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23 September, 2021

Five routes to more sustainable factories

08 March, 2021

Manufacturers have a key role to play in helping the UK to achieve its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for industrial automation, argues that now – before factories return to full-capacity operation – is an ideal time to implement sustainability measures, and he suggests five.

In June 2019, the UK parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. This net-zero target acknowledges that some emissions will remain and it is not realistic to achieve a “gross-zero” target (reducing all emissions to zero). However, the hope is that the remaining emissions can be offset by natural “carbon sinks” such as forests and oceans

While the UK manufacturing sector has achieved major reductions in emissions over the past 30 years, there is still much more than can be done. With the net-zero target and a change in the “new normal” due to the global pandemic, I would like to set out five ways in which our factories could reduce their emissions to achieve greater sustainability.

The first is, of course, technology. With Industry 4.0 at the forefront, using smart technology to optimise processes is becoming the norm. While many SMEs haven’t achieved complete digital adoption, a range of government-backed initiatives and Catapults are helping to bridge this gap. If used correctly, we can make manufacturing processes greener. With the increasing adoption of AI and robotics, smart technologies can help to redesign or improve manufacturing processes by reducing resources and simultaneously boosting output. Digital technologies are a key innovation driving sustainable practices in industry.

The second approach is resources. Optimising resources is a core aspect of sustainable manufacturing. Resources, from raw materials and machinery to water and fuel, must all be sourced at a reasonable cost and quality to maximise output.

Manufacturers must question their procurement practices and calculate if they can recycle or replace their resources with more sustainable alternatives. They must not only focus on new sourcing methods, but also optimise their existing usage.

Practices such as in-house recycling and minimising waste lead me to my next method: waste treatment and recycling. Manufacturers must take responsibility for this area using schemes such as B2B Compliance (https://b2bcompliance.org.uk), a non-profit organisation that aims to protect the interests of B2B producers when implementing WEEE. It helps companies to remove electrical waste, thus taking another step in the UK’s sustainability journey. It offers a WEEE recycling collection service, allowing companies to fulfil their obligations and helping the UK meet its WEEE recycling targets.

Next up is energy usage. Switching to solar power is an efficient and obvious move and, while not possible in all cases, it is worth looking at when considering greener practices.

Conducting energy audits to discover where you may be wasting energy is a brilliant way to start. Whether it’s the factory building itself, or the equipment it contains, minimising energy waste is imperative. It could be key to improving operational efficiency and ultimately reducing the carbon footprints of our factories.

Last, but not least, is an issue that is often overlooked, but is becoming increasingly important – packaging. A major contributor to waste in industrial and manufacturing processes is the use of synthetics and plastics in packaging. While there are new taxes to assist with this, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be analysing ways in which we can reduce the use of unnecessary packaging ourselves, and creating a more sustainable environment.

While replacing synthetics with natural and/or recyclable materials may incur an initial cost, it will certainly prove more efficient in the long run – and the ultimate goal is long-term sustainability.

These are just a few ideas for how industry can take reassess what it is doing. The time to act is now. Before our factories (hopefully) return to full capacity, let’s take this opportunity to help achieve net-zero faster than before.

Many Gambica members are already practicing these methods and discuss their activities at our special interest group meetings. If you would like to get involved or find out more, then please get in touch with me or other Gambica staff members.

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.

For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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