Guest Post: 5 Ways to Achieve More Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

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We are always delighted to share a guest contribution, particularly when relevant to both innovation and sustainability :-).  This one, by Bash Sarmiento, has some suggestions for how to improve sustainability of manufacturing.


5 Ways to Achieve More Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

Everybody is trying to go green. The threat of climate change and the rewards that come with sustainability make for a compelling force when combined. Corporations in particular are all scrambling to achieve corporate sustainability. After all, becoming sustainable isn’t only good for the environment, but also for businesses’ bottom line.

There are many theatres to a business’ sustainable transformation. The most important among these theatres is manufacturing — which every business relies on. Manufacturing is the process of converting raw materials into finished goods, and this process requires a lot of energy and potentially produces tons of waste.

Any business that seeks to cut its carbon footprint will need to make its manufacturing practices more sustainable. There are a number of ways of achieving this. Some are already being applied well today yet others need to be improved upon.

But before we proceed, we first need to understand the importance of more sustainable manufacturing practices and identify the challenges in achieving these.

Why make manufacturing more sustainable?

Following more sustainable manufacturing practices brings a multitude of benefits to a business but these are its major boons:

  • Lower operating costs – implementing sustainable manufacturing practices will improve overall efficiency; better productivity, less waste, and lower costs
  • Better brand reputation – having sustainable manufacturing practices means you’re aligned with values of most consumers today
  • More market opportunities – being sustainable means access to market opportunities you previously couldn’t reach
  • Better employee satisfaction – working at a sustainable workplace has a positive impact on employee satisfaction and productivity

What are the challenges?

It’s not hard to see that striving for more sustainable manufacturing practices is a worthwhile endeavor, but what hurdles will a business have to overcome to get there?

  • Increasing energy efficiency – as mentioned, manufacturing consumes a lot of energy. Improving energy efficiency is already a goal for industries, but if they seek to become more sustainable, they need to decrease power consumption even further.
  • Decreasing waste – just like energy efficiency, decreasing waste is a continuous challenge in manufacturing. It just means that businesses need to go one step further if they want to be more sustainable.
  • Improving safety – aside from taking care of employees, improving safety in manufacturing workplaces has a direct impact on productivity and operational efficiency.
  • Increasing operational efficiency – every sustainable initiative in manufacturing contributes to better operational efficiency, but addressing it directly will require more diverse efforts.

Levers for improving manufacturing sustainability

1. Optimising fuel consumption

Ideally, the best way to optimise fuel consumption is by using renewable energy, but that’s easier said than done. Most businesses are still reliant on fossil fuels, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything to increase energy efficiency. By cutting the consumption of fossil fuels in manufacturing as much as possible, businesses can hit two birds with one stone — improve fuel efficiency and cut their emissions. 

Some fuel-saving manufacturing practices include:

  • Turning off machinery when not in use
  • Replacing a single-speed motor with a variable-speed or servo drive
  • Using a variable-speed hydraulic pump

2. Recovering heat energy

Energy can’t be created nor destroyed. Most of the energy harnessed by manufacturing processes is converted into heat and gets wasted. Instead of just leaving this heat energy warming a factory, manufacturers can capture this energy and use it again to improve efficiency and reduce waste. Recovering heat energy from industrial processes isn’t new, but more businesses need to practice it if they want to be more sustainable.

Factories can recover heat by:

  • Using efficient heat exchangers
  • Harnessing efficient evaporation 
  • Integrating heat pumps with heat production

3. Eliminating waste

Not reduce. Eliminate. Reducing waste is no longer sufficient for a business that aims to make manufacturing more sustainable. But yes, guaranteeing zero waste in the entire manufacturing process is extremely difficult, if not impossible. That’s why businesses need to be determined in implementing various waste reduction strategies, which when summed up, can keep waste to an absolute minimum. It’s not the same as zero waste, but what matters is the constant effort to achieve it.

Some waste reduction practices include:

  • Implementing a more efficient inventory management system
  • Reducing packaging materials
  • Segregating hazardous and non-hazardous waste
  • Participating in waste exchange programs
  • Conducting preventative maintenance regularly
  • Adopting a closed loop manufacturing system

4. Improving safety through automation

Safety should be the priority in any manufacturing plant, but how can businesses improve safety past what traditional practices can achieve? Through automation. Today’s automation technology can help businesses go green by making it easier more than ever for humans to work alongside automated tools and devices.

These are examples of how automation helps improve safety in manufacturing:

  • Cobots – short for collaborative robots, cobots are capable of working alongside humans. They can coordinate dangerous tasks with humans to reduce the risk of injuries.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence – AIs are now able to predict future trends, making them effective in spotting health risks before they can result in problems. When paired with IoT devices, AI can achieve security feats such as the prevention of accidents and the reduction of the spread of disease among employees. 

5. Optimising internal communications

Businesses that want to increase operational efficiency as much as they can should take a look into their internal communications. Digitisation is an excellent way to make sure communications between employees across the corporate hierarchy is optimal. By ditching traditional communication media such as paper, a business can reduce waste while also improving operational efficiency. 

A fully digitised internal communication brings a lot to the table:

  • Immediate alerts about hazards and machine failure
  • Changes to operations can be communicated fast
  • Saves time and money by eliminating bulletin boards
  • Makes the management of automated tools much easier

Final words

Making manufacturing, a huge and critical part of any industry, more sustainable requires plenty of time and effort. It can feel daunting for any business and small initiatives might not seem to contribute anything at first. Rest assured, these small practices will add up to something significant and bring your business closer to its sustainability goals. 


Posted 18th July 2022

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