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Smart Manufacturing Improves Sustainability Efforts

April 27, 2016
The many ways that smart manufacturing supports sustainable operations.

How does smart manufacturing help you to operate sustainably?

Where do I start?

Here are three key reasons it helps:

• Cheaper meters/sensors: Ten years ago, you probably had at most one meter monitoring each of electricity, gas, water, or waste. Now, partly due to the plunging costs of sensors, you can have many. Your information becomes granular.

• Collated information: With smart manufacturing, you can easily collate your usage of resources across plants and across companies, to improve strategy and better understand your total footprint.

• Context: With smart manufacturing, you get your data in context. And that changes everything.

The Benefit of Context in Analyzing Resource Use

One of the greatest gifts the world of Big Data and the evolution of MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) offers manufacturers is context.

It’s true, you may have known 10 years ago what your hourly, daily or weekly electricity spend was. But what good did that do you, if you didn’t know the context?

What you need to know is whether you are using electricity wisely and economically, with minimal waste. And you can only know that if you know the context of your electricity use. For example, on an hour or day with higher use:

  • Were you running two shifts?
  • Were you producing items that have a higher electrical demand?
  • Did heating or air conditioning affect the amount of electricity used?

With context and the ability to see the bigger picture, you can turn resource-related data into valuable, actionable information. And now that there is an ever-increasing awareness of resource use, plus increased cost, you’ll need that information.

Earth Day 2016: For Manufacturers, the Times are A-Changin'

On April 22, Earth Day was marked by a record number of countries signing the Paris Agreement on climate change. It’s the most ambitious global effort yet at encouraging sustainable practices.

Here in North America, Canada and the U.S. have agreed to significant carbon footprint reductions targets—regulated monitoring of water, energy, and waste is not just for Europe any more!  

What happens next is far from certain, but carbon exchanges and new pricing schemes seem far from unlikely. Up go the costs of wasting carbon! The good news is that sustainability is daily becoming more rewarding.

The Triple Benefit to Improving Sustainability

It’s interesting, at my firm, Factora, the client team that calls us in for help is often the sustainability group. Because sustainability is tightly connected to what we do—reducing waste and becoming more efficient.

... harnessing smart manufacturing to conserve resources becomes a triple-win: it’s good for the environment, it’s good for cost control and it delivers an undeniable PR benefit."

What this means is that harnessing smart manufacturing to conserve resources becomes a triple-win: it’s good for the environment, it’s good for cost control and it delivers an undeniable PR benefit. As an example, one of our food manufacturing clients has a section in their annual report on how they’ve improved their pre-consumer food waste. Working with their sustainability group, we helped them significantly reduce their waste levels.

Greater Change in North America than Europe

As regulation increases, you’ll increasingly need to know how much carbon you’re producing to participate in the new economic model. And of course, as carbon use increasingly has a regulatory price, you’ll be able to improve your margins around it, by your selling or buying activities on the carbon market.

This will be a more noticeable change in outlook here in North America than in Europe. For decades, energy has been too low-cost for it to be front and central in the minds of North American manufacturers. Those days are disappearing.

Sustainability Becomes Compliance

As this new world takes hold, just as every factory has SAP software for a compliance or regulatory reason, so will every factory need an MES. Without one, you will be unable to accurately report or deliver sustainability initiatives relating to waste, resource use, and the environment in general.

It’s a Good Thing -- Take the Ball and Run With it

One weakness of compliance-driven initiatives is that those affected tend to take the mandates as at best an annoying rule and at worst a punishment.

Don’t go there!

Help your people see what the bigger prize is—strive to improve rather than simply complying and churning out reports. With the increased cost and regulation of resources, forward-looking manufacturers have another area where you can outperform your competition.

As with any effort to reduce waste, your sustainability initiatives are an opportunity—not a punishment. Take the ball and run with it!

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