a Smooth, Green Ride

Oct. 6, 2010
Despite challenges, adopting a sustainable manufacturing plan yields immense business results.

There are two sides to every story, even in the field of sustainable manufacturing. Many times, sustainable solutions can be viewed as yet another headache for a company to adopt, but its ability to revolutionize the way you do business often goes unnoticed. In fact, sustainability addresses the fundamental goal of every modern and socially-responsible business: To achieve more business results while spending less and reducing harmful carbon emissions.

While, as a concept, sustainability in manufacturing is easy to define, it is far harder to practically interpret and adopt. One major challenge revolves around the difficulty in measuring and analyzing manufacturing emissions, since sustainability data can be found spread across an entire enterprise in multiple systems and formats. However, this challenge is worth overcoming, as typically the reporting system that is in place, is incapable of providing sufficient emission feedback. The challenges inherent in setting up sustainable practices typically stem from an organization's struggle to define a collaborative sustainability roadmap and vision that is both cost and emission reducing. The following thoughts outline practical steps, which any organization can follow in order to implement successful sustainable manufacturing solutions.

Designing an Effective Sustainable Roadmap

An effective sustainability roadmap must assess four focus areas, including: compliance, operations, product sustainability and supply chain sustainability. An increasingly stringent regulatory atmosphere makes adhering to environmental standards and enforcing a sustainable manufacturing enterprise necessary. In order to comply with the latest regulations, manufacturers must reduce their energy and resource consumption while minimizing their lifecycle impact in the form of emissions and waste generated across facilities, plants, offices, etc. all the while ensuring the supply chain stays sustainable across all stages. This includes stages from raw material acquisition to design and manufacturing to usage and disposal. Given the reduction of harmful consumption and emissions, this process has the added bonus of providing higher quality products for less.

The only way to address the cost-effective sustainability potential across all four focus areas of the company is with the help of IT solutions and decision makers. A sustainability vision can be made a reality with the help of an IT platform that enables multiple stakeholders, including senior executives, plant managers, controllers and compliance managers to make informed decisions on sustainability programs by providing a consolidated, organization-wide view across five key dimensions of sustainability: energy, resource, emission, waste and recovery. A truly sustainable manufacturing future must assess all five green dimensions across all focus areas of the value chain.

In order to do so, the green IT platform must bring three sustainable technology innovations to the table including, 1) a robust sustainability data gathering and integration framework, 2) a strong custom-built hierarchical data model and analytical engine, and 3) a host of intelligence-gathering features on the management level. The robust sustainability data gathering and integration framework must be non-intrusive, yet designed to collect and maintain data from diverse types of systems (including ERP, MES, PLM) in diverse locations -- be it on a manufacturing plant floor, offices, facilities, transportation. This framework combined with a custom-built hierarchical data model provides the necessary data storage, range of spatial, temporal and predictive analytics, and flexible data entry and reporting necessary for success.

At the management level, a good green IT platform provides drill-down reporting, compliance disclosure, external communication and performance management through features such as dashboards, trending, projections, benchmarking and root cause analysis. These features help shift a platform from mere reporting to intelligence- gathering across the manufacturing value chain.

Sustainable IT platforms are those which have mastered steps three, four and five. All three IT initiatives: robust sustainability data gathering and integration framework, strong custom-built hierarchical data model and analytical engine, and intelligence-gathering features on the management level, across all four areas of a company: compliance, operations, product sustainability and supply chain sustainability, and address all five factors of sustainability: energy, resource, emission, waste and recovery.

One industry making sustainable IT strides is the automotive manufacturing industry. As automobile manufacturers struggle with reducing emissions, most have not realized that their goals can be accomplished in an innovative and inexpensive way across all categories of cars through the use of greenhouse gas sensors. The sensor can be placed in the exhaust pipe to measure instantaneous data related to emissions and other eco-driving parameters captured by the vehicle. This information is displayed for the driver and generates further information and feedback promoting green driving behavior. The sensor not only improves fuel efficiency but also optimizes energy consumption from batteries in electric cars.

The greenhouse gas sensor is just one green IT solution changing the world of manufacturing today. While many more solutions exist-an even greater number are still needed. A successful sustainability roadmap considering the above factors will help your company make the IT decisions it needs to go green today.

N.S. Bala is Senior Vice President & Global Head of Manufacturing for Wipro Technologies, a provider of integrated business, technology, consulting, testing and process solutions.

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