Digitalization: Five pathways toward "greener" manufacturing

  • 21/01/2022
  • 3 minutes

If Europe is going to meet its climate goals, it must decarbonize its manufacturing sector. Approximately 12% of the territory's greenhouse gas emissions comes from manufacturing activities. The electrification and decarbonization of heat production are among the most frequently mentioned solutions, but digital technologies can also help green factories while improving the performance of the sector as a whole.

In a factory, targeted and well orchestrated digital tools can reduce energy consumption and help reduce the need for materials, which results in less waste. They can also have a positive impact on the discharge of pollutants.

At a minimum, the five pathways described here merit a closer look to leverage their full potential.

1. Digital simulation

Let us begin with digital simulation. At the pre-project stage, digital simulation makes it possible to assess the energy needs of various factory processes, as well as CO2 and/or pollutant emissions. Above all, it can identify possible sources of inefficiency and ways to optimize resource consumption. Today it's a very beneficial tool for new facilities, especially in heavy industry. It enables operators to invest in high-performance equipment, automate sensitive industrial phases and better control the materials cycle.

2. Sensors

At existing manufacturing sites, the installation of measurement sensors is undoubtedly one of the first steps to take to reduce environmental impact. The data they will collect affords a real opportunity to obtain a precise view over time of the consumption and emission levels associated with a workshop, offices, machinery, etc. Weekly or monthly monitoring is finally synonymous with better energy usage and can lead to simple, inexpensive actions (changes in habits, best practices) and/or pinpoint investments to make.

3. Remote digital control

Among the investments with high potential is remote digital control of manufacturing processes, which is often a winning strategy. This solution is increasingly effective and secure, making it a source of agility for the company, not to mention a source of significant energy savings.

4. BI software

There are other "eco"-minded digital tools that can help green manufacturing, such as business intelligence software. While it can be used to optimize costs linked to raw materials and logistics, it can also help businesses better use, reuse and recycle materials and reduce waste. It is a tangible tool to analyze the factory's incoming and outgoing flows and to reduce, for example, the carbon footprint associated with transporting goods.

5. Predictive maintenance

Lastly, predictive maintenance tools are key to the greening of manufacturing. Better maintenance and better management mean equipment lasts longer. Once again, in addition to delivering a financial benefit, these tools make companies more responsible because they lower the frequency with which they replace machines whose production often gobbles up a lot of resources (metals, plastics, energy, water, etc.).

Obviously, the digital technologies themselves have impacts that should not be overlooked. In the manufacturing and end-of-life phases, equipment consumes more energy and resources. During their operational phase, digital devices and sensors also consume energy. However, when used properly, their environmental and energy savings outweigh their impacts. No matter what, this equipment should also be well maintained to avoid having to replace it too often.

"We must build a shared culture that bridges
digital engineering and environmental engineering "

To successfully transition to an industrial sector that is less hazardous for the environment, we must build a shared culture that bridges digital engineering and environmental engineering. As the Next Generation Internet Foundation (FING) reminded readers in its roadmap for a digital and eco-friendly future, it is a prerequisite so the factory of the future can "take advantage of the modularity and agility of digital innovation while positioning itself as an essential link in the ecological transition".

When it is truly 4.0, industry will become more efficient and more frugal, thus more responsible.

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