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1 March, 2024

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Sustainability is no longer just a box-ticking exercise

01 March, 2023

In the post-Covid era, many manufacturers are changing the ways that they operate. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, argues that one major change in emphasis is the drive for sustainability which can result from adopting smart manufacturing practices.

The statistics that we at Gambica gather from our members appear to show that the UK manufacturing sector is performing very well, and near enough achieving pre-pandemic levels of output. However manufacturers are not operating in the same ways that they did before the global crises. 

From hybrid working, to remote machine maintenance and the emphasis on sustainability, it would seem that business goals and ambitions are changing with the times, with many businesses wanting to become future-proof and resilient to any future shocks. 

In this article, I briefly – and I say briefly because the topic could fill the magazine by itself – want to discuss how the Covid pandemic has encouraged sustainability in manufacturing. 

What is now apparent is that working towards sustainable manufacturing with modern solutions in turn leads to smart manufacturing. In other words, in many cases, “smart manufacturing = sustainable manufacturing”.

By committing to net-zero targets, manufacturers are forced to re-assess their processes and adapt to new methods. Many are using renewable sources of energy, where possible, to cut their emissions. Increasingly volatile energy prices, coupled with supply chain disruptions, mean that renewable energy is becoming more desirable.

If a corporation relocates, or builds new facilities, it is almost certain to look at renewable energy sources and the most efficient ways to develop its new buildings. Although there is not yet a standard for this, we at Gambica are working with our European trade association affiliates on revising the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

Wanting to enhance sustainability has become an aspiration for many businesses, from SMEs to multinationals. In our sector, it has always been more difficult to achieve net-zero given the historical way in which many products are produced. From toxic chemicals to waste generation and energy-consuming machinery, manufacturing has become notorious for some of its environmental impacts.

Achieving lower emissions was previously perceived as a “box ticking” exercise for many, because it presented many obstacles, with few obvious benefits. However, recent evidence indicates that those companies that have embraced an environmental approach have indeed reaped rewards in terms of output, efficiency and more. 

The adoption of circular economy methodologies, materials recycling, and steps to cutting costs, have all had their impact. 

Smarter manufacturing methods such as rapid processing, additive manufacturing and using AI to predict and prevent shutdowns, are proving to be valuable changes to the manufacturing process. One example is reductions in overpacking or sourcing locally to avoid emissions from long-distance shipping. Sometimes, small steps can contribute to wider changes. 

On top of this, there are now numerous ways that manufacturers can implement real-time monitoring of their emissions. Previously this was not easily achievable, but manufacturers can now capture emissions data, carbon footprints and other data autonomously in real-time from many factories and distribution centres simultaneously. This simple improvement in transparency means that businesses have more visibility of what is happening in their processes and this can lead to investments in decarbonisation and use of cleaner energy sources. 

Machine sensors collect this information and simple software can then develop intelligent workflows and business rules based on the data. This will certainly have a long-term beneficial impact on their business. 

Such simple adaptations are already evident and can be seen in many companies which have already implemented similar strategies. Some achieve immediate improvements, while others benefit from longer term advancements, but all can realise major benefits. 

At Gambica, we have developed a cross-sectoral sustainability group, which holds discussions on what our member companies are doing to contribute to cutting emissions, and what the best industry-wide practice is for achieving net-zero. If you would like to get involved in these discussions, and learn what businesses like yours are doing to maximise efficiency and improve profitability through greener, smarter manufacturing, then get in touch with me or another member of Gambica staff to find out how you can participate.

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.  For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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