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17 May 2022


How Connected Manufacturing Leads to Increased Sustainability

If you’re in the manufacturing space, we’re sure you’re equally excited about the opportunities and hesitant about the unique challenges Industry 4.0 technology presents. What’s the best way to navigate this new landscape and keep up with constantly shifting regulations? 

To answer some of these questions, RapidMiner recently sponsored a report by WBR Insights, a world leader in industry-driven thought leadership conferences titled, Executive Priorities, Strategies, and Investments for Future Manufacturing Success. Our goal was to discover how manufacturing leaders are planning to stay competitive in 2022 and beyond. 

Though the report’s takeaways (like the fact that 45% of leaders see a lack of trust in AI as a major roadblock to integrating data science into the organization) give insight into the state of data science in manufacturing, we want to dig deeper and understand how manufacturers can leverage new technologies to not only continue driving economic growth, but also create a brighter, more sustainable future

Why Focus on Sustainability 

First, we should probably establish why you should care about sustainable manufacturing

For one, you sort of have to. Increasing environmental regulations mean that organizations are being asked to reduce water usage, improve energy efficiency, and then report key performance data to ensure compliance. 

Other than that, organizations that pledge to “go green” almost always see a positive impact on their brand reputation. Laying out concrete ways you plan to improve your operations proves your company’s commitment to sustainability and helps build trust with the public. 

It’s also an essential part of creating a competitive advantage—in Deloitte’s 2021 Sustainable Manufacturing Report, almost half of the 750 executives surveyed reported that their environmental sustainability initiatives measurably boosted their corporate financial performance by reducing waste and increasing operational efficiency. 

3 Ways to Increase Sustainability with Connected Manufacturing 

Connected manufacturing is all about using technology and data to provide better products to customers as efficiently as possible. Especially in the coming years, leveraging IoT alongisde composite AI techniques will prove essential to establishing a competitive advantage. 

But, there’s a big sustainability incentive, too—in our report, 23% of execs cited “reducing waste and deploying more sustainable manufacturing practices” as a top two imperative for pursuing connected manufacturing technologies.  

Here are three ways you can join them and implement new technologies that are good for your business—and the earth. 

1. Use Technology to Reduce Waste 

Traditional plants operating with legacy systems produce according to a set schedule, rather than shifting their operations based on demand—which often leads to overproduction. By replacing these systems with more efficient, sustainable ones powered by RPA and AI (for example, supply chain automation), you can reduce your waste output and only produce what you need. 

Intelligent asset management can also help transform and extend the life of your assets on the shop floor and throughout the supply chain. Rather than living in a constant cycle of maintaining, refurbishing, or replacing, leveraging predictive maintenance can help you anticipate repairs, so you can reduce wasting resources by replacing machine parts too early or throwing away perfectly good materials. 

In Sappi’s 2020 Group Sustainability report, the paper and pulp manufacturer cited using a predictive model in RapidMiner to optimize the operational conditions of their pulp yield to maximize output while saving energy and reducing steam consumption. 

2. Increase Visibility into Operations 

One of the biggest advantages of connected manufacturing technology is knowing what’s going on inside your plant at any time. Having a high degree of visibility helps you make smarter, more sustainable decisions. 

AI and IoT are key players in managing interconnected operations and achieving supply chain transparency. For example, putting sensors in shipping containers for frozen materials can help track if they’ll arrive at their destination on time and ensure they stay at the optimal temperature. Trackers in shipping trucks can also help estimate fuel consumption and speed to give a more accurate idea of how long products take to ship and detect potential traffic hazards before they cause accidents on the road. 

3. Build Sustainability into Your Organization’s Foundation 

When creating a sustainability action plan, it’s essential that you add these efforts into your business in a coordinated, integrated matter, rather than implementing one-off solutions. Let’s say you’d like to adopt AI-powered warehouse robotics to automate parts of the packing process at one of your facilities. Make sure to keep the long-term focus in mind—not just how this could reduce waste and energy output, but how it will impact (and hopefully improve) other systems’ efficiency as well. 

It’s also important to reevaluate how your organization conducts your data science initiatives. Federated learning (or FedML), which involves training an algorithm across multiple decentralized edge devices, is known for being a great solution to privacy concerns, as sensitive user data doesn’t have to leave its source device. However, recent research by Gartner analyst Farhan Choudhary has shown that using FedML can also reduce the environmental impact of model training, thus supporting green AI.

An energy efficient federated learning test conducted over a wireless communication network confirmed these findings–using FedML had the potential to reduce nearly 60% of energy consumption compared to the typical federated learning method. 

In response to our survey, a C-level executive at an electronics and computers manufacturer said, “Connected manufacturing has increased the reliability of our manufacturing unit. Now, this reliability will be supported by sustainable solutions for which we will partner with industry experts.” 

Wrapping Up 

It’s no surprise that sustainability is now at the top of many manufacturers’ boardroom agendas—and enterprises that can figure out how to develop sustainable environments supported by top-of-the-line manufacturing systems will be the ones that get a leg up over their competition. 

Want to get more insight into how leading executives are preparing for success with Industry 4.0 technology? Check out the full report, Executive Priorities, Strategies, and Investments for Future Manufacturing Success. 

This blog post is guest written by Chris Rand, the Head of Research & Content Production at WBR Insights.

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