The recent 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow has brought the subject of Net Zero firmly into our thoughts. While this certainly isn’t the first initiative of its kind, it feels different this time: World leaders are coming together, setting serious targets, and holding each other accountable. However, this creates pressure on manufacturers to reduce emissions themselves.
The UK is actually one of the leading nations in reducing its carbon emissions, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 44% since 1990. Additionally, the UK Government laid out its Net Zero strategy to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050 and launched the Together For Our Planet ‘Business Climate Leaders’ campaign. This campaign encourages and supports small businesses to make a formal commitment to net zero, and reduce their carbon footprint.
So, in this article, we will review what Net Zero is, how you can take steps to achieve it in your factory, and what support is available for you.
What is Net Zero?
From heating our homes to filling up our cars, burning fossil fuels releases greenhouses gases that increase global temperatures. We are already seeing the effects here in the UK, with devastating floods in the West Midlands in January and torrential downpours submerging London Underground stations earlier this summer.
People are rightly concerned, with the latest IPCC report showing that if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the floods and fires we have seen around the world this year will get more frequent and more fierce, crops will be more likely to fail, and sea levels will rise driving mass migration as millions are forced from their homes. Above 1.5°C, we risk reaching climatic tipping points like the melting of arctic permafrost – releasing millennia of stored greenhouse gases – meaning we could lose control of our climate for good.
But the good news is that there is a path to avoid catastrophic climate change. The science is clear that if we reduce emissions as close as possible to zero by the middle of this century, then we can recover. Importantly, Net Zero is not about zero emissions, but it is about reducing emissions significantly and offsetting any remaining emissions through carbon negative initiatives.
Globally, this includes ending coal-fired power generation, retiring petrol and diesel engines from all cars alongside absorbing the small amount of remaining emissions through natural carbon sinks like forests, and new technologies like carbon capture.
If we can achieve this, global emissions of greenhouse gases will be ‘net zero’.
Manufacturing’s contribution to Net Zero
While the focus of Net Zero strategy is around electrified vehicles, alternative power sources and carbon capture technologies, everyone has a part to play – especially in manufacturing supply chains. While you may or may not contribute to these key initiatives, it is incremental change that drives a revolution, and you can achieve a lot by taking small steps. Switching to an environment-first approach and changing the mindsets of stakeholders to help with climate change and other environmental matters can make a significant impact. Ultimately, there are two components to Net Zero: green products and green processes.
Producing green products will be achievable for many manufacturers, as it involves innovating items that will result in the end-user reducing their own carbon emissions. From electric vehicles to recyclable packaging, there are big and small ways that you can implement green products. Whilst this doesn’t sound like a direct attempt at becoming a green manufacturer, consumers are now warier than ever when purchasing products, meaning that failure to produce environmentally friendly items may mean that you fall behind against competitors. The UK Government is supporting this innovation through grants and loans to help you invest in innovating Green Products. However, as developing Green Products is very unique to your business, we’re going to focus on green processes in this article.
Improving your processes to become greener will involve actions such as reducing your company’s carbon footprint, introducing renewable energy sources, disposing of waste responsibly, creating a circular economy, and implementing digital technologies to reduce paper and waste. Reading each of these actions in isolation doesn’t sound like much, but they all add up, and will certainly lower your impact on the environment over time.
The benefits of Net Zero Manufacturing
If you’re already thinking about Net Zero, then you’re on the right track. And, although people often associate being environmentally friendly with higher costs, it can actually reduce your material costs and decrease your waste. Here are just a few ways going green could save you money:
- Financial Rebates/Support: You may receive financial rewards from going green, such as lower tax rates and grants from initiatives like those mentioned above.
- Localising Supply Chains: If you source materials and parts from overseas suppliers, you may look at switching to sourcing parts from a local supplier, thereby reducing the quantity and cost of air miles associated with your suppliers. Additionally, with the Brexit creating additional costs on imports, it may benefit your balance sheet too.
- Low Waste Production methods: If it’s appropriate for your business, introducing some additive manufacturing (AM) could help you to reduce the waste produced in your production line, as it allows you to recycle and re-use leftover materials up to 21 times. In some cases, saving millions of pounds by making full use of the raw materials.
- Renewable Energy Sources: You might implement a renewable energy source on your premises and receive compensation for the energy you generate and contribute back to the grid, meaning you can earn money from more than just your production methods. If this is a step too far for you at the moment, why not conduct an energy audit, so you can see where improvements can be made to use less. You might be surprised at how simple actions such as moving over to LED lighting can make a difference.
- Going Paperless: One of the easiest actions to implement is probably digitalising some processes. Completing paperwork is one of the most time-consuming tasks in a factory, so automating actions can enable your staff to have more time on the shop floor. This can also significantly reduce the amount of paper that you use, giving you an easy head start on becoming green. And, when you consider the price of printer ink and paper, it saves you money at the same time.
How to get started
Net Zero manufacturing doesn’t have to cost millions, it can be really easy to start with small things. We would advise that the best way to get started is to analyse your current manufacturing process. Are you constantly printing off new versions of documents that are outdated 10 minutes later? Maybe you could implement a reduced paper scheme to encourage employees to use digital copies instead.
In terms of waste, you might think that you have already minimised it to the best of your ability. However, have you thought about sending your waste to someone that could make use of it? The good ol’ saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” applies here. Whether you’re in food production and decide to send off your used sunflower oil from cooking to be made into biofuel, or you work with metals that mean your scraps can be sent to another company to be reformed into other products, there are lots of ways to reuse waste. Businesses that you supply for or even those that provide supplies for you might be interested in setting up a scheme that helps to reduce the waste produced in your industry. You could send waste back to your suppliers so that they can repurpose it elsewhere, or you could encourage customers to return unused products to you so that you can do the same. There’s plenty of options for waste reduction, so don’t write it off before thinking outside of the box.
Alternatively, you could investigate your current processes. One great measure is your overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). The higher your OEE, the higher your output per machine; thereby meaning each product you manufacturer is a little close to being Net Zero. If you’re going to improve your OEE, you might want to use sensors in your machines to measure your uptime and downtime accurately. Some sensors can also measure temperature, electrical current or pretty much anything you want to measure. These will also help you to identify if something is abnormal so you can fix it before it becomes a bigger issue. For example, if your machine isn’t getting hot enough, it may need a small part replacing to work properly. Once replaced, you’ve avoided excessive costs for a whole new machine and your machine will be able to work at full capacity again, therefore reducing CO2 emissions.
Our previous tip about communicating with supplier’s links closely to our next piece of advice. You should analyse your supply chain to ensure that it’s as efficient as possible. If you’ve got the option of changing suppliers to someone that sources products locally, or one that is more local to you to minimise the number of air or road miles required for delivery, then why not make the transition? Supply chain localisation will help you become a green manufacturer, and it might also be useful now that the UK has left the European Union. If you’d like to consider a transition to local suppliers, we advise that you visit Reshoring UK; an initiative set up to encourage engagement with the British manufacturing supply chain.
Going digital could help you go green
Going paperless will be a great start to your green manufacturing journey. By choosing a smart MRP system, you can ditch paper job cards and store files digitally, helping you to reduce ink usage and save the trees simultaneously. A smart MRP system will help you to maintain visibility of stock levels more easily and can inform you when consumable products are due to expire. This will help you to reduce waste and prevent you from over-ordering, therefore helping you to go green and save money too. If you’re leaner in your inventory management, you won’t need to dedicate as much space to hold raw materials that you’ve over-ordered on due to not knowing what you’ll need and when. By becoming more agile, you can use the additional space for another machine, meaning you can produce more, whilst ensuring that you aren’t wasting materials that you’ve panic stocked and have now expired.
We advise you to select a modular MRP system that allows real-time data monitoring, as it will make your life easier! An MRP system could help you to reduce paper versions of job cards, plans, and drawings, but it will not cover everything that you do. It’s likely that you’ll still supplement any system with paper or spreadsheets for your health and safety checklists, NCR forms and other spreadsheets. With the ongoing pandemic, we will all probably want to log visitor details for the foreseeable future. Whilst you might currently be doing this on an excel spreadsheet or paper form, there are several risks with this that you might have overlooked. By implementing a solution to capture data digitally using tablets or mobile devices, you can transform your processes to not only become more environmentally friendly but also make your workspace tidier.
Some more advanced options to help your Net Zero journey
If you’re a larger company with the ability to implement some additive manufacturing (AM), it might be well worth looking into. AM significantly reduces waste created during production, as the process is dramatically different to other methods of manufacturing. Rather than cutting off material that you don’t need, you use your materials to build what is required. If you have a large batch of powder that you put into a machine and isn’t completely used up, you can then gather this and reuse it for another project, helping to further reduce waste. This is extremely beneficial in green manufacturing, but it can be a slower process and is quite expensive to get started. However, if you’re looking to really go green and become a reputable leader in green manufacturing, AM can be a great solution. You will need an advanced system to reap the full AM benefits, as you’ll want to optimise parts and ensure that you meet quality regulations, which can be more difficult in this type of manufacturing.
With a system such as DNAam, you’ll benefit from existing research and development tools that are integrated into the software to help you optimise your parts. This software will also help you to adhere to quality standards, eliminating confusion over the lack of standardisation in this industry. Ultimately, this system will help you when implementing AM in your business.
Hopefully, you can see how simple it can be to reduce emissions and work towards Net Zero. Small changes to your products or processes can make a big difference, both to our environment and to cost savings. We’ve also taken a deep dive into the ways that digital technology can help you on your journey to becoming greener, whilst also improving your factory’s efficiency.
If you’re thinking about taking the leap and contributing to the improvement of our environment, for the sake of your business and your future life, contact Fitfactory today.