How smart manufacturing and AI can benefit the environment

Posted on 30 Jun 2022 by The Manufacturer

There is more than one way to approach reducing your Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) in manufacturing.

Use of digital data in manufacturing to cut carbon emissions

Beginning in 1765, the first industrial revolution transformed our economy by using coal to change the way goods were produced and manufactured. Since then, the second industrial revolution was driven by gas in 1870 before being followed by nuclear power in 1969.

Currently, we are driving through the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) as we see a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy such as solar and wind power. These revolutions show how quickly the manufacturing industry changes dependent on the source of power. Currently, Industry 4.0 is helping manufacturing cut greenhouse gas emissions from the use of renewable energy.

Industry 4.0 is already happening. It’s transforming the way manufacturing operations are carried out. However, the use of renewable energy is a by-product created by the drive of the digital revolution. The momentum that is shifting Industry 4.0 comes from the acceleration of digital technology.

Industry 4.0 is creating cyber-physical systems that can network a production process enabling value creation and real-time optimisation. The main factor driving the revolution is the advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The complex algorithms involved in AI use the data collected from cyber-physical systems, resulting in “smart manufacturing”.

The impact that Industry 4.0 will have on manufacturing will be astronomical as operations can be automatically optimised to produce increased profit margins. However, the use of AI and smart manufacturing can also benefit the environment.

The first step to reducing emissions is always understanding. To reduce a manufacturing process’s emissions, a company must know their emissions in the first place. Thus, quantitating a baseline for GHG emissions is vital. Smart manufacturing can make this process simple by automatically collecting utility data such as electricity, natural gas and water usage.

Furthermore, AI-based tools can help establish Scope 3 emissions from a company’s supply chain. A smart manufacturing process will have its digital twin represented in the Internet of Things and so an entire supply chain could be modelled in the digital twin making data collection simple.

Once a baseline has been calculated, smart manufacturing can be used to reduce emissions using methods such as digital twin optimisation and predictive maintenance. Each method highlights the future of smart manufacturing. To begin, digital twin optimisation enables virtual replicas of industrial processes that can easily be optimised to their most efficient performance. Digital twins allow more testing and iteration creating smart strategies based on both profits and carbon reduction strategies. Whereas predictive maintenance can save both costs and carbon emissions by preventing unnecessary maintenance tasks.

Predictive maintenance is becoming increasingly popular as it saves companies costs in performing scheduled maintenance, or costs in fixing broken equipment. The AI-based tool uses machine learning to learn how historical sensor data maps to historical maintenance records. Once a machine learning algorithm is trained using the historical data, it can successfully predict when maintenance is required based on live sensor readings in a plant. Predictive maintenance accurately models the wear and tear of machinery that is currently in use.

Naturally, at first you need to look at reducing your demand; reducing energy demand and reducing demand on resources such as use of materials and water. You can also look at reducing waste. This includes wasted energy in the form of inefficient machinery, wasted materials, and wasted water. Addressing all of these types of waste will reduce your carbon emissions.

Naturally, you will want to look at efficient maintenance scheduling; reducing time spent and spares used, increasing serviceability, decreasing downtime, making optimal use of your human resource and optimising any travel between sites that resource may need to undertake. But there is still more;

Industrial Synergy

In terms of sustainability one option is the use of materials that are considered a waste material from one industry. It could be an input material for another industry. This is true also for energy where process heat might be lost from a manufacturing facility that puts out waste heat which could be captured and used to warm a process or an area of a neighbouring facility. This is known as industrial synergy. Use of, or repurposing of, otherwise wasted materials forms part of the circular economy. Where materials are not thought of as waste – but are seen as resources. Industrial synergy goes further than recycling, re-use and re-purposing within your own business. But considers the wider aspect, of a wider community.

For this reason, collaboration outside of your immediate company or even your immediate town is necessary.

There are a number of initiatives facilitating industrial synergy. These improve industrial waste management systems and divert waste from landfills. They also create jobs. They need a diverse network of participating companies at a high level of stakeholder buy-in.

NISP – National Industrial Symbiosis Programme, is the best known of these. Originating as 3 pilot schemes in Scotland, West Midlands and Yorkshire & Humberside, it was the world’s first national industrial symbiosis programme. The model has to date been replicated in 20 countries world-wide at a national or regional level.  Participating businesses diverted 47 million tonnes of industrial waste from landfill and generated a billion pounds in new sales. Carbon emissions look cut by 42 million tonnes and money was saved by reducing disposal, storage, transport and purchasing costs.

The Western Cape Industrial Symbiosis programme, WISP. Is based on the facilitated approach to industrial symbiosis. WISP was initiated by the Western Cape government of South Africa in 2013. It has a team of facilitators trained by international synergies that worked full time to build the industrial symbiosis network. They identify underutilised resources that could lead to business opportunities for member companies.

Community Resource Information Support platform, CRISP is an innovation project to design and pilot an innovative resource utilisation software. And so, the use of digital data to reduce carbon meets industrial synergy.

Synergy can also lead to incorporation with smart manufacturing using renewable energy without fossil fuels. This can lead us to a clearer view of the potential for clean manufacturing and a step change in low carbon city planning.

In the context of city industrialisation, not only is smart manufacturing essential, but so too are the cities in which industries are located. Through innovative change, both cities and industries offer solutions for deep infrastructural and systematic carbon reductions. Within the urban context, changes towards industry can lead the way in city development and the adoption of smart technology can offer solutions to greenhouse gas reduction within cities.

Cities account for roughly 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and contribute significantly to climate change as a result. According to the European commission, greenhouse gas emissions can be monitored and reduced within cities through upgraded urban transport networks, upgraded water supply, environmentally friendly water disposal facilities and buildings with high energy efficiency.

Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN recognise that cities and their contributions to climate change must be reshaped and adapted to present opportunities as opposed to threats. The complexities of cities however require insight through a multi-governance approach in order to identify areas for change.

Manufacturing provides opportunities both environmentally and socially towards the continued growth and development of industries. Economically speaking, the impact of industrial manufacturing has had historical benefits towards the development of cities in drastic ways, from the employment opportunities for urban workers to the creation of goods and services that bring value to communities and infrastructure.

In adapting current manufacturing processes within industries, the benefits towards cities are vast, and provide environmental, social and governmental opportunities that showcase a more conscientious and sustainable way to live.

Aspects of cities such as public transportation, building construction and road infrastructure can be adapted and developed in line with manufacturing industries. Workers who travel by car can instead reduce emissions and their own cost of living by making use of low carbon infrastructure changes such as trams, buses, and trains. In developing our cities around smart manufacturing, pollution and congestion are set to be a thing of the past.

Crucially however, in order to achieve these fundamental changes to cities, we must recognise the level of collaborative effort that is required between public, private and civil actors in society. Acknowledging this is the first step to developing and creating new potential pathways for the future models of cities, coinciding with manufacturing facilities, factories and industrial units.

About the authors

Dr Torill Bigg, Chief Carbon Reduction Engineer, Tunley Engineering

Dr Bigg (Torill) is a Chartered Chemical Engineer with 20 years’ experience in the water industry and a passion for environmental protection. Her work is published in Environmental Technology Journal and she is the recipient of a range of awards from Groundwater Quality at Sheffield University, to the prestigious Water Award from the Institute of Chemical Engineers. Torill spearheads Tunley Engineering’s work in reducing Carbon Emissions across the globe, utilising her academic, professional and industry experience in finding grounded and cost-effective solutions to the Climate Crisis.

Joshua Farnsworth, Carbon Reduction Engineer, Tunley Engineering

Joshua joined Tunley Engineering as a Carbon Reduction Engineer whilst completing his master’s degree in Environmental Science and Climate Change Politics at the University of Sheffield. Having previously completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Government from Newcastle University, Joshua specialised in environmental politics and policy, and finished his 3-year course with a dissertation focusing on US environmental politics and governance. With knowledge and expertise in global and national environmental policies and climate change governance, Joshua offers companies and government officials alike a different perspective within the Carbon Reduction Team to expand and explore solutions to the climate crisis.

Aaron Yeardley, Carbon Reduction Engineer, Tunley Engineering

Aaron works as a Carbon Reduction Engineer for Tunley Engineering.  He combines his role with completing his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sheffield.  Aaron specialises in gathering data from clients and performing carbon calculations to present carbon footprints.  He then works with the client providing solutions to help reduce their carbon footprint. He utilises his expertise in data analytics, machine learning and python coding to achieve these goals.