Although not immediately obvious, manufacturing is one of the biggest industries in the U.S. economy. Providing jobs, items we need, and products to export, factories play a huge role in this country. We often assume that most of the things we use now are produced overseas, but in reality, output has doubled in the U.S. over the last three decades. However, an unfortunate byproduct of the industry is the production of huge amounts of emissions from direct manufacturing processes and the energy consumed during those processes. Factory owners are starting to move towards the energy-saving factories of the future.
Increasing the efficiency of factories is now a top priority for many factory owners. The rising cost of bills and materials mean that it is becoming harder to balance the books. Therefore, conserving energy, freshwater, and materials is no longer something a factory would do just to “help the environment”. It is now a necessity to allow factories to compete with one another the stiff competition of the manufacturing world. Becoming sustainable was often a struggle for factories and the expense couldn’t be justified, but now there are financial, environmental and social benefits that make these investments worthwhile.
As more and more companies are moving towards sustainability, they are adopting the principles of a circular economy. This means a shift in thinking about how resources are used and considering more ways in which revenue can be added. It is hoped this process will involve the Internet of Things, whereby products produced will have connectivity, enhancing their performance as well as monitoring and tracking key metrics.
Some huge companies in the U.S. are already embracing the sustainable factory model. Companies like Microsoft, Google, and General Electric are creating software and analytical tools that can give real-time data about manufacturing operations. These allow factories to run as efficiently as possible, producing products as needed while wasting as few materials and the least amount of energy possible. Intel has managed to halve the amount of water they were previously using to wash their computer chips and Toyota plans to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from their factories by 2050.
IoT is also ideal for helping factory workers maintain the factory itself. Sensors placed on each machine can pick up core data on how it is functioning, including the operating temperature, pressure levels, and vibrations. This data can then be interpreted to assist plant managers with upkeep and maintenance, an area which can also impact energy expenditure since a well-maintained machine wastes less energy.
These improvements are really worthwhile investments for factories. Many large businesses have been able to save millions of dollars by re-evaluating their equipment and determining areas for improvement. For example, Kellogg’s was able to shave $3.3 million off of their bottom line by identifying some faulty air compressors.
Energy management applications are also being added to many factories. In a matter of months, all major energy hogging machines can be hooked up to sensors and on average, companies could slash energy bills by 20%. On such a highly scaled level, a factory can shave millions off of their overhead expenses each year which in turn cuts down their carbon emissions considerably. Green factories are now a win-win situation and as a consumer, it is worth checking out which of your favorite brands are considering the environment during the manufacturing process. Supporting those companies making a difference is a great start in helping our economy become cleaner.