As manufacturers continue to build green practices into their operations, Flex's François Barbier shares the various ways advanced manufacturing technology can support their sustainability journey.
Every business is facing the call to convert to sustainable business practices, with a recent Kearney survey finding that 80% of buyers consider the environmental impacts of their purchases.
As Industry 4.0 technologies continue to transform our industry, they can also advance sustainable operations by reducing waste, lowering energy consumption, streamlining work processes, and ultimately improving the quality of life today and for future generations.
Here are some ways advanced manufacturing processes provide sustainability benefits:
Reduce material waste
It is unquestionable that digitization is a key lever on the path to sustainability. With simulation, manufacturers can see a virtual view of the machines, lines, and factory before making a product. This advanced technology helps drive sustainable practices by enabling teams to create simulated views of material flow and analyze the equipment yield. Manufacturers can derive insights from these simulations to help them set up production flows to reduce material use and waste while providing more quality products to customers faster.
Yield improvement and scrap levels are important metrics from a manufacturing standpoint, but also on the sustainability front now more than ever. Both can have a significant impact on reducing costs and making strides toward green goals.
Increase energy efficiency
During the design phase, manufacturers should carefully consider the inputs to make products, the machines used to create the products, and the amount of testing materials required. Intelligent software can help streamline the decision process, and simulation can test it virtually. Teams can reap significant energy savings by using materials that can be assembled with more energy-efficient machines and require less test time in heat chambers.
To improve sustainability, manufacturers should also focus on reducing the most significant sources of energy consumption. Two of the biggest drivers of power utilization in factories are the total square footage and the equipment used on the production line. Advanced manufacturing technologies like simulation and digital twins can help reduce energy consumption by creating the optimal equipment layout on the factory floor. Simulation can help teams set up lines that share high energy and heat-producing machines, like ovens, instead of utilizing multiple for each line. By sharing resources, manufacturers can improve efficiency and cost. Digital twins can then help the same teams replicate the design at other factories thousands of miles away. Fewer machines create less energy and heat, which also require less electricity from the air conditioners to cool down the factory floor.
Additionally, high-speed automation, sensors, and energy reduction devices can monitor processes to ensure machines operate at peak efficiency and utilize the least amount of electricity necessary.
Better employee experiences
There is no better way than harnessing the energy and excitement of our workforce to come up with the best ideas and accelerate the implementation of our sustainable manufacturing practices. While sustainability focuses heavily on environmental improvements, it’s also critical to consider how to improve employee experience. Employees may benefit from improved energy efficiencies, like reduced heat on the shop floor, but companies shouldn’t stop there. Sustainable changes should focus on the environment and people.
Manufacturing automation technology like cobots and mobile robots replace many of the dull and dangerous tasks humans previously performed. By reducing these tasks, humans can focus on more high-value, enjoyable work. Automation solutions also leverage advanced detection capabilities to identify their human counterparts and other machinery, reducing injury risks and helping organizations meet health and safety commitments. IIoT and sensors, on the other hand, can capture data during manual processes to help determine the most efficient, ergonomic, safe and sustainable way for employees to work.
A more sustainable future
Organizations that leverage Lean and Agile practices as part of their sustainability efforts will be well-positioned to continuously identify and benefit from better ways to reduce scrap and improve efficiency.
Companies that operate in environmentally sustainable ways are best-placed to optimize working conditions for their employees. In turn, these organizations will attract the best talent, more customers, and ultimately make more profits due to improved efficiency, all while making the planet a better place.
In future blogs, I will share additional information about Flex’s advanced manufacturing capabilities and what they mean for our company, customers, and planet.