Manufacturing industry undergoing sustainability transformation, new report finds

May 24, 2022

Schneider Electric partnered with independent media company MIT Technology Review to research sustainability within the manufacturing sector, with a long-term goal of total carbon visibility across the entire supply chain. The joint research, published in a report entitled 'Equipment management and sustainability', reveals that leading manufacturers are shifting to making sustainability the goal of process improvements rather than a by-product of responsible equipment management.

Some key takeaways from the report include:

Product-specific sustainability practices on the rise: Leading firms are modernizing processes to enable decarbonization. This is achieved by improving equipment operations, reducing waste and making products with less carbon-intensive inputs. The report suggests that manufacturers are seeking increased access to visibility through data analytics and digitally connected supply chains. Embracing Industry 4.0 principles, manufacturers are using sensors and performance management tools to increase the flow of carbon/sustainability-relevant data across the firm's entire operations.

Modular processes enabling better predictions: Technology is also being used to build better predictive processes and reorganize them to be leaner and modular. It allows producers to adjust assembly lines, processes and material inputs for more precise calibration. In turn, this allows for better forecasting and on-demand customized manufacturing.

Organizations can now use virtual designs to stress-test new sustainability production models in virtual reality before committing them to the carbon intensive physical reality, such as digital twinning to reduce energy in production design processes.

Purposeful design aids the circular economy: Leading manufacturing firms are reimagining manufacturing processes in pursuit of circular economy goals. This often involves a long-term business plan for managing materials and design for sustainability manufacturing principles.

These include building facilities to disassemble existing products to make better use of spare parts and total cost of ownership (TCO) models, which link product design to fewer processes, more sustainable inputs and even reducing the lifespan of machinery-intensive products to take advantage of iterative innovations in electric efficiency.

Frédéric Godemel, EVP of Power Systems & Services at Schneider Electric, said: "Manufacturing is transitioning from incidental to intentional sustainability, according to this new report. Sustainability is no longer a happy coincidence. Now, the illustrious pairing of efficient equipment management and purposeful green principles sees manufacturing set on a course for effective decarbonization in the long term.

"That being said, the time we have to decarbonize is swiftly dwindling. Manufacturers must accelerate their efforts through optimal use of data and digital technologies if the industry is to make a significant contribution to international climate goals when it matters," Godemel added.