It’s time for manufacturers to embrace visibility and circularity

Rip-and-replace is no longer viable. With raw material prices up to 18% higher than a year ago, squeezed budgets and increased pressure to meet sustainability targets mean manufacturers are looking to repair more and buy less, extending the lifespan of their industrial applications.

In the quest to become more resilient, many businesses are embracing circularity and the notion of ‘repairable’ assets; reusing, repairing and refurbishing products that are recycled and certified at the end of their lifecycle.

However, repairability, circularity and carbon reduction can be particularly challenging in manufacturing. For decades, in efforts to maintain business-as-usual through turbulent times, we have seen a lack of focus on reducing high energy consumption, growing levels of industrial waste, and increasing carbon emissions. Thankfully, migration to decarbonised low-waste operations has now become a top business priority.

Learning from top sustainability performers

With our economy wasting 90% of materials every year, it’s no wonder that companies such as Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson and Schneider Electric are turning to a circular approach to manufacturing.

A recent MIT Technology Review Insights paper delved into the best sustainability practices of top organisations like these in reducing emissions and creating lifelong assets. Highlights included the diversification of energy sources, the move away from fossil-fuel-based electricity and the development of microgrids to produce their own renewable power. As for circularity, the paper praised modernising production lines to reduce raw material consumption and increase machine performance. Experts from MIT also identified efficiency gains made through equipment maintenance and process optimisation, using improved data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT)-based sensors – leveraging innovative tech to enhance operations. 

The two keys to greener manufacturing

Learning from these leading green players, manufacturers should look to work towards these two key sustainability goals:

  • Visibility: increasing the visibility of the carbon content across a firm’s entire supply chain. Data analytics and digitally connected manufacturing are critical to overcoming traditional sustainability hurdles. Software-based monitoring and management combined with IoT sensors help leaders to assess equipment performance and proactively predict optimum repair and refurbishment cycles.

For instance, with older equipment, many customers have 30- to 40-year-old installations that cannot connect to new software and monitoring tools. This creates siloes within sites, making it impossible to gain a holistic view of all operations. This legacy equipment can be augmented with secondary sensors to monitor performance and identify faults.

  • Circularity: reorienting business models based on circular economy principles. Condition-based maintenance extends the lifespan of manufacturing assets, reduces failure, and minimises downtime. This drives greater operational and electrical efficiency while optimising material usage and decreasing carbon emissions.

Through circular management, organisations can extend the life of assets and systems using consultancy, data, and business logic. Nothing is maintenance-free – so leaders can maintain and maximise the use of installations over the lifetime of a product through this effective use of data.

Shifting to a circular mindset

Adopting a circular mindset is crucial to maximising the lifespan of installations and products. By shifting away from the linear “take-make-dispose” model, we can embrace practices such as recycling, refurbishing, and reusing. This shift not only reduces waste but also promotes resource conservation and environmental sustainability.  Schneider Electric offers repairs at a remanufacturing repair centre called ‘Green Plant’ in Telford in the UK. At the centre, Schneider Electric delivers repair and exchange services from the original equipment manufacturer, this means that it’s possible to provide detailed reports to help minimise the risk of recurring failures while extending the lifecycle of critical automation assets.

Repairing and reusing products and spare parts as much as possible before eventually recycling them will prove vital for eliminating waste, protecting the planet, and minimising costs. When manufacturers work smarter, prioritising visibility, and circularity, it’s a win-win. Furthermore, embracing a circular mindset encourages innovation and fosters the development of more sustainable and durable products, reducing the need for frequent replacements. This shift towards a circular economy not only benefits the environment but also promotes a more resilient and efficient economy for future generations.

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