How manufacturers are leading the way in sustainable business practice with the help of the cloud

Posted on 30 Jun 2022 by The Manufacturer

The manufacturing industry is disruptive by nature. Populated by leading minds in engineering and production, the sector is on a constant journey to the next innovation, improvement or efficiency.

Today, with the climate crisis as a, if not the, key consideration for all industries, manufacturing has once again demonstrated its trail-blazing position. According to a recent global Harris Poll survey of cross-industry leaders commissioned by Google Cloud, manufacturing executives are among the most committed and engaged when it comes to sustainability. Businesses are merging their natural drive to transform with one to conserve, with 56% reporting that they’re taking practical steps to operate more sustainably, which is over 10% higher than the global average (45%).

At this year’s Hannover Messe, manufacturers from across the globe gathered to showcase the latest and greatest in carbon-cutting technology and sustainable practices. Slowly but surely, manufacturers are closing the gap between environmental concerns and solutions with developments in powerful analytics, digital factory processes and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In many cases, cloud technology has played a central role in enabling the industry to produce and advance these sustainable solutions. In 2021, nearly two thirds of manufacturers were already using cloud tools, and as we move further into the digital age, they have continued to leverage the technology to eliminate waste and achieve more productive and sustainable processes.

Sustainable supply chains

Cloud service providers are already supporting customers from all industries to implement, track and reach sustainability goals by granting access to – and actionable insights on – data. And the manufacturing sector is no different.

Data analytics tools available on the public cloud enable businesses to examine real-time insights into data centre and regional energy consumption. Armed with this knowledge, manufacturing businesses can make greener IT decisions and ultimately cut their carbon impact.

Whilst some sectors are just beginning to appreciate the value of data used in this way, 52% of manufacturers are already using technology to measure and report on the impact of environmental efforts, and many are now looking far beyond just their cloud-related emissions.

Another area where manufacturers are consolidating their efforts is in the environmental implications both on and of their supply chains, with the climate crisis already taking a toll on shipment and delivery to inventory and operations. To manage these shifts, manufacturers are leveraging predictive AI and Machine Learning (ML) tools to anticipate challenges like extreme weather or supply shortages and adapt accordingly. To take one example, automotive manufacturer Renault aggregates inventory data from its suppliers with contextual data from public sources to gain a more holistic view of its supply chain. In doing so, the business is able to manage stock, improve forecasting and optimise fulfilment, ultimately enhancing production quality and reducing its environmental impact.

Optimising the factory floor

As some manufacturers are looking at the environmental impact of external operations, others are focusing on the factory floor. According to Google Cloud’s findings, over half (55%) of manufacturers agree that technology is enabling the development of new products and services to leverage more sustainable methods, like automation and outsourcing business operations.

Many manufacturing companies are utilising cloud technology to analyse operational data and develop a more comprehensive digital ecosystem, automating factory processes to improve productivity.

Leading businesses like Siemens are partnering with cloud service providers to do exactly that. In cooperation with Google Cloud, Siemens has integrated data cloud and AI/ML technologies with its factory automation solutions to help its workforce innovate for the future. The goal of the partnership is to make the deployment of AI in connection with the Industrial Edge easier, automating mundane tasks on the plant floor. In doing so, the business has been able to improve overall quality and efficiency, reduce product waste and free up employees to focus on future technologies and projects.

Furthermore, thanks to recent innovations in manufacturing data solutions, businesses today can access unified and contextualised data across the entirety of their ecosystem. In addition to contextual data from outside the factory, used to enhance supply chain processes, cloud tools allow manufacturers to acquire data from any type of machine within the factory and process, contextualise, store and analyse it. Global cooling and heating technology manufacturer, Phonic is using this technology to access analytics and insights from across its manufacturing processes, enabling it to optimise operations and reduce defects with predictive maintenance and anomaly detection.

The products of tomorrow

As well as improving their internal practices, many manufacturers are also leading the way in the development of sustainable consumer products and solutions. In fact, 55% of manufacturing businesses are currently designing products and offerings with sustainability in mind.

One sub sector where this sustainable push is particularly prevalent is automotive manufacturing, where innovative brands are leaning on cloud computing to bring new – electric and connected – products to market.

According to the Southwest Research Institute, connected and automated vehicles can lead to as much as a 20% improvement in fuel consumption, on top of benefits in vehicle safety and driver convenience. In partnership with Google Cloud, automotive manufacturer Ford is looking to make this a reality, pursuing a significant transformation in its offer with electrification, connectivity and self-driving. The business is leveraging AI, ML and data analytics technologies to power its fleet of connected vehicles, disrupting the market with sustainable and safe automotive technologies able to deliver a truly connected experience.

With the help of cloud technology, brands across the industry are pioneering new and dynamic ways to make their supply chains, processes and products more sustainable. Known for setting the standard in areas of innovation, the industry’s existing investment in sustainable solutions is just the beginning.

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About the author

Annie-Marie Scott, Google Cloud Annie-Marie Scott, Director, Manufacturing & Industrial Sales, UKI, Google Cloud

Anne-Marie has helped businesses evolve and transform through technology over the past 25 years, having worked at organisations including SAP and IBM. From the early days of advising on data centre, storage and security solutions, to later digital transformation. This includes people and processes, involving finance, HR, marketing and procurement. She is passionate about using data and technology to help deliver better outcomes for businesses, clients and societal improvement. A leader for Women in Technology and an ally for driving inclusivity for underrepresented minorities.