Climate Change and Industry 4.0

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Industry emissions account for 30% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. But production processes are currently undergoing massive shifts due to digitalization efforts and industry 4.0 applications. While climate change will force us to think more and more about the ecological footprint of a product—to make sure that we produce and consume within environmental boundaries—IIOT, and the rise of interconnected (AI)-based machinery, will drastically change how we value (and interact with) human labor. Global competitiveness is steadily shifting towards the digital transformation of all activities and using big data analytics to raise cost efficiency, quality, and production speed. But there’s a different potential for Industry 4.0 through Its contribution to establishing a circular economy and a greener industry. “Smart manufacturing” allows the gathering of data along the lifecycle of material, understanding the material input, and considering the end-of-life of a material. This can help establish production processes with zero percent of extracted raw material, net-zero emissions, and 100 percent recycling.

This is necessary to keep products, materials, and components at a high level of value, and multiple lifecycles—the foundation of a circular economy. New product concepts are needed where materials are available for high-quality recycling across different industries. Industry 4.0 can be considered as a mechanism for maximizing and keeping value through design, supply chain, production, logistics, and distribution. Furthermore, industry 4.0 strategy and technologies can lead to better consumption with very minimal waste which can be directly reflected in the environmental footprint. Industry 4.0 is an enabler of green consumption.

As Industry 4.0 technologies are being implemented worldwide, we gradually build a virtual image of all production processes and entire supply chains. If there’s an open access channel for this data, skilled product designers will be able to tap into this information, giving them the possibility to integrate secondary materials from all different industries into their design process. That would be a whole new way of value creation.

 

The potential benefits of Industry 4.0 applications can be grouped into direct and indirect effects. Direct effects concern benefits achieved in the production process. They relate to improved resource or energy efficiency due to leaner production systems and material savings, as well as the reduction of excess or production waste. Indirect effects can be characterized as benefits enabled through Industry 4.0 technologies outside the manufacturing process itself. They can inter alia concern the increase of resource and energy efficiency (Industry 4.0 can reduce electricity usage by 30% for a manufacturing plant) as well as measurement and monitoring along the value chain. Moreover, their use can potentially be intensified or applied to other fields.

 

A specific ingredient for a digital circular economy is the digital product passport (DPP). The DPP is a solution foreseen by many EU strategies that allow the recording and management of all information related to the composition and lifecycle of a product. The concept of the digital twin is pivotal to the realization of such a passport. It could therefore be the basis of circular strategies such as repair, refurbishment, and recycling.

IoT, as an enabling technology, will drive an increase in industrial efficiency and help us to better measure our climate impact. Leveraged in the right way, digital technologies can accelerate the reduction of global emissions by up to 15% by 2030 while being responsible for only 1.4% of global emissions.

Industry 4.0 contribution to climate change and environmental sustainability:

Direct Impact

  • Impact reduction by design

  • Tracking of emissions

  • Extending manufacturing equipment lifetimes

  • New insights through data

  • Avoid unnecessary (physical) activities

Indirect Impact

  • Enabling new business models

  • Information for consumers and recyclers

  • The low footprint of digital goods

  • System information as the basis for decisions and improvements

  • Keeping track of natural stocks

  • Open information for the public

Finally, a company should consider industry 4.0 application when formulating its business and environmental strategy. A company can leverage both business and environmental benefits when aligning its business practice along with environmental concerns bridged by industry 4.0 remedies’.