Our joint report with Policy Connect and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Manufacturing, Delivering net zero through digital, calls for greater visibility for both digital transformation and sustainability within UK manufacturing. Manufacturers looking to improve the efficiency and productivity of their operations can take important steps towards net zero by embracing and embedding digital technologies, at the same time.
Previously, digitalisation and sustainability within manufacturing have largely been spoken of, separately, in isolation of one another.
Of course, many of the major manufacturers embraced digital technologies within their factories many years ago, reaping the rewards of faster turnaround times, increased product quality and improved productivity, with sectors and supply chains such as aerospace and automotive, among the early adopters.
Post-COP26 and with new legislation on industrial decarbonisation and net zero in place, the sector is facing the perfect storm of increased international competition at a time when new investment, talent and leadership is needed to deliver urgent joint action on digital and sustainability now.
Read our report to find out more: Delivering net zero through digital
Just after adding my post above I started thinking on the material waste generation rather than utility and energy wastes. The usual lean pillars of JIT and Autonomation (People, improvements, quality) come to mind. These have been successfully developed in automotive and now in all elements of manufacture. There is always optimization that can be reached by adding some sensors and carrying out further data analysis on flows, throughput, yields and capacities. We have much better tools to Design, Measure, Analyize, Improve and Control than when we originally moved to Centralized Computer Integrated Manufacture, machine learning being one.
Reducing waiting, motion, conveyance, inventory (most important), rework, processing overproduction & talent gets us some of the way. Reusing materials, parts and equipment is also very helpful followed finally by recycling. I’m starting to wonder however should environmental waste be a 9th waste for lean manufacturing to measure. Particularly if only about 3% of plastics manufactured make it to recycling plants.
I know there are ISO standard practices, IPCC & national targets to meet, but, I think a mindset change is needed particularly amongst the GenX population like myself. These are the 80’s generation that witnessed social change in the eastern Europe and treaties being signed to de-escalate the cold war. These folks are in postitions of influence now and can make a difference regarding a sustainable future. I know the UK has a Green Deal policies. I have to confess I have only glimpsed at them. One sustainability charter I did read is The Green new deal by Jeremy Rifkin . He is an economist and has been teaching senior executives in business, advising German, European commission and Chinese government officials on how we can move from an extraction based economy to one that is sustainable. You may not like everything he says if, like me, you have an long standing ancestral relationship with the internal combustion engine and its business, but, I think it is good food for thought with none of the rhetoric and a deep understanding of the economics.
To give a practical example, leaning back around to utilities, one concept I really like is the idea of the industrial eco system, where, used cooling water from a Data-Center can be used as the heating water for adjacent offices (district heating). This cyclic micro-economy has been practised in an industrial estate in Copenhagen for 30 years or more. The waste output of one facility is used as raw materials for another. Same argument goes for any power surplus realized by the use of turbines or PV Cells shared between organizations. This needs consideration and buy-in at master planning stage for sites to ensure that services, metering and control systems are budgeted to allow one estate resident to sell to others. This infrastructure does need funding or grants from Government to encourage developers to install in industrial estates. I wonder however, what would happen if we were not looking for grants and looking to our commercial, industrial neighbours to co-fund such schemes. The Japanese auto trade was very good with bankrolling these sort of initiatives in its supply chain after the second world war when finance and resource were scarce.
Some excellent points here Alan, many thanks! We desperately need something, potentially technology, which will enable manufacturers to spot the opportunities. As you say, one factory's waste is potentially another's wealth. I guess we have to encourage manufacturers, perhaps through their engineering teams, to make their wastes visible. Seeing is believing.
Agreed Clive! Government department BEIS has created an Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF) to encourage major industrial users of energy to invest in reducing their energy needs and their emissions. Businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can now bid for a share of up to £60 million in grant funding through the new competition window, which runs until 29 April 2022. The competition will provide grant funding towards the costs of feasibility and engineering studies, energy efficiency deployment projects and deep decarbonisation deployment projects. For those interested, I'd recommend checking out the details online at Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF) Phase 2: Spring 2022 - how to apply - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
, last month I was lucky enough to visit Wyke Farms in Somerset to hear Richard Clothier talk about his family business' approach to sustainability and about Ivy's Reserve "The World's First Carbon Neutral Cheddar". Three thoughts from my visit:
Net zero thinking like I saw at Wyke Farms requires a systems approach, which implies the need for business collaboration and information sharing that digitisation can undoubtedly enable, so long as we have the sense of purpose to start with.
That's a fabulous story, David. Thank you for sharing. Richard's net zero journey with the Wyke Farms business is hopefully delivering financial as well as environmental success too? You're absolutely right when it comes to the importance of the sector. As consumers, I sense we are all becoming more concerned about the origin, traceability and labelling of the foods we buy. Technology and, moreover, engineers will have a huge part to play in the future, delivering the supply, security and sustainability of the foods all we eat and enjoy!
Alan, one of the benefits of being an independent, family-run business is that decision-making can be in the best interests of a wide range of stakeholders. Over the last five years Wyke Farms have developed their Anaerobic Digestion plant to the point where they now export surplus gas back to the grid, making them a more resilient business today thanks to Richard's wise words: "treat every resource as finite".
David, If farmers across the country were in a position to apply the same pioneering zeal as Wyke Farms then you have to hope their sector would be much better placed to take on its many challenges! It's an inspirational story which needs telling across other industries. Do you think we might get to the point where every factory / manufacturing plant in the UK is capable of generating all the energy it needs to survive and thrive?
Alan, there's such a dilemma when it comes to recounting these stories from food and drink because there are so many different perspectives to consider: animal welfare, food waste, human health, ethical trade, environmental impact and so on. I've come to accept that emotions run high, that most food systems are imperfect and therefore that we need to highlight the positive steps that businesses take to do more good.
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