Waste not, want not: sustainability and innovation in manufacturing

Environmental pressures are now a continuous consideration for companies, and businesses that will thrive are those that embrace the conservation business case and move to the “circular economy.” Reducing material usage and increasing reuse have become a commercial imperative as well as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) must-have. Digital technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is enabling companies to cut costs, reduce waste and extend machine lifetimes, while remaining ethically sound in the bargain.

Businesses can no longer ignore their impact on the environment or treat it as an afterthought, with legislation and pressure from consumers always on the increase. That said, sustainability should not be seen as a burden: the need to be more environmentally sound can help manufacturers create new and innovative products and processes.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of “megatrends” is driving change for businesses and countries in general and will influence policy, the price of commodities, energy and even the availability of water and other resources.

These trends include the world’s population being predicted to grow by an additional 3 billion by 2050, almost half as much again as today’s population. The impact of this will be felt in extra demand on agricultural land for cereal crops and animal products, 55 percent more water required for social needs and 400 percent more water being drawn by manufacturing, compared with the year 2000. Further to that, manufacturing demand for electricity will increase by 140 percent.

The future will also see increased pressures on raw materials and other resources, and manufacturing companies will continue to face challenges in terms of shortages, all of which means they must develop more efficient processes to cope, including challenges of increased supply chain disruption. Digital technologies can deliver the necessary ways ahead. And those sustainable ways ahead will come from widespread adoption of digitization, interconnection between machines, devices, sensors and people that is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The drive to sustainable manufacturing

The mission for manufacturing companies is to reduce their environmental footprints and impacts while remaining profitable and competitive. Sustainability married to commercial success is the end goal. Organizations such as the HSSMI (High-Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute) are working with manufacturers to help drive improvements in sustainability, by focusing on things like excessive heat increasing wear and tear on machines: useful life can be extended by means of better, structured maintenance. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and closer monitoring can deliver predictive maintenance, which in turn enables better decision making all around, based on accurate, real-time data.

Real world use cases delivering results

IIoT techniques are increasingly gaining traction in the manufacturing industry. Using IoT sensors to monitor for harmful gases in real time is a digital development that delivers benefits in the industrial environment, for example. Manufacturing companies in urban locations will become part of smart city initiatives, utilizing IoT sensors and data analytics tools to measure gas and pollution levels in towns and cities, becoming able to quickly detect anomalies such as a company emitting toxic gases. Quick detection and prevention is vital here, and it benefits not only the company itself but is also advantageous to the municipality, empowering city management to make decisions on managing pollution in specific zones, sending preventative messages to citizens and issuing alerts if necessary. Orange is already working on use cases like this with companies in France and in the MEA region.

Smart metering is another digital tool that can deliver benefits to manufacturers and have a positive impact on the environment at the same time. Smart meters typically monitor gas, electricity or water consumption and help to control energy usage and costs arising from that. However, smart meters in conjunction with IoT sensors and data analytics means being able to optimize: you can measure your consumption, track it, optimize it, cut costs, save money and help the environment in the bargain.

For example, an Orange customer, Nova Veolia and its subsidiary Birdz, is committed to connecting more than three million smart water meters in France over the next 10 years. The meters will be connected by the Orange LoRa® network, itself an innovative and sustainable technology, which helps with deployment in remote, hard-to-access environments, such as building basements or within meter access hatches. The meters will collect masses of data per day – data that will be used to help local communities, manufacturers and other entities reduce their energy bills and their impact on the environment. The impact of smart meters is definitely being felt: according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global annual smart meter investment will have grown around four-fold between 2010 and 2020.

Waste management is another industrial use case where smart IoT technologies are delivering positive, sustainable results. IoT applications in waste management are helping make waste practices more sustainable in general, by optimizing rubbish collection routes based on disposal unit fill levels for example, measured by connected sensors. IoT tools also help in recycling initiatives, with sensors able to separate different kinds of waste, identifying what type of refuse is in what type of bin, such as plastics, paper, glass and so on. This type of optimization is both good for the environment and again helps save money and cut costs.

Progress, innovation and understanding

The overriding thing about sustainability is that it is not uniquely about having IoT technologies in place in industry to drive it, but that they are there to enable it – ultimately it is about a change in philosophy. Reducing your energy consumption leads to a smaller CO₂ footprint, so wherever you can cut down on unnecessary usage, the better.

Fleet management is a key area of the supply chain, and that, too, can be improved by optimizing fuel usage and reducing costs and footprint at the same time. Eco-driving policies can help industrial companies cut as much as 15 percent on fuel costs while reducing the maintenance costs and repair budgets of your fleet thanks to more careful, consistent driving by employees.

Companies that want to improve environmental sustainability through IIoT technologies are taking an essential step forward: according to research by Inmarsat, 46 percent of companies say monitoring environmental conditions and improving resource efficiency are the two biggest drivers behind their adoption of IIoT-based solutions, while over two-thirds of companies with fully-deployed or trial-stage IIoT solutions in place say they are already achieving environmental sustainability improvements. The time is now.

Read more about how Orange Business can help you make the right digital choices for your Industrial IoT projects.

Patrick Boullier
Patrick Boullier

Patrick Boullier is an Internet of Things Sales Expert at Orange Business. He has been with Orange for 19 years, and today helps support Orange sales teams on all things IoT, all over the world. His background incorporates project management in IoT, M2M and international business development across a wide range of IT disciplines.