Smart Factories And Sustainability: Is Zero Waste Possible In Manufacturing? | Hacker Noon

June 24th 2020

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Under the influence of Industry 4.0 and IoT, businesses are ready to switch to smart factories. The uniqueness of the moment lies in the fact that any developing and developed state is able to create a powerful foundation for sustainable development in the future. The smart factory is the element of the Factory of the Future paradigm, which in fact is a brick in building the innovative economy of the future, and mechanical engineering, by virtue of its innovative nature.

What is Industry 4.0?

By 2024, the global market cap for Industry 4.0 could reach $ 156.6 billion. Analysts at Research and Markets published this forecast in their report. Industry 4.0 is a process characterized by the full penetration of the Internet and IT-technologies in all spheres of human life and industry – from everyday life to production. With the help of such novel technologies as Big data and IoT, enterprises themselves will create products tailored to the needs of the individual customer, and the customer will have the opportunity to choose sustainability over the brand. It is very important that there is no increase in the cost of production processes: by connecting all the elements through the network, it becomes possible to find optimal, cost-effective ways of fulfilling orders.
And finally, “Industry 4.0” involves the rational use of natural and technical resources, the most efficient energy conservation, the recycling of all waste and the receipt of “smart goods”, raw materials or energy from them. In other words, it is about introducing a fundamentally new paradigm: a repair instead of a new purchase, a rent instead of a property.

How do Smart Factories Change the Face of Production?

The main difference between the factories of the future and today’s industrial enterprises is the approach to the production process. At a smart factory, most of the time-consuming work is entrusted to AI while human participation is minimized. These factories use 3D printers, generative design, and IoT technology. Due to this, the quality of goods is significantly improved and the production time of high-tech products is reduced.

So, factories of the future represent an approach based on the idea of ​​maximum digitalization of production with minimal use of human resources to produce smart products.

This concept has been discussed over the past 30 years, but it was finally formulated only at an exhibition in Hanover in 2011. According to McKinsey, the work of a smart factory can, for example, increase productivity by 3-5% and reduce the time it takes for a product to enter the market by 20-50 %.

Note: a perfect example of a smart factory would be a facility that uses renewable energy. For instance, the source of such clean energy could be solar panels installed on the roof of the plant. They would generate the electricity necessary for operation and production. Thanks to the use of solar energy, such a smart factory would reduce its carbon footprint, reducing annual CO2 emissions by tens to thousands of tons.

Sustainable Development and Production Waste Management

The term “sustainable development” began to be used in scientific, political, and international materials since 1987 after the report of the Harlem Brundtland Commission  “Our Common Future”.  In the report, the term was interpreted as development (economic and social) that satisfies the needs of the present but does not jeopardize the possibility of future generations to satisfy their own needs.  
Specification of sustainable development fundamentals in the field of waste management is presented in the European Union waste management strategy. One of these principles is the principle of producer responsibility: the physical and financial responsibility of the manufacturer for the entire life cycle of the product and its packaging, even after the end of their use by the consumer.  Thus, the burden (including financial) of processing and disposal of products is shifted to the manufacturer, which motivates to develop products that are less hazardous to the environment.
  • the consumption of natural resources should not exceed the capacity for ecosystem productivity and regeneration;
  • volumes of emissions, discharges and non-utilizable wastes disposed of in the environment must not exceed its assimilation capabilities;
  • use of non-renewable resources is possible in volumes that are offset by the reproduction and increase in consumption of renewable resources, replacing non-renewable;
  • development should exclude adverse environmental consequences for present and future generations. 

Is Zero-Waste Production Possible?

This is a question of a long term prospect. Developed countries today possess the necessary disruptive technologies that can ensure sustainable economic development in the interests of future generations. However, if not on a global level, sustainable production based primarily on disruptive technologies in the short and medium-terms is not able to massively provide the required positive dynamics.

Developed countries are introducing elements of sustainable development in parallel, which is difficult from a technical point of view. On the one hand, every year it is necessary to increase the high volume of production, on the other – it is necessary to develop clean production.

Still, if we want fast results, all manufacturing giants in the world should act now: implement the already existing opportunities fro clean production and keep their development in this direction. 

Today, when the planet’s resources are gradually being depleted, and the accumulated reserves of waste are huge, it is necessary to change the current worldview and the negative attitude to waste as garbage.

Waste should be considered as resources with an incomplete form of consumption. Only under this condition can the waste management system be capable and effective.  This conclusion determined the main directions for solving the waste problem: 
  • to minimize and prevent the generation of waste (complete use of raw materials, development of low-waste and so-called non-waste industries, the introduction of energy and resource-saving technologies;  
  • the use of waste as a resource base (extraction of secondary materials from waste with their return to production (in particular, the development of various recycling technologies). 

Final Word

The development of the Internet, IT technologies, sustainable communication channels, cloud technologies, and digital platforms, as well as the multiply increased amount of information generated from various sources, have led to the emergence of open information systems and global industrial networks.

This, in turn, had a transformative effect on all sectors of the modern economy and business outside the IT sector itself and contributed to the transfer of industrial automation to the new 4th stage of industrialization. The mission of this stage is to implement the Industry 4.0 program.

The only thing left for us to do is to implement these technologies correctly and move further to a sustainable future!

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