The rise of automation, machine learning and advanced technology in recent years has accelerated the digital transformation of the manufacturing industry, leading to smarter and more efficient manufacturing processes. Through this integration of recent technological advancements into various processes and systems, manufacturing businesses have managed to boost productivity and efficiency – but more importantly, become more flexible, agile and future-ready.
Now, with attention firmly on environmental and social responsibility, smart manufacturing has shifted towards greener, more sustainable practices. Time is running out for the world to reach net zero by 2050; and stricter environmental regulation, increasing investor requirements and changing customer expectations, among other factors, are pushing sustainability to the top of the business agenda. This means manufacturers who address their carbon footprint effectively could gain a competitive edge.
The question is, how can the sector balance advanced manufacturing processes with more sustainable methods for longevity? And, how can clean tech and advanced manufacturing synergise to produce even more sustainable outcomes?
Clean tech vs advanced manufacturing
What is clean tech?
While there is no exact definition of clean tech, it can be described as technology that utilises renewable energy resources and eco-friendly processes and services to discourage the use of non-renewable resources, reduce waste production, and enable improved environmental sustainability.
Examples of clean tech include:
- Energy management systems and renewable energy
- Electric vehicles and energy-efficient transportation and logistics systems
- Smart industrial technologies to monitor consumption and waste
What is advanced manufacturing?
While traditional manufacturing is the process of turning raw components and materials into a final product through mechanised methods, advanced manufacturing, as defined by Manufacturing.gov, is the “use of innovative technologies to create existing products and the creation of new products” and can “include production activities that depend on information, automation, computation, software, sensing and networking”.
Examples of advanced manufacturing include:
- Additive manufacturing
- Network-integrated machinery
Why smart is sustainable
On the surface, advanced manufacturing methods and clean tech may not appear closely related due to seemingly disparate objectives. However, it has been argued that advanced and intelligent manufacturing processes can contribute significantly to cleaner, greener outcomes, while a focus on sustainability can drive manufacturers to develop more efficient and advanced processes.
The importance of sustainability as a manufacturing goal has also led to the emergence of the “greentelligent” manufacturing concept – the synergy of eco-friendly processes and smart technologies to achieve greater productivity outcomes so sustainability targets can be hit as one singular goal. Greentelligent manufacturing relies on several key mechanisms and processes to be successful, such as:
- Environmentally friendly and renewable resources like hydrogen, biobutanol and bioethanol to reduce carbon emissions and waste.
- Advanced design tools to facilitate smarter production and configuration.
- The Internet of Things to provide deep integration, data analysis capabilities and enhanced monitoring for optimised manufacturing processes.
- Artificial intelligence to manage rote tasks and improve energy efficiency.
- Remanufacturing to encourage and extend the life cycle of a product, saving energy and reducing waste.
While clean tech and advanced manufacturing can bring together smart manufacturing and sustainability goals to benefit the organisation at large, companies still face challenges when it comes to effectively measuring and improving their sustainability efforts to meet changing consumer demands. This is where the use of benchmarking tools will benefit companies greatly, highlighting optimisation opportunities and providing customers with greater transparency of the business’s efforts.
Through efficient resource use, optimised processes and socially responsible operations, manufacturers can expect cost savings, environmental benefits and improved productivity, leading to enhanced future-proofing and added agility in the long run.
Learn more about the work that we’ve been doing to help global manufacturers transform to achieve better outcomes for all here.