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7 approaches for sustainable manufacturing growth

Ensuring manufacturing sustainability needs tangible actions by the consumers, industry leaders, policy decision-makers, researchers, teachers and the youth. Here are seven key factors they need to consider

Published: Oct 7, 2022 02:40:10 PM IST
Updated: Oct 7, 2022 02:56:23 PM IST

7 approaches for sustainable manufacturing growth Sustainable manufacturing demands a better future for the well-being, development and safety of the community. Image: Fern via Canva.com

Manufacturing growth creates wealth, comfort, and prosperity for people in society. However, growth trends in traditional manufacturing in the recent past have indicated its adverse implications on the environment, economy and society, thereby questioning its sustainability. Future generations need sustainable manufacturing. What is sustainable manufacturing? It is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Sustainable manufacturing demands a better future for the well-being, development and safety of the community. Being a prominent issue, it needs to be addressed, with directions. Seven key enablers identified in this context have been highlighted.

1) Circularity

Material consumption is the largest determinant in manufacturing. The higher the share of manufacturing in GDP, the higher the material consumption. Manufacturing growth continues to experience increasing pressures due to the insatiable human hunger for new products, changing lifestyles, increasing population, depleting natural resources and growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The conventional linear consumption of make, use and throw is not sustainable. It necessitates a circular model in all businesses—food, industrial products, e-mobility, ecommerce, e-products, animal husbandry and so on. Circulating the costly Electric vehicle batteries (EVB) for valuable metals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese in the unprecedented growth of the e-mobility sector has become a necessity. Can we afford to dump electronic gadgets with every new arrival? The precision materials like gold and pallidum shall cease to exist if not recycled. Therefore, designers, processors, assemblers, users, recyclers, policy decision-makers and leaders need to think of ‘circularity’ in every business process created.       

2) Big picture

Sustainability is a broad topic than simply GHG emissions. It encompasses the United Nation’s focus areas of environmental, social and governance. The 17 goals from the comprehensive UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give a wide-angle view of sustainability. The following four goals (numbered 7, 8, 9, and 12) in the SDG list cover the manufacturing industry: Clean and affordable energy, Decent work and economic growth, Industry innovation and infrastructure, and Responsible consumption and production. Today, every manufacturing organisation has to have clear directions and goals for sustainability under SDG goals. Technology to manage scalability and flexibility, integration of all processes and people's behaviour and ethics together will drive manufacturing sustainability.

Also read: Why India isn't a global manufacturing hub

3) Lean

It is all about waste elimination and value-addition in manufacturing processes. Literature and experience have highlighted that 10-15 percent is the only value addition in any manufacturing process. The rest is either waste or non-value-added activity. Therefore, question every activity to achieve the ideal lean limits. Taiichi Ohno’s seven wastes and the value stream mapping process prompt every manufacturing leader to identify these wastes and eliminate them. Anything that cannot add value is not needed in the system. Therefore, lean is a key driver in improving resource (machine, material, and energy) productivity. Concepts like standardisation, value engineering, and continuous improvement of lean systems provide huge benefits in getting more from less.

4) OEE

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a compressive metric of how well a manufacturing operation is utilised compared to its full potential. Its three components, availability of assets for delivery, operational performance of operators and quality of output, are embedded into it. With the Industry 4.0 elements such as automation, RFID, autonomous operations, IoT, AI, ML and prediction analytics, the OEE of the high-cost assets is expected to improve dramatically. Therefore, efficient and effective utilisation of the technology-enabled high-cost assets would add to the sustainability drive of the business.  

5) Digitalisation

Traditional industrial manufacturing contributes to an estimated 20 percent generation of GHG emissions. However, digital technology trends are rapidly and significantly transforming manufacturing processes for the betterment. The role of digitalisation in manufacturing processes, data-driven decision-making, use of AI and ML autonomous operations, optimal designs by the integration of software and hardware, small-batch production through 3D technology, simulation using real data for insights, lead time crashing in prototyping and testing and product life cycle management through big-data from cloud computing is accelerating the sustainability drive in manufacturing. Digital design is expected to be a dominant disruptor of tomorrow by
  • (a) Optimising drawing specifications and production on weight, energy consumption, emissions, efficiency, waste and expected product life,
  • (b) Guiding procurement from sources with low CO2 footprint and recyclable processes,
  • (c) Transitioning to green logistics.

Also read: How govt can create sustainable manufacturing growth in India6) Servitization

The industry is in the midst of a servitization transformation. It is in the process of expanding its capabilities to deliver a superior experience to end-customer. The manufacturer is venturing into an advanced service delivery through a pay-per-use contract. A hassle-free and cost-effective mobility to end users through Uber/Ola service in place of using an owned car which has an abysmally low OEE is an example of servitisation. Phillips is providing the service of lighting rather than selling products. Kaku, instead of selling robots carrying our riveting of metal sheets through robots and charging on rivet nuggets delivered. In this process quality is ensured by experts, machine/equipment is effectively maintained and utilized, and unit product/service cost is reduced, thereby supporting the sustainability drive. It also speeds up the innovation process due to the direct relationship between the manufacturer and the end customer. This model can be a major contributor to the systemic efficiency approach to decarbonisation and cost reduction.  

7) Education

Education through the teaching-learning process in school and universities have a major role in fostering a more conscious society to focus on sustainability-related issues like climate change, pollution control, waste reduction, disaster risk management and bio-diversity. The students, in their formative years, need to have the values, knowledge, skills and competencies for sustainable living and participation in society. Can the current educational policy have sustainability as an integral part of the education value chain and create a difference for tomorrow?

In summary, for the benefit of future generations, the seven pillars identified for ensuring manufacturing sustainability need tangible actions by the consumers, industry leaders, policy decision-makers, researchers, teachers and the youth.

Dr Ravindra Ojha, Professor in Operations at Great Lakes Institute of Management Gurgaon. 

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