Jason Chester, Director of Global Channel Programs at InfinityQS, shares his thoughts on the future of sustainability in manufacturing
With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in early November 2021, it is perfectly clear that the measures needed to curb climate change are now becoming a serious priority for world leaders. While the event made headlines around the world on climate change, we must not lose sight of other environmental pressures such as growing impatience with waste, ecological damage and the overexploitation of precious natural resources through consumption and industrialization.
We only have to witness the images of devastating forests, polluted rivers, and burgeoning piles of plastic waste to truly understand that society in its attitudes is quickly heading for rebellion and industry will be right in the line of fire.
Manufacturers should now be aware that they are increasingly moving into the limelight. They are being blamed not only through the lens of governments, but also by consumers and society at large, as well as their customers. Now it should be time for every manufacturer (from global brand icons to small, one-off factories) to recognize that sustainable production processes are critical to their future success and brand reputation.
Sustainability in the manufacturing industry
In the past 18 months, manufacturers have gone through a period of uncertainty, during which the pandemic and Brexit revealed widespread fragility in the supply and demand chain. As inflation starts to rise sharply, there will certainly be more uncertainty and volatility.
It is undeniable that recent news coverage of climate change has been dominating our television screens and the front pages of newspapers. This has led both consumers and brands to pay more attention to the environmental impact of products and services. The rise of social media has made it easier for consumers to voice their concerns about the industries and companies that are guilty of environmental irresponsibility, with some activists even Organize boycotts against organizations in extreme circumstances. This pressure towards responsible and sustainable production will only increase, making it more and more important for companies to react transparently.
A productive and efficient manufacturing system has always been an important aspect of manufacturing operations with the aim of ensuring profits, growth and stakeholder value. However, if a product does not meet the correct specification, it goes to the scrap, waste, or rework. While many manufacturers recognize that this has a negative impact on performance, the idle resources that go into making this product are also wasted, be it human resources, machine or tool wear, energy and natural resources or raw materials. While this quality approach is important to ensuring that companies continue to function well and their customers are satisfied, their mindset needs to evolve to understand how this waste affects the overall environmental footprint of their operations. Efficiency and productivity in manufacturing are simply becoming more corporate, social and ecological responsibility than just corporate performance.
If you act now, manufacturers can reap future rewards
Given that the world’s leading companies are having discussions and setting goals on how to reduce the impact of our environmental impact, this cannot be said in the manufacturing industry. Indeed, a current survey found that two-fifths of the British Manufacturers act without a sustainability policy. Often times, manufacturers have cited cost and time as an obstacle to more sustainable operation, but with the right technology, it can.
In order for manufacturers to really make a difference, they need to rethink not only how their products are designed, but also how they design, manage, and monitor their end-to-end production processes. But they must also not overlook the fact that by optimizing their production processes to minimize waste and maximize efficiency and productivity, the negative impact on the environment can also be significantly mitigated.
There are great potential opportunities for manufacturers to use the technology to their advantage. For example, during the Covid pandemic, factories in many countries were closed or had reduced capacity due to lockdown restrictions. This gave manufacturers time to invest in their digital transformation initiatives. Those who decided to invest did so because they knew it would improve operations and increase efficiency, which in the long run would increase profits. The same technology can and should now be used to make sustainable operational decisions. The use of new technologies, in turn, will allow manufacturers to untangle the complexities of their processes and give them sufficient transparency to ensure that they can comfortably make decisions at all levels of their operations.
Profit is no longer the focus of digital transformation strategies
The digital transformation has become an important issue in manufacturing today, especially in manufacturing companies where outdated and obsolete processes continue to dominate.
Striving to optimize manufacturing efficiency and productivity should no longer focus solely on performance and profit, but also on sustainability, with sustainable practices at the forefront of every manufacturer’s digital transformation strategy.
The issues of climate change and environmental responsibility will not disappear, but will gain in importance and urgency. The most important step for manufacturers to take is to take real action and change the way they work. From my point of view, one of these decisive steps is to rethink the perception of digitization and smart manufacturing from the point of view of sustainability.