Most manufacturers have made sustainability a core value in recent years and are setting goals to reduce their carbon footprints over time. Some of those efforts include the reduction of waste, lower pollution, and keeping equipment in use longer. Additional incremental efforts are also being sought in many other areas.
Manufacturers are also beginning to leverage the concept of moving towards a “circular economy,” which often proves to be a very time-consuming and expensive process. However, Innovations in cloud technology can help to lower costs and expedite achieving targeted sustainability goals. One such innovation that shows great promise for this purpose is Digital Twins (also referred to as Virtual Twins).
A quick web search turns up countless examples of Digital Twin technology use cases in a wide range of industries. The emerging technology around the Metaverse also depends a great deal on Digital Twins. For a quick introduction to Digital Twins, particularly in manufacturing, see my earlier article Manufacturing Companies See Increased Cloud Value with Digital Twins. It turns out that the capabilities Digital Twins bring to manufacturing have the added benefit of helping to drive sustainability.
According to the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) global carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 20% due in large part to the use of Digital Twins. When a company can make products more efficiently, that translates into energy savings, which in turn reduces the carbon footprint.
Dassault Systèmes, a French Company, now specializes in creating virtual universes with a product called 3DEXPERIENCE. These Digital Twin systems can be used “to model, simulate and evaluate impacts before creating any experience in the real world.” There is often a great deal of trial and error involved in changing manufacturing processes for optimum global ecological benefit. Dassault’s goal is to allow these R&D efforts to be done virtually, only being introduced into physical manufacturing once the concept has been fully optimized and proved out by the model.
One of the key components of sustainable manufacturing is the reduction of scrap waste. There are several approaches to this:
- Create less scrap at the time of manufacture
- Find ways to use the scrap within the manufacturing process
- Recycle the product after it has been used (referred to as post-consumer recycling or PCR)
All three of these methods can be explored and optimized through the use of Digital Twins. By simulating the manufacturing process in a digital virtual model, any proposed changes to the production can be tested out and optimized, with the goal of reducing or eliminating the scrap in the first place. For example, by using intelligent automation, quality control issues can be reduced in real-time, resulting in fewer products being discarded due to poor quality.
For materials that still become scrap, processes can be tested that collect and reuse that scrap directly on the production line, before it ever leaves the facility. Finally, virtual testing of the integration of PCR products into the production can find the potential issues so that they can be addressed, with low risk and cost, prior to attempting to introduce those resources into the mix in the physical manufacturing plant.
Plastics manufacturers in particular are facing much scrutiny due to a public perception of plastic waste ending up in landfills or the ocean. The need for effective means of recycling calls for innovative use of Digital Twin technology. BASF is designing a scalable blockchain solution called reciChain that uses Digital Twins to “support the track & trace, and monetization of plastics within the value chain” to “to incentivize the recycling and reuse of plastics into a local circular economy.” It does this by “[marking] physical objects with a unique and unalterable chemical-based barcode and [connecting] them to a digital twin.”
As manufacturing companies look for ways to meet sustainability goals, there is a ripe opportunity for companies specializing in cloud technologies such as Digital Twins to bring solutions that are ready to meet that demand. CIOs and other IT leaders in the manufacturing space would do well to familiarize themselves with the cloud technology and frameworks needed for Digital Twins. Not only will they help ensure that their company is able to move quickly on efforts to reduce waste and improve the environment, but they will also be able to show the value they can bring as business leaders, focusing on areas not typically associated with IT.
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