The journey to net-zero carbon is high on the agenda, with global leaders calling for an acceleration in efforts. The rise in sea levels and the ever-increasing likelihood of extreme weather scenarios pose a significant threat worldwide. Consequently, reducing carbon footprint is, unsurprisingly, a priority for all nations and most, if not all, industries.
This article looks at some of the global efforts being made to reduce CO2 emissions and focuses on the many challenges facing factories in energy consumption.
For wire and cable manufacturers, simply investing in more energy-efficient processes is not a straightforward undertaking. This article includes an overview of the benefits that can be gained when implementing automation through software, highlighting how such moves can save cost and minimize the impact on the environment.
In addition, this article highlights that manufacturers need to consider the lifecycle of the goods they produce and move away from the traditional linear journey to a circular lifecycle.
This article examines:
- Why save energy?
- Contributing factors in manufacturing
- From linear to circular lifecycles
- Government policy, regulations, and incentives
- How software can play its part
Carbon footprint – a definition
“Carbon footprint” can be described as a measurement of the amount of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases) produced by the activities of a person, company, organization, or country.
It is essential to consider the direct and indirect emissions as a contributor. Carbon footprint figures can be calculated by estimating the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced, such as burning fossil fuels through to the electricity used to power machinery.
Why save energy?
The majority of the world’s carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions come from manufacturing and its energy-intensive processes of lighting, heating, refrigeration, and drying. Factories and warehouses have long proved to be energy inefficient.
The environmental benefits of reducing this energy output are well documented, with the positive impact on the preservation of important ecologies and species obvious, as is the impact on global public health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.2 million deaths yearly can be attributed to ambient (outdoor) air pollution exposure. One in three stroke, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease deaths, and one in four ischaemic heart disease deaths result from the “silent killer” that is air pollution.
For benefits closer to home, a factory owner improving environmental performance through energy reduction can expect to achieve internationally-recognized ISO 14001 and 50001 standards. This clear commitment to corporate social responsibility appeals to stakeholders and customers and is often required when tendering contracts.
Contributing factors in manufacturing
Many factors contribute to the carbon footprint of any manufacturer, and it isn’t hard to find effective ways to improve the environmental impact of any operation. These include:
- Energy usage monitoring – Different areas of the business are assessed to determine how much energy each process or department is using.
- Reduce energy usage – For example, sensor lighting systems and shutdown on machines and office equipment when not in use.
- Reduce water usage – Implement initiatives such as rainwater harvesting systems.
- Reward the green commute – Encouraging the use of public transport, car-sharing schemes, and cycling schemes.
- Review logistics to ensure in-house and outsourced services are sustainable.
- Switch to green energy – Fossil fuel-heavy plants (lighting and heating) can make a switch to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy.
- Recycle – Improve efforts to identify recyclable materials and set up new systems and internal policies
- Reduce waste – Ensure processes are in place to run operations in the most efficient way possible.
As well as all of the above, manufacturers could consider product end-of-life disposal and recovery and seek to establish connections with customers and suppliers with robust, sustainable operations.
From linear to circular lifecycles
What is a linear lifecycle?
A product lifecycle with a linear principle sees a raw material extraction phase, a production phase, a use phase, and an end-of-life phase. If the final disposal of a product is landfill or incineration, then the system is defined as linear.
If recycling does form part of the linear cycle, the results often produce downgraded material or less than 100% of the product material recycled.
What is a circular lifecycle?
For a circular lifecycle, material waste should be entirely avoided. The model is based on the principle of having no waste at any point in the product’s life. This can be achieved by careful design and execution of the step processes within product production. This is often easier said than done, and different industries require different approaches.
Make the move to a circular lifecycle in wire and cable manufacturing
Product lifecycle sustainability manages the various steps of a product’s existence so that its impact on the environment is kept to a minimum. Making a move from a linear to a circular lifecycle will significantly reduce the environmental impact of any manufacturing business.
Sustainability can be determined at almost every stage of the lifecycle of a product. At the “beginning of life” stage, decisions about raw materials and processes involved in creating a product can impact it greatly. The goal is to close the loop in the product lifecycle where a product is created, used, reused, recycled or remanufactured rather than discarded.
At the inception phase, products must be designed to improve the ability to recapture materials when the product has completed its first use phase. Ensuring multiple-use phases, even infinite in some industries, should be the priority.
Circular lifecycles ensure the generation of waste is avoided throughout the production chain, as it is a misconception that circular only refers to a product that can be recycled at the end of a product’s life. Most waste, however, occurs along the production chain.
It is uncommon that end-of-life products in the wire and cable manufacturing industry can be reused. Attempts, therefore, to remain sustainable and achieve, whenever possible, a circular lifecycle should be made in the careful management of waste during each phase of the manufacturing process.
Government policy, regulations, and incentives
Global energy demand continues to rise year-on-year due, in part, to the increase in population and strong economic development. Strong economic growth, while positive in many respects, is outpacing progress on energy efficiency, and this is of great concern.
As a result, tighter regulations are increasingly being introduced by several governments across the globe, with many offering incentives and support schemes for businesses looking to improve their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.
The G7 approach
The G7 summit forms a collection of leaders from the world’s richest democracies. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States jointly committed to high-priority areas, and tackling climate change and preserving the planet’s biodiversity was one such priority.
The green revolution promises to:
- Limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees C.
- Reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- Halve emissions by 2030.
- Conserve or protect at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030.
The U.K. government has committed to cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and, in order to hit this target, has recognized the need for more electric cars, low-carbon heating, renewable electricity, and a cut down on meat and dairy consumption.
A number of grants, loans, and government-sponsored initiatives that can help businesses considering more environmentally-responsible changes are available at a national level across many local authorities in the U.K.
Availability depends on location, type of business, and project type, resulting in the need for careful navigation of what’s on offer. For larger projects, U.K. businesses are encouraged to scope out national-level grants, but for smaller projects, local authorities can provide small grants.
Since the Carbon Trust’s Green Business Fund closed in December 2019, navigating through what’s on offer is a complex journey with no single source of eco-grants or initiatives.
Specialist grant search websites highlight active schemes that assist companies looking to implement energy-efficient measures. Grants to finance the repair or replacement of inefficient plant equipment are often available, as well as funding for those considering measures that will reduce waste.
In the U.S., The Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) provides cost-shared funding to increase energy efficiency across the manufacturing sector, with applications invited from collaborative partnerships, including manufacturers and universities (further opportunities are offered by other Federal Government departments). Similar initiatives are available across Europe from the European Commission.
The role China is playing
China has the world’s largest manufacturing sector due to decades of rapid industrialization, resulting in an energy infrastructure heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Recognizing that it’s the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, the Chinese government has pledged to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement, pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060.
The release of a corporate income tax (CIT) incentive for enterprises engaged in pollution prevention and control supports firms aligned with the government’s environmental goals.
The government is also cracking down on heavy polluters — especially in northern regions — and has devised several measures to encourage firms to reduce their emissions.
How software can play its part
With the increasing prevalence of Industry 4.0 (smart factory) initiatives across all sectors, it is evident that the manufacturing world is awash with many digital enterprises and processes, many of which support and enable environmentally-sustainable efforts.
As individual companies, organizations and governments push toward a future of smart manufacturing, it is no secret that companies reluctant to embrace smart manufacturing processes risk being left behind.
Software is a key factor in the Industry 4.0 movement playing an essential part in reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing businesses. At a fundamental level, software can reduce carbon footprint, whether in improving utilities such as introducing occupancy sensors in low-use areas such as overflow bays, daylight sensors to capitalize on additional light in the summer months, or installing a smart energy meter. Similarly, the impact of travel and transportation can be reduced by switching to online demos and webinars and working within environmentally conscious supply chains.
For cable and wire manufacturers, however, where 70%-80% of cable cost can be attributed to raw material alone, process automation presents the best opportunity to reduce carbon footprint, whether it be the reduction of scrap and re-work through to more accurate cable designs; early warning systems to flag issues with production; or the opportunity value of design engineers being deployed from labor-intensive tasks to cutting edge R&D.
Considerations when implementing process automation software
Implementing new software is not a trivial undertaking.
There are several primary considerations to take into account:
- Senior management buy-in and an appreciation that there will be short-term disruption in terms of the adoption of new processes and that staff time will need to be allocated to the implementation process.
- Skillsets of existing staff in terms of their project and software management capability. If these skills aren’t readily available, should the implementation project be outsourced or should these skills be recruited into the business for the benefit of future projects?
- Cost vs. return on investment (ROI). To calculate the true financial value of process automation software, a baseline needs first to be set, taking into account two key costs: the additional costs suffered through re-work and scrap when issues aren’t identified early enough and the opportunity cost of tying staff to processes that need not be manual.
- Choice of software partner and comparison of attributes such as cost (both the initial outlay of the software as well as ongoing subscription and maintenance fees); availability of ongoing support during working hours and regardless of time zone variations; track record on customer service; and documented ROI from existing customers.
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