Manufacturing has long been an essential component of robust economies. It makes it possible to produce and deliver goods and services that enhance the general well-being of society. However, the benefits usually come at the expense of environmental wellbeing.
The good news is technological advancements have pushed the industrial sector to adopt more environmentally friendly production techniques. Companies are investing significantly in sustainable practices, including using less energy and managing waste. This article will explore ten global manufacturing sustainability trends to watch in 2024.
1. Compostable Plastics
The move toward biodegradable plastics is one notable trend among manufacturing sustainability trends that is gaining traction. Regulations intended to lessen plastic pollution and growing environmental concerns have led to the growth of the biodegradable plastics market. The market for biodegradable plastics is expected to develop at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.9% from 2021 to 2026, with a projected value of USD 23.3 billion, according to GlobeNewswire.
In sectors like the production of pet preforms, agriculture, consumer products, and textiles, using eco-friendly materials is becoming more important. Ecological concerns regarding plastic pollution and its ecosystem consequences have significantly shifted toward greener options. Compostable plastics offer a solution because they reduce the quantity of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean and landfills. These biodegradable plastics are designed to be processed in residential and commercial composition facilities.
A broad spectrum of companies and industries that support sustainable practices use biodegradable plastics in their packaging. The desire of manufacturing companies to improve their environmental credentials and consumer demand for eco-friendly solutions are driving this trend. Customers who care about the environment and actively search for goods packed in biodegradable plastic are expected to increase. The market for biodegradable plastics will continue to expand in 2024 due to consumer demand, forcing businesses to provide more environmentally friendly options.
2. Sustainable Material Sourcing
Another shift among manufacturing sustainability trends is sustainable material sourcing. According to McKinsey, supply chains account for 90% of the environmental effects of businesses. For this reason, manufacturing companies looking to decarbonize, cut sourcing costs, de-risk their brand, and enhance environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) performance are prioritizing sustainable sourcing.
Manufacturing firms such as clothing, tiling, and mill liner solutions are increasing their efforts to find materials with lower emissions intensity than their traditional counterparts. This is in line with their increased commitment to combating climate change. The growing need for transparency and traceability across the supply chain is one of the biggest developments in sustainable sourcing.
Customers and stakeholders are becoming more curious about the origins of their products, the manufacturing process, and the effects that production has had on the environment and society. Manufacturing companies are getting accustomed to providing comprehensive information about their supply chain and are open and honest about their sourcing procedures to meet this demand. They also place a high premium on traceability to guarantee they can trace all components and materials back to their source. Food supply chains ensure traceability of products and food safety while minimizing disruptions caused by adverse weather.
3. Increased Use of Recycled Materials
Even if manufacturing sustainability trends are still in their infancy, there is much room for expansion as more and more customers look for environmentally friendly products when making regular purchases. A recent study published by Business Wire on consumer behavior found that 60% of consumers worldwide consider sustainability important when making purchases, with the United States having a slightly higher rate than the rest of the world (61%).
By being incorporated into industrial processes, recycled materials significantly reduce the need for new raw materials, conserve energy and resources, and reduce waste generation. This technique is not only helping the environment, but it is also helping industries save money, operate more efficiently, and make more money. The recycling opportunities are endless, ranging from glass and metal to paper and plastic. Numerous industries, such as petroleum, chemical engineering, fertilizer production, natural gas production, and environmental protection, use inert alumina balls extensively. Manufacturers are prioritizing sustainable practices and making environmentally conscious decisions to preserve the environment.
According to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States, a sizable amount of municipal solid trash is made up of packaging and containers. 82.2 million tons of solid waste, or 28.1% of the total generated, were used in 2018 alone. The manufacturing industry guarantees a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations by prioritizing using recycled materials in production processes.
4. Hybrid Equipment as a Bridge to Electrification
The manufacturing sector carefully implements hybrid equipment as a crucial first step toward complete electrification to create a more sustainable future. This tendency is especially noticeable in industries like waterproof bondcoat technology, telehandlers, and loader manufacturers, where producers must carefully balance innovation and tradition. Diesel-electric mobile machinery achieves many benefits of electrification without sacrificing the advantages.
Much like the powertrain on a Toyota Prius, machines rely on two power sources, usually an electric motor and an internal combustion engine (ICE), that work together. These pieces of construction machinery combine the advantages of electric operation, such as functioning. Hybrids can increase power output on demand, significantly lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and improve energy economy through regenerative technology.
Additionally, they frequently let machine manufacturers use smaller engines that require less expensive exhaust after treatment. According to the US Department of Energy, the industrial sector accounted for 37% (166 EJ) of worldwide energy demand in 2022. Adopting hybrid equipment is a vital strategy for meeting large carbon reduction targets.
5. Industrial Waste Heat Recovery Systems
Another major shift among manufacturing sustainability trends is the use of waste heat recovery systems. Industrial waste heat recovery, or WHR, is the process of gathering and using waste heat generated during manufacturing operations. Large volumes of waste heat are usually produced or used in industrial operations; this heat is frequently ignored or misused. But by recycling this waste heat, businesses are improving the energy efficiency of their operations.
The scarcity of resources on our planet is a well-known fact. We often deplete resources more quickly than we can replenish them. As a result, every manufacturing company, especially one with a huge size, should prioritize ensuring that resources are used effectively and conserved whenever possible! One way that plants and facilities will contribute to resource conservation is by reusing waste.
A proper incineration process is required to treat some hazardous industrial waste gases properly before manufacturers release them into the environment. Manufacturing companies such as those utilizing stainless steel rigging hardware will continue to employ waste heat recovery systems to recycle their cremated trash in a way that increases production within their facility, as opposed to just disposing of it.
6. Leveraging Technology to Enhance Worker Safety
Manufacturers have struggled to solve workplace safety issues for millennia while increasing productivity and reducing expenses. It should come as no surprise that 36% of manufacturers plan to pursue Industry 4.0 investments, as per the 2023 BDO Manufacturing CFO Outlook Survey, given that many realize the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to help them overcome long-standing worker safety and efficiency challenges. A large portion of the public is already aware of generative AI.
Manufacturers are investing money in artificial intelligence (AI) safety systems to anticipate when and where a safety lapse may occur. This investment enables plant managers, and occasionally the AI itself, to address the issue before it gets out of control. However, employees must receive AI interaction training to use these new systems effectively. The most recent developments in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology allow businesses to significantly enhance the efficacy of training programs for staff members who engage with AI-powered safety systems, giving them even more control over how safe they are. To prepare them for operating the actual machinery, personnel can experience what it’s like to operate potentially dangerous machinery through AR or VR simulations.
New technologies, such as equipment UV, automotive gloves, and smart helmets, are expected to assist manufacturers in achieving ever-greater improvements to industrial and worker safety over the next few decades. Plant managers should remember that even the most innovative technologies won’t make a big difference as businesses struggle to deploy today’s AI technology. Manufacturers will find themselves leading innovation rather than trailing behind other innovators if they can swiftly win over staff buy-in and assemble a solid infrastructure of enabling technologies.
7. Digitizing Business Processes
The manufacturing sector is adopting new technology at a breakneck pace to enhance industrial automation and data analytics, among other aspects of the production process. Transitioning to paperless production is essential for tracking and monitoring shop floor activities, such as in the end cap molding industry. Herein lies the role of digitization.
The initial way digitization alters the manufacturing sector is through the production rate. Productivity is increasing instantly because of artificial intelligence, allowing firms to meet more demanding deadlines and projects faster. Currently, the automotive industry is the largest user of industrial robots, closely followed by metal and other production industries. It is anticipated that the use of industrial robots will result in up to 22% cost savings for businesses by 2025, according to Zippia.
Digitization will not just speed up production. We’ve already seen that it spurs innovation by allowing for quick iterations of products. This iteration rate will only increase with improved data exchange via APIs between departments, companies, and software suites. Organizations are now better equipped than ever to respond to market opportunities, consumer needs, and manufacturing sustainability trends by breaking down silos and enabling real-time data access from anywhere on the globe. Industry Week reports that 66% of industrial companies worldwide use cloud-based technology.
8. Repairing Over Replacing
The emphasis on environmental chamber repair and similar projects represents a break from the traditional practice of replacing machinery and equipment and a significant shift towards sustainable manufacturing processes. This tendency encourages repairing and renovating current assets rather than throwing them away too soon, which is consistent with the circular economy’s larger philosophy. The decision to prioritize repair over replacement is a calculated attempt to reduce the production process’s adverse environmental effects, realizing that product longevity is essential to promoting sustainability.
Repairing products extends their lifecycles and reduces waste, but it also requires fundamentally rethinking the conventional linear production paradigm. A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that by 2030, a 45% reduction in carbon emissions might be achieved through the circular economy strategy, which prioritizes repair and reuse. Manufacturers support this circular economy model by choosing to repair and renovate instead of using energy-intensive manufacturing techniques and raw materials. This change in perspective is due to the pressing need to solve the environmental problems brought about by the linear ‘take, make, dispose’ approach that many businesses widely use. As manufacturers recognize the dual benefits of environmental stewardship and economic efficiency among the manufacturing sustainability trends, the momentum towards repairing over replacing is expected to grow.
9. Automation for Efficiency
Automated systems stand out as a revolutionary method of increasing productivity while reducing resource consumption in the context of manufacturing sustainability trends. This trend is a paradigm shift from labor-intensive, traditional processes to more efficient, technologically driven ones. Automation is becoming a key component of sustainable manufacturing processes, offering advantages beyond operational efficiency.
Examples of this automation include self dumping hoppers, robotic systems, and sophisticated machinery. Automation may save energy usage in manufacturing processes, one of its main environmental benefits. The World Economic Forum estimates that between 2020 and 2050, a 1% increase in AI demand efficiency will result in $1.3 trillion in value creation.
This is accomplished by implementing energy-efficient technologies, cutting idle time, and optimizing production schedules. Automation aligns with the larger global goal of reducing carbon emissions linked to conventional production methods to slow climate change. Incorporating cutting-edge technologies becomes essential to ethical and resource-conscious production as sectors understand the benefits of automation and sustainability.
10. Robotics for Sustainability
Many manufacturing companies need robotic automation to boost production rates and ensure consistent quality because they are short-staffed with skilled workers. Take surface finishing, for example, which is an essential component of manufacturing processes. Commonly employed in the manufacturing of metal and composite parts, sanding and polishing can be physically taxing jobs.
Artificial intelligence-powered robotic cells alleviate the labor shortage by increasing worker productivity and eliminating the need for human operators to perform labor-intensive, ergonomic tasks. Operators can concentrate on greater value-added tasks like process optimization when these cells are deployed. Robotic automation systems also increase capacity, decrease waste, speed up cycle times, and improve process uniformity.
Using robotics in sectors like aerial lifts is ushering in a new era of environmentally friendly production techniques. In this context, robotics goes beyond simple automation; it is a calculated investment in accuracy and productivity while maintaining a commitment to sustainability. The manufacturing sector is positioned as a crucial participant in reaching global sustainability objectives due to robots’ growing use and their significant impact on sustainability.
To sum up, the industrial sector is going through a radical transition that will lead to sustainability by 2024. These manufacturing sustainability trends, which range from robotics to compostable plastics, highlight the industry’s dedication to worker safety, environmental responsibility, and operational effectiveness. Manufacturing is expected to become more environmentally sensitive and sustainable if manufacturers follow these sustainability trends.