Zero Defect and Zero Waste Manufacturing: How Industry 4.0 Contributes to the European Green Deal

By < Rune Stolan >

July 8, 2021

Technology acceleration and climate change are two of the main trends that shape our era.

Technology acceleration refers to the exponential growth rates of digital technologies, such as Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing, Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The growth of these technologies is for example reflected in the amount of generated data per annum and the proliferating number of internet-connected devices. Technology acceleration disrupts existing organizational and business processes, yet it also provides new business opportunities. It is one of the main drivers behind the rise of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which is disrupting production processes based on Cyber-Physical Production Systems (CPPS). The latter enables industrial organizations to operate based on faster, higher quality and more cost-effective processes i.e., they improve production time, quality and cost at the same time.

On the other hand, climate change refers to large scale shifts in weather patterns due to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, climate change is at the very top of the enterprise and political agendas, as both companies and nations are taking measures towards sustainably reducing CO2 emissions. In this direction, the European Commission has recently launched the European Green Deal initiative. The latter comprises a set of policy initiatives that aim at making Europe climate neutral by 2050. Likewise, industrial organizations are increasingly incorporating eco-friendly practices in their production processes.

Technology acceleration and climate change are very closely connected. The digital transformation of industrial enterprises enables them to reduce their CO2 and increase their sustainability, through designing sustainable products, optimizing waste, and implementing circular economy practices (e.g., recycling). This is the reason why industrial enterprises and policymakers are targeting the so-called twin transition. The latter implies that companies must realize both a digital and a green transformation while using one transformation to reinforce the other. The ultimate goal is to contribute to a zero carbon, zero waste, resilient and inclusive economy. In the case of manufacturing enterprises, the twin transformation is driven by Industry 4.0 technologies and applications. Industry 4.0 enables use cases like predictive maintenance, digital quality management and Zero Defect Manufacturing (ZDM), which increase production quality and minimize waste at the same time. Moreover, Industry 4.0 compliant supply chains facilitate stakeholders’ collaboration in reducing CO2 emissions and boost the implementation of circular economy services.

Quality Management and Zero Defects Manufacturing (ZDM)

Nowadays, digital technologies and CPPS systems provide many opportunities for improving the quality of products and production processes. For instance, the collection and analysis of large amounts of digital data in a production line boost the timely and accurate detection of failures and defects. Likewise, they enable manufacturers to predict and anticipate possible defects to undertake remedial actions that help avoid quality issues or mitigate their impact. This is conveniently called predictive quality and is one of the most prominent quality management use cases. Furthermore, it is also possible to combine predictive and reactive strategies from different disciplines (e.g., maintenance, logistics, process control) to ensure that no defective products leave the production site. This is the vision of ZDM, which leads to quality excellence. While the ZDM concept has been around for over a decade, Industry 4.0 enables its practical and cost-effective realization.

Quality management and ZDM lead to significant economic and quality benefits for manufacturing enterprises. Nevertheless, they are also key drivers for sustainability as well. For example, the timely detection of defects eliminates quality issues and leads to reduced scrap. Likewise, data-driven process control determines parameters that avoid defective products, which drives waste reduction. As another prominent example, predictive maintenance practices schedule the service or repair of an asset at the best point in time. This maximizes the utilization of the asset and minimizes the likelihood of failures that lead to waste and scrap generation. Quality management and ZDM strategies can be implemented at various levels, including the level of an individual asset (e.g., machinery, production lines), the level of a production process (i.e., across multiple production lines), and the level of production of an entire plant. Significant sustainability benefits can be realized when combining strategies across multiple levels and when implementing closed-loop control. The latter is not limited to detecting the problem, but rather employs control functions to avoid or mitigate it. Overall, ZDM and quality management strategies are very powerful tools for sustainable manufacturing, as they contribute to economic and environmental benefits alike.

Minimizing Waste in the Value Chain: Empowering the Circular Economy

The scope of ZDM strategies is usually constrained within a single plant or extends across inter-connected production lines and plants of the manufacturer. However, there are more opportunities for reusing waste and achieving ambitious sustainability goals across the supply chain, notably across value chains the include Circular Economy (CE) interactions. CE changes the conventional “take–make–dispose” approach, which is typically associated with massive waste flows. Specifically, a circular economy value chain enables well designed restorative and regenerative approaches, which boost sustainability.

The value of such approaches is very important in the case of cross-sector interactions i.e. when certain products or waste in one sector are remanufactured, reused and repurposed in other sectors.  For instance, battery cells that feature suitable residual performance can be remanufactured and reused for less demanding stationary applications in the automotive sector. Industry 4.0 boosts the implementation of CE value-chain opportunities through enabling the digitization of product data and knowledge, as well as their seamless exchange across de-manufacturers and re-manufacturers. Likewise, it makes the CE process more visible and acceptable to end-customers by providing them with materials traceability functionalities, as well as visibility in the circular chain interactions. Leveraging CPPS systems, Industry 4.0 applications can provide timely and detailed information about the recycled products (including waste) to circular chain stakeholders. Overall, the digital transformation of production lines provides opportunities for implementing sustainable practices across the manufacturing value chain, including opportunities for transitioning to the Circular Economy.

Industry 4.0 enables the implementation of holistic and integrated strategies for the green transformation of industrial enterprises. Moreover, it facilitates the tracking of the improvements of an enterprise’s environmental performance based on the calculation of sustainability-related KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as the amount of CO2 emissions, the generated scrap and waste, and the percentage of recycled waste. The calculation and tracking of such KPIs is a key to implementing sustainability strategies at various levels, including the levels of individual assets, production processes, factories, as well as the level of an entire manufacturing enterprise. In this context, manufacturing enterprises had better select and deploy digital manufacturing platforms that provide flexibility in the definition, calculation and tracking of relevant KPIs.

The Upkip platform provides very powerful features in this direction.

Learn more about Upkip’s sustainability support features.