John Clemons consults for Rockwell Automation and Maverick Technologies, a leading platform-independent automation solutions provider.
Smart manufacturing’s technology landscape is made up of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins, digital threads, manufacturing execution systems (MES), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), additive manufacturing, cobots, cloud computing, edge computing and more. While these technologies are important, what manufacturing companies do with them is more important.
In part one of this series, we learned that smart manufacturing helps drive sustainability and helps create sustainable manufacturing processes. It can help reduce energy consumption, reduce waste, ensure operational safety, minimize our environmental impact and do it all while lowering manufacturing costs. Here, we will cover even more aspects of how to drive sustainability.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Manufacturing companies have a corporate social responsibility to their people and the environment, but that responsibility goes well beyond even those important aspects. They must also have a social responsibility to their communities and to society at large.
Corporate social responsibility means manufacturing companies need to make a positive contribution to people in the surrounding communities and improve their quality of life, not just their employees. The actions that a company takes in the community must reflect its values as a company. Inclusion, equity and diversity in the workplace need to be reflected in the community.
To fully understand corporate social responsibility, companies must look beyond the legal requirements and mandatory governmental regulations. Corporate social responsibility must be ingrained into the company’s culture and reflect a genuine desire to have a positive impact on the community. Corporate social responsibility may take the form of volunteer projects, charity work, environmental initiatives, inner-city work and more.
Manufacturing companies need to be true leaders in the community and strive for more than just reducing energy consumption and reducing their environmental impact. They need to embrace the idea of corporate social responsibility and find the best ways they can impact their communities. In doing so, they will discover that employees are ready and willing to be leaders in their communities and make a positive impact.
In the first part of this series, we said sustainable manufacturing processes are cost-effective manufacturing processes. As companies build more sustainable manufacturing processes, they should find these processes paying for themselves due to lower energy costs, reduced waste and reduced environmental impact with a much safer and healthier manufacturing environment.
But the business case for smart manufacturing driving sustainability and creating sustainable manufacturing processes is much greater than that. By creating sustainable business processes, manufacturing companies are increasing their overall operational efficiency across the board. Operational excellence is improved. Manufacturing costs go down. Labor costs go down. Every aspect of manufacturing operations is impacted for the good due to improved productivity, quality and labor efficiency.
Manufacturing companies are also gaining a competitive advantage when they create sustainable business processes. These processes help them become more agile, enabling them to respond better and faster to customer requests and, especially, to new customer requests while also providing affordable products.
These sustainable manufacturing processes significantly help to build a company’s brand equity and their reputation. With a commitment to sustainability, companies gain a greater level of respect and trust from the public—their customers and their consumers—who see their commitment to sustainability and can better understand them as a company, which in turn helps support a better relationship.
All these efforts mean manufacturing companies can create and build a much more viable and much stronger business overall—one with greater financial and market stability, as well as increased loyalty from their customers and from their consumers.
As manufacturing companies continue their journey to create sustainable manufacturing processes, they will have several opportunities to build momentum and then build success on top of success. Here are a few thoughts to take along your sustainable manufacturing process journey to keep the momentum going.
• Get in it for the long haul: This isn’t a project or a program that has a finite schedule or timeline. This is a long-term effort to help transform manufacturing processes into environmentally sustainable, socially responsible and financially profitable operations. Focus on the long haul and act accordingly to achieve success.
• Make the entire business sustainable: It’s easy to focus on just the manufacturing operations or just key areas like energy consumption or environmental impact. But these ideas of sustainability, responsibility and profitability apply to all areas of the business. Not in the same ways, of course, but they apply nonetheless. To gain a competitive edge, focus on all areas of the business to make the entire business sustainable, responsible and profitable.
• Focus on growth rather than only reductions: It makes sense to start by focusing first on reducing energy consumption, waste and environmental impacts, along with all the costs associated with them. But manufacturers need to focus on growth as well—growing revenues, growing markets, growing customers and increasing competitiveness. These areas will make an even greater impact on the business than just reducing costs.
• Make the technology earn its keep: This two-part series started by talking about smart manufacturing and all the smart manufacturing technologies. But the technology is nothing more than a tool, a fancy hammer, if you will. Whatever technology you decide to use, make sure it earns its keep. Make sure it returns a hard dollar bottom-line business benefit. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter how much you like it; it’s not worth it. Make sure the technology has a significant positive bottom-line impact on the business.
Smart manufacturing is having a big impact on the manufacturing industries. It’s helping them drive sustainability and create sustainable manufacturing processes. It’s helping transform manufacturing back into an economic powerhouse.