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How collaborative organisations manufacture more sustainable products

Fiona Crabb
13 Jul 2022

In the seventh of our “Intelligent Industry: Journey to Farnborough International Airshow” blog series, Fiona Crabb explores how manufacturing organisations can adapt to generate more sustainable products and practices in an ever-changing global landscape.

Building sustainable advantage in an unpredictable world

Manufacturing organisations today face a difficult operating environment, fraught with pressures caused by geopolitical uncertainty, supply chain risk, an unpredictable market environment and strict regulatory requirements. The challenge of producing a product that meets customer requirements, has a low lifecycle cost, and generates sufficient revenue for the manufacturer is all too familiar. However, it is the organisations that adapt to explore and adopt new business models and technologies that achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Trends in manufacturing also show a move towards servitisation, driven by digital experience and ecosystem partnerships; globally, value generated by production is in decline and that from services is on the up. However, many heavy manufacturing organisations are finding themselves behind the curve in this space, whilst rising concern around climate change is driving policy and regulatory decisions that they must adapt to in order to survive.

Developing resilience in the midst of a volatile and unpredictable global situation is absolutely necessary. Doing so clearly requires a focus on building sustainable practices into day-to-day operations, but it also requires the integration of sustainability criteria into design decision-making.

How can manufacturing organisations adapt to sustainability challenges?

Success in this arena lies in generating strong data-driven and collaborative relationships, cross-functional working, and a regular feedback loop. Traditionally, the value chain has been relatively linear; a product is designed, materials are procured, manufactured, sold and, thereafter, there may be some form of ongoing customer relationship in the aftermarket. In a sustainable design model, however, constant data transfer and stakeholder collaboration generates a series of feedback loops that inform all stages of the process (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sustainable value chain illustration

Achieving sustainability across the manufacturing value chain

Manufacturing organisations across the globe are notoriously siloed. However, implementing four key concepts can go a long way to enabling significant and sustainable change:

  1. Supplier collaboration – collaborative platforms and shared work spaces provide an environment in which procurement and design teams can co-create and share innovations, enabling the building of circular economy principles into design decisions at source.
  2. Business partnering – creating a network of enabled, dedicated, and connected problem-solvers will help to build intentional engagement across the whole value chain. This two-way mechanism raises internal awareness of what capability the supply chain offers, whilst enabling the identification of circular initiatives for further development with supply chain partners.
  3. Design with the whole product lifecycle in mind – building commonality into design decisions, by removing complexity and reducing customisation options, has numerous benefits. Not only are there savings to be made with tooling, inventory and sourcing costs for the manufacturer, but these benefits also translate into value for the customer. Commonality across a product portfolio increases servitisation opportunities such as leasing, enabling lower cost servicing, maximising green time, and reducing obsolescence costs. In the Aerospace and Defence industries, common cockpits and interiors have also been demonstrated to significantly reduce pilot training costs (Airbus).
  4. Data-driven decision making – when it comes to creating a sustainable design, access to data is essential. Whether this is generating one source of truth that the whole organisation has real time access to, or drawing on external data sources, access to the right data and intelligent insights helps to ingrain continuous improvement practices, improve efficiency, manage risk, and enable informed decision-making. But how? By partnering with third party data platforms, this willprovide insights into raw material availability, recyclability and reusability. This data should be a core input into the design process, improving the sustainability credentials of your product and organisation, and ensuring the supply chain is more resistant to geopolitical shocks.

The only way to embed circularity into the end-to-end value chain is to strengthen each link. Doing so requires close collaboration, regular communication, and data-driven connectivity. Building a commonality of approach in this way provides organisations with opportunities for waste reduction, efficiency improvements, greater resilience in the face of an ever-changing global landscape and the prospect of a much more sustainable future.

To read more blogs in the Intelligent Industry: Journey to Farnborough International Airshow series, see quick links below:

A Quantum of Intelligent Industry – Mike Dwyer considers the potential impact that the world of quantum computing, sensing and communication could have on our ability to create new intelligent products and services.

Innovation at Speed: What Intelligent Industry can learn from Formula One’s data driven innovation – Ashish Padhi delves into the data driven rapid innovation process of Formula One aerodynamic design to prise out lessons for Intelligent Industry.

Enabling Digital Twins with Systems Engineering – Adam Lancaster & Scott Reid explore how to enable Digital Twins across the full lifecycle, using Systems Engineering techniques.

How the advent of advanced air mobility will pave the way for more connected and sustainable aviation – Gianmarco Scalabrin explores how advanced air mobility is ready for prime time and will play a crucial role in connecting communities while helping aviation drastically reduce its CO2 emissions.