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Sustainability in manufacturing – not just a trend, but the key to success

The world is changing, and manufacturing needs to change too. Better sustainability of products and equipment is demanded by consumers and EU directives alike. We talked with Max Falenius, Head of Software and Embedded Services at Etteplan, about what sustainability means in manufacturing and how to prepare for the future now. 

The green transition is currently under pressure from many directions. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more visible. An increasing number of manufacturers are facing component shortages. At the same time, Europe is facing an energy crisis.  

"We design a wide range of solutions for the manufacturing industry. There is a clear trend now that customers are more willing to drive sustainable solutions forward. Corporate responsibility is called for by both employees and end customers," says Falenius. 

Legislation is also forcing companies to change their practices.  

"The EU has set a target of climate neutrality by 2050. In addition, companies with more than 500 employees will have to comply with the sustainability criteria of the EU taxonomy. We are now looking for partners and subcontractors with science-based targets to reduce their carbon footprint," says Falenius. 

The manufacturing industry is also affected by the EU's Eco-design and Energy Labelling Directive, which sets new requirements for both products and the manufacturing process itself. The directive requires energy consumption to be kept within certain limits, the environmental footprint of a product to be kept to a minimum and greater consideration given to its recyclability and reparability. Sustainability requirements also extend to the security and usability of software.  

"It is important for companies to realize now that in the future their success will increasingly depend on their ability to operate in a sustainable way. There are a number of business justifications for going green – energy efficiency and carbon neutrality often go hand in hand with cost-effectiveness. Moreover, sustainable practices are already a differentiating factor," Falenius stresses. 

How to extend the life cycle of existing products

In the future, we are likely to say goodbye to disposable electronics and replace them with devices that are more durable, both in terms of time and use.  

But sustainable manufacturing is not just about new technologies – it is also about how to extend the life of existing products, equipment and software.  

"Life cycle assessment allows companies to assess the environmental burden and development needs of either a selected product, a business unit or even the company as a whole. It provides information on where emissions come from, how to reduce them and what sustainability targets can be set," says Falenius. 

Ultimately, it's about good engineering: intelligent design, continuous iteration and development. Data and green code also play a key role here.  

3 first steps to more sustainable device design

Of course, every company is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability, but it must always start with your own business and products. But a few basic ideas can help you get started. Falenius lists three first steps: 

  • Plan the lifecycle of your product in terms of upgrade, spare parts and recycling needs 
  • Extend the life cycle of products in use through user training and configuration adjustments 
  • Collect lifecycle data on equipment and monitor wear and tear 

"First of all, good upfront planning helps save costs, resources and the environment," says Falenius. "So it's worth thinking beyond the first version of each product's life cycle. What upgrades will it need in the future and what spare parts will be needed most? How can we recycle them?" 

The life cycle of equipment already in use can easily be extended by training users. Adjusting the settings, for example, already helps a lot. It is also always worth investigating whether the lifetime of equipment that has lost efficiency could be extended by, for example, redefining performance parameters. 

"The better you can monitor the wear and tear on equipment, the easier it is to carry out preventive maintenance. Similarly, life cycle data can provide valuable information for product development," advises Falenius.