There are few challenges as pressing and all-encompassing right now as the move towards decarbonization. The manufacturing industry accounts for 19% of direct global carbon emissions with "manufacturing adjacent" activities such as the consumer use of powered and manufactured goods, including electronics and vehicles accounting for much more. The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 was a watershed moment in the drive towards a greener future, with virtually every country in the world pledging to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, governments around the globe have actively committed to decarbonization as part of their wider industrial strategies.
The UK government recently published its industrial decarbonization strategy which sets out how the industry can decarbonize in line with a net-zero agenda, while also remaining competitive. The European Union has also introduced its European Green Deal, which aims to make the union carbon-neutral by 2050. Manufacturing has an impact on the environment not just in terms of the processes involved, energy, and materials, but also the carbon footprint of transportation of end products. Of course, no company wants to be a negative contributor to the environment but being able to curb their impact can be far easier said than done.
Manufacturing processes are often long-established and dependent on tried-and-tested methods. The financial cost of change can be high if it involves things such as repurposing entire factories. Also, while the manufacturing sector may be expected to cut back on its carbon output, there is no sign of a drop in demand for its products, necessitating a requirement on the industry to somehow ‘do more with less, or at least ‘do more but different’.
Manufacturing is already contributing to the shift towards a greener globe through the production of lower emission products but the core change is occurring within the deep structural systems of request for quote and commissioning. This article examines how cloud manufacturing has a measurable impact on the decarbonization of the industry.
Cloud manufacturing, also referred to as CMfg or CM, transforms manufacturing resources and capabilities into manufacturing services based on a cloud platform. As manufacturing becomes more complex and integrated, cloud manufacturing offers a robust supply chain based on intelligent decision-making and accurate resource management. The move to this cloud-based data-driven system has immediate benefits for sustainability including :
Just as the cloud revolutionized the software industry, the same technology is enabling manufacturers to reap similar benefits with physical component parts. Traditionally the power within the procurement process was locked up in suppliers who supplied quotes for each job based on an inaccurate estimation of time and cost. This power came with the weight of a heavy administrative load and an inability to innovate due to risk. A cloud-based platform can create a conglomerate of specialized service providers whose availability and resources are pooled and analyzed - then offered to customers with flexibility and price transparency.
Utilizing cloud technology frees both sides from having to engage in the bloated request for quote process delivering two new ways to procure material services. First, the hourly model, which harnesses AI-based software via a cloud-based platform to analyze a buyer’s manufacturing request. It then assigns the best provider to deliver the service. An hourly rate is then negotiated based on things like the type of process, its complexity, and the anticipated future demand, and the part is manufactured and delivered by one or more manufacturers from the network. Similarly, the pay per part model enables service providers to offer a fixed price per piece. Along with the huge cost-saving benefits, the potential environmental benefits of these offerings are clear.
Much the same way as the cloud means companies no longer need long licenses for software they do not use, or to pay for massive storage centers and IT departments which they may only need to utilize now and again, they can now select the specific manufacturing solutions they need, when they need them, via an open and transparent method. It is this ability that is key because the cloud platform analyzes and calculates process times for manufacturing services. By doing so, allows companies to understand the time and cost involved in the process at a granular level.
This close control on materials and costs reduces waste and offers insight into further savings both financially and environmentally by way of a physical product, excessive transport, and energy spent on over-production. Additionally, this 360-degree view into a product’s lifecycle can be shared with investors and customers who are increasingly demanding to know the footprint of a product from ideation to delivery.
As described above utilizing a cloud-based platform for the procurement of manufacturing supplies enables highly accurate pricing. This in turn gives product makers the ability to innovate, experiment, and ultimately pivot with a new level of agility. Imagine a product maker who has been using aluminum, who can then prototype in carbon fibre with zero investment and a clear understanding of the exact costs. This ability to innovate compresses design cycles and speeds up a time to market, inevitably with fewer design iterations (meaning less waste) and without excessive manufacturing investment. This is an increasingly essential ability as manufacturing steps towards Industry 4.0 and Made-to-Order (MTO), Configure-to-Order (CTO), and Engineering to Order (ETO) models.
A study by the Reuters Institute revealed that climate change is something that matters to most people. The research found that on average, 69% of those that responded said that they thought climate change was an extremely or very serious problem. This concern for the environment extends into how individual companies are viewed too, with transparency being of considerable concern to the public. The same goes for employees, with another survey finding that 60% of staff said they were more likely to work for a company with strong environmental policies.
German-based Kreatize has built a cloud-based platform that enables both manufacturing process outfits and product makers to increase sustainability through a transparent and accurate system of procurement. Kreatize makes it easy for innovative hardware companies to access the tools to evaluate and measure the potential of new products during the development process. For fabrication suppliers, the platform enables low-risk methods to offer their services and increase their ability to respond to fast-changing technology and markets.
The environmental clock is ticking and manufacturing has the potential to lead a global trend towards decarbonization through the embrace of data-driven resource management and fostering systems that reduce the risk of innovation.