Why Sustainable Manufacturing Is Leading the Future

Why Sustainable Manufacturing Is Leading the Future

05 Sep 2022

Why Sustainable Manufacturing Is Leading the Future

The ongoing shift towards more innovation and technology-oriented industrial activities presents huge opportunities for businesses, including manufacturers, to step in and help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More so in light of data on the economic benefits of pursuing sustainable, inclusive business models including job creation. 

Sustainable practices in manufacturing, one of the most energy-intensive sectors, have evolved out of multidisciplinary scientific studies, including information and computing technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and smart technologies, material sciences, design, engineering, and so forth. These practices present an opportunity for the manufacturing sector to be more efficient in its production, but more importantly, environmentally sustainable. 

What is sustainable manufacturing and how does it revolutionize current manufacturing processes?

By Sustainable Manufacturing (SM), we mean the process of fabricating, producing, and making things with “zero waste or a minimum footprint” on the planet and people to generate the highest possible prosperity.

It is about designing, making, and operating the most efficient and effective products, devices, or systems with minimum resources consumed.

It differs completely from the centuries-old “make-to-sell and ignore the effects” model of manufacturing. SM is a newer “make-to-order and account for all life-long effects” approach. It equates to accountability, responsibility, and the functionality of products, processes, and their use throughout the lifecycle.  

It not only reduces the financial cost of making products, but also the social cost, in terms of its impact on society and the environment - now and in the future.

What are some of the SM practices now in use? Which industries benefit most from implementing these?

Some of the well-known and widely accepted SM practices include less energy consumption, but more clean and renewable energy in the design, production, and transportation phases of any typical manufacturing system or supply chain. We can see more and more factory rooftops with solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, for example. 

There are many other practices that are not as visible to the outside world, such as replacing large, wasteful engines, motors, pumps, compressors, and lighting with smaller, efficient, and smart ones. 

Similarly, minimizing water use, with more reuse and water treatment, are commonly accepted measures across various industrial sectors. Agile, responsive, and lean management and operation practices with more systematic and continuous training and applications include Six Sigma, 5S, and lean manufacturing techniques. 

One of the emerging and most promising technologies supporting SM goals is Additive Manufacturing (also known as 3D printing). AM - a novel approach for producing full-scale 3D objects from computer-aided design (CAD) using modeling tools - enables tremendous savings in material usage when compared to conventional subtractive manufacturing technologies. AM also enables distributed and digital manufacturing, which makes full and efficient use of assets with great design flexibilities. For example, a product designed in one continent can be manufactured instantly in two remote continents to the same specifications but for different
customers eliminating time consuming, expensive and wasteful tooling, material preparation and logistics. Many consumer products such as glass frames and medical devices such as implants can be fabricated on demand when and where needed with personalized features and needs.

Tell us about the impact SM is having in Qatar.

A couple of the industrial sectors that have been lagging in SM implementation are the construction and oil-gas industries due to either decades-old, difficult-to-change manufacturing, operations, management, and business approaches or additional safety and security concerns, combined with a significant portion of manual work and operations.  

In this regard, the oil and gas industry, the largest sector in Qatar, is in the process of implementing some of the well-known SM elements. These include integrating clean and renewable energy generation into gas processing operations and plants to increase efficiency and reduce emissions without impacting safety and security protocols.  

For this, there are cases where integrated solar PV, fuel cell and battery systems are installed to provide clean electricity to gas processing operations. Other advances that enable SM and Industry 4.0 elements in natural gas operations are integrated automation, remote monitoring, and predictive maintenance via smart network devices, sensors, actuators, and cameras to automatically monitor, detect and predict and prevent downtime or failure of devices and systems. Yet, such advances are still considered as expensive and intrusive, and for this reason they are progressing slowly.

What research is CSE conducting around SM? What are the latest trends in this area?

Our efforts at CSE and HBKU around SM can be summarized in four main categories: 

  • Research focusing on integrating clean and renewable energy and water into natural gas processing plants to reduce emissions, increase efficiency, and bring them a step closer to SM goals. Several of our PhD students conducted their research in collaboration with local natural gas companies, providing techno-economic-environmental analysis and assessments for them to fully integrate solar PV, fuel cell, and battery options into their operations.  
  • Research focusing on strategy development for specific industries to become more efficient and cleaner in their operations, such as power generation, steel and aluminum, and fertilizer manufacturing.  
  • Research on 3D printing. We have been conducting research and development on materials, process, design, and applications of AM/3D printing in my laboratory within the Sustainable Development Division since 2015. We collaborate with Sidra Medicine and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) to develop functionalized, personalized, and locally-manufactured biomedical implants using various types of polymer composites and magnesium. 
  • We collaborate with institutes in Qatar and Turkey to do sustainability assessments and develop 3D printing systems for buildings using local waste construction materials. We also conduct research on 3D printing of recycled plastics with the goal of transforming harmful and hazardous plastics into useful products and applications almost instantly at the hands of individuals.  
  • Advisory, consulting, and training services to local entities for their sustainability assessment reports and strategies.

What is the role of automation?

Automation has long been an important part of manufacturing, with the exception, perhaps, of sectors such as construction. It has helped increase productivity and reduce costs. However, with the emergence of Industry 4.0, automation, controls, and network manufacturing have been advancing into more integrated applications to enable plant - or even enterprise-wide - intelligence, predictability, and then responsiveness. This mainly takes place with the integration of AI, data science, and predictive tools. It helps render the entire manufacturing operation and assets more responsive to the changes in environmental and workforce needs.  

Ultimately, automation offers efficiency in terms of time, energy, and resources, thereby ensuring sustainable manufacturing conditions.

Any other areas

An important aspect, condition, and pillar of sustainability, and therefore, Sustainable Manufacturing, is the social aspect, which is directly related to humans as individuals, families, communities, and nations.  

Unfortunately, this important pillar does not find its presence in the research, discussions, and news about sustainability. People tend to highlight the economy, environment, energy, and technology. However, the purpose of sustainability is humans and its social environment. The attitudes, behavior, consumption and purchasing habits, and decisions taken by humans as individuals, families, communities, and nations profoundly affect whether something is sustainable or not.  

The most apparent mechanism to correctly shape the social pillar of sustainability is education, starting from parents, the family, and eventually in schools. With the advent of internet, digital and social media (DSM), interestingly, individuals young or adult learn more and more from social media as it has been the medium that we interact the most, probably more than other humans surrounding us in our daily lives. Thus, designing, developing and implementing intelligent Education for Sustainability (EfS) principles, contents, materials and learning tools into social media has been one of our research pillars. We strongly believe that education will transform into digital/social media more and more, and hence, we need to be ahead of it to prepare the right strategies, curriculum and learning materials to prepare our children’s learning in all dimensions.

Dr. Muammer Koç is a Founding Professor of the Sustainability Division at the College of Science and Engineering at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.