Novel manufacturing paradigms are playing an increasing role in the aim of decarbonizing industries, and a special issue published in Sustainability has considered their effects on sustainability.
Study: New and Renewed Manufacturing Paradigms for Sustainable Production. Image Credit: VectorMine/Shutterstock.com
In the face of a warming planet, there have been renewed calls to rapidly decarbonize industry to meet international agreements on climate change. Unfortunately, however, it is proving challenging to meet the scale and speed of change needed by 2030 and 2050, two key agreed-upon dates to limit global temperature rises.
The Growing Need for Alternative Manufacturing Paradigms
Traditional manufacturing methods are notoriously wasteful. Finite, virgin resources and non-renewable sources of energy are used to manufacture a plethora of products which, whilst they satisfy the needs of consumers, come with a huge burden. The rapid growth of the global population, economic development, industrialization, and increasingly sophisticated and complex products with less shelf-life contribute to the problems with the manufacturing sector.
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has proven problematic for the world economy, ambitious aims to deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 have been agreed upon by multiple nations. Progress is being made, but some sectors are falling short on the speed and scale of required actions.
The Benefits of Alternative Manufacturing Paradigms
The potential benefits of alternative manufacturing methods have led companies and researchers to increase their focus on them in recent years. Optimism in their ability to improve sustainability and confer economic benefits has grown. Additionally, the social benefits are being explored more widely.
Examples of these new paradigms in manufacturing include smart manufacturing, digital manufacturing, and circular manufacturing. Each of these paradigms has significant benefits for industry and society, as well as for the Earth itself, with less exploitation of finite virgin resources, cost savings, reduced emissions, reduced waste, less pollution of fragile ecosystems, and less impact on biodiversity.
Key technologies in these novel manufacturing strategies include blockchains, digital connectivity, big data analytics, cyber-physical systems, additive manufacturing, and IoT technologies. Their potential contribution toward a more sustainable future for human society has crystallized the need for studies that provide specific examples of their use and benefits, especially regarding more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. The issue is a multi-dimensional one that requires innovative solutions.
Achieving Sustainable Manufacturing with New Manufacturing Paradigms
Traditional manufacturing involves using costly and wasteful production methods. In response to this, the “Lean Manufacturing” paradigm was popularized in the early 1990s. This paradigm aims to reduce production costs, improve the process and product quality, and shorten delivery times, whilst utilizing fewer resources. Continuous improvements in processes and products mean waste is identified and eliminated from the product stream.
At the same time, the “Green manufacturing” paradigm arose as a result of the 1992 Earth Summit. The aim of this paradigm is to identify ways to reduce the environmental impact of a company’s products and processes, and through the renewal of industrial production processes and establishing environmentally friendly practices, improve sustainability. Manufacturers have adopted both these practices over the past few decades.
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Unfortunately, these paradigms have not done enough to fulfill eco-efficiency in the face of a changing world. In response to this, the “Circular Manufacturing” paradigm has been proposed and is rapidly gaining popularity. This paradigm seeks to reduce reliance on virgin resources and non-renewable energy by valorizing product waste streams, creating a closed-loop system of manufacturing.
However, these paradigms do not adequately address the social impact of manufacturing. A “Sustainable Manufacturing” paradigm has been proposed. A triple bottom line manufacturing paradigm, production systems that can manufacture products using economically sound processes which reduce environmental harm, whilst improving the safety of products, employees, and communities are central to this manufacturing strategy.
With the arrival of Industry 4.0, many key technologies have been developed. Advanced design, engineering, and manufacturing methods along with an increased focus on sustainability have driven the digital transformation of industry. Technology-based paradigms aim to create smart and sustainable manufacturing processes.
The two main paradigms are “Digital Manufacturing,” which makes use of digital simulations and models in a virtual environment, and “Smart Manufacturing,” which uses machine-human interactive production systems. These paradigms help to make manufacturing smarter and sustainable by optimizing production systems and reducing unsustainable manufacturing factors such as water and energy use, waste, emissions, and the over-use of dwindling resources.
The study published in Sustainability has presented current research contributions which address this specific challenge from various perspectives. Different alternative, sustainable manufacturing paradigms are explored within the special issue, presenting innovative answers to the pressing problems within industries.
The study includes nine papers from researchers such as Córdova-Aguirre and Ramón-Jerónimo, Lu, Subramaniam et al., and Pfeifer. Studies include the impact of Covid-19 on digital transformation, selecting alternative Advanced Manufacturing Technologies using a fuzzy network data envelopment analysis, and an exploration of the incorporation of sustainable strategies into management and strategy control systems in Peru.
The study provides a broad overview of current research and future directions in the field. A major conclusion of the study is that sustainable production needs to be seen as a long-term goal rather than a spontaneous decision. Despite significant challenges that remain in the field, the authors have stated that novel alternative manufacturing paradigms confer significant sustainability, economic, and social benefits for companies willing to implement them.
Powell, D.J et al. (2022) New and Renewed Manufacturing Paradigms for Sustainable Production [online] Sustainability 14(2) 1279 | mdpi.com. Available at:
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