How can manufacturing be more sustainable?

How can manufacturing be more sustainable?

Manufacturers that leverage the industrial metaverse to transform their processes will be more efficient, satisfy their customers and achieve their sustainability goals, says Rohit Verma of Infosys

Guest contributor |

Manufacturing is one of the most important and impactful sectors of the global economy, contributing to nearly 16 per cent of the world’s GDP and employing over 450 million people. 

However, manufacturing is also one of the most resource-intensive and polluting sectors, accounting for 35 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and 20 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Therefore, a shift towards adopting sustainable practices is becoming increasingly necessary. 

Enter the industrial metaverse, a digital twin of the physical world, which integrates technologies like digital twins, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence and augmented reality (AR). This virtual environment offers opportunities for optimisation, monitoring and collaboration, aiding in waste reduction, efficiency enhancement and improved collaboration among manufacturers. 

Despite its potential, challenges persist, such as upfront investments and technology integration complexities. Nonetheless, the benefits of sustainable processes far outweigh any risks and problems. 

Siemens, a global leader in industrial automation and digitalisation, exemplifies the power of leveraging new technologies to aid in sustainability efforts. Its industrial metaverse platform, Xcelerator, optimises Siemens’ own manufacturing processes to develop solutions and services for its customers, thereby reducing product development time by 50 per cent, increasing productivity by 30 per cent and, crucially, lowering energy consumption by 40 per cent. 

Adopting sustainable processes helps to improve operational efficiency and productivity, which can lead to lower costs, higher quality and faster delivery. It can also enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, resulting in increased market share, revenue and profitability. Furthermore, these processes open up avenues to innovative new products and services, which can create new value propositions and competitive differentiation. 

The industrial metaverse facilitates real-time data utilisation and scenario simulation, as seen in Hitachi’s data analytics system. This system uses AI to collect and process data from various sources to improve productivity and output, therefore showing how the industrial metaverse can enable manufacturers to identify optimal solutions for energy, materials and logistics. It has the added benefit of aiding collaboration and sustainable solution co-creation. 

Dashboards and benchmarking can also help to monitor performance. The use of digital twins can simulate future situations, allowing manufacturers to anticipate impacts and adapt accordingly, while collaboration with stakeholders can be facilitated through AR and VR. 

Shell, the global energy firm, is leveraging digital twins and IoT to optimise its oil and gas production, refining and distribution processes, and to reduce its flaring, venting and methane emissions. The use of digital twins to monitor its performance will be key as Shell has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, as well as to support the transition to a low-carbon economy. 

For companies venturing into the industrial metaverse, defining sustainability goals, assessing technology readiness and selecting compatible partners are critical steps, as demonstrated by Shell’s approach. This helps to ensure that an organisation’s vision is aligned with sustainability and that progress is being tracked. It would be wise to identify current technology gaps and evaluate the organisation’s adoption maturity before choosing compatible technologies and partners that fit the budget and existing infrastructure. 

Implementing sustainable processes for intelligent manufacturing has to balance both the environmental and social impacts of production, while also improving the quality, efficiency and profitability of manufacturing operations. Innovative companies like Fero Labs are operating in this space, employing machine learning to minimise waste and costs, contributing to a more sustainable manufacturing landscape. 

Key strategies I would advise manufacturers to think about when balancing their sustainability goals with the need to turn a profit include using digital technologies to monitor, optimise and automate manufacturing processes; switch to renewable energy sources; and adopt circular economy principles. 

In summary, sustainable processes in manufacturing align environmental and social impacts with operational excellence, driving both profitability and environmental stewardship in tandem with technological advancement. And as an industry, we are making great strides already, but there is still plenty of room for advancement.  

Rohit Verma is assistant vice president and head of Microsoft Practice Europe at Infosys 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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