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How to Achieve Net Zero Manufacturing


Green manufacturing and sustainability considerations have shifted from “nice-to-haves” for manufacturers to requirements with short- and long-term impact. There are numerous reasons behind this shift, including:

  • Customer requirements, especially for government and municipal contracts and work with large corporations with their own sustainability goals
  • Process efficiency, with sustainable practices often dovetailing with cost-saving measures, including more control over uptime, energy usage, supply chain optimization, and material reuse and reclamation
  • Brand and reputation management as sustainable practices become more in demand across industry and society

From maintenance to production, sustainability considerations are a part of every step of the manufacturing cycle. Net zero manufacturing is one such consideration, as a strategy focused on zero net carbon emissions. Here, we will examine what operational net zero means, how manufacturers are on the road to achieving that goal, and what you can do to take your own steps toward green manufacturing and a carbon neutral factory.

What is net zero manufacturing?

Net zero manufacturing — also called zero carbon manufacturing, or carbon neutral manufacturing — means that a facility or organization is not adding any more greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon) to the atmosphere through its operations than it is removing. The most effective way to pursue and achieve carbon neutral production is simply to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that the facility creates.

A comprehensive examination of a net zero manufacturing strategy requires a holistic view of operations, beyond just what occurs in the facility itself. For example, supply chain and sourcing decisions have an impact on an organization’s overall carbon footprint, as do fulfillment logistics. Moreover, production itself is not the only process in the facility that should be considered. Areas like maintenance are also able to make a major impact on emissions reduction. 

The road toward a net zero facility

Many manufacturing organizations have already made major strides towards a net zero facility, drawing upon a broad range of tactics and strategies. A host of developments — societal, scientific, technological and geopolitical — have driven these steps, including regulatory requirements, evolving ESG (environmental, social and governance) concerns, the impact of COVID and more. Some examples of steps that manufacturers have taken include:

  • Automotive manufacturers pursuing aggressive electrification goals, expanding material reuse and recycling, and auditing carbon emissions throughout the supply chain and manufacturing network
  • Manufacturers gaining ISO 50001 (energy management) certification and seeing vast reductions in energy usage and costs

Indeed, 88% of manufacturers acknowledge some awareness of net zero production and the impact on their operations. With this broad footprint of awareness, more changes are bound to be on the way.

How to transition to carbon neutral manufacturing

An exact net zero strategy will differ in its planning and execution for each individual business and facility, but there are several overarching concepts and themes that can serve as a roadmap to help you start thinking critically about these issues and how they intersect with your operations. These steps include:

Assess Net Zero Readiness

This stage involves a high-level view of your operations and processes, particularly how they fit together in the overall scheme of the organization. One of the most wasteful mistakes that an organization can make in developing a net zero strategy is to tackle individual areas of operations in a siloed manner, without considering improvements that can be made at a broader, more organizational-level scale. A big-picture look at net zero readiness is the most effective way to identify the areas most ripe for changes that make an impact, and will also save time and money in the overall implementation.

Implement Sustainable Manufacturing Technology

Sustainable manufacturing technology takes many forms, but one of the most effective tools is the ability to collect performance data so that it can be analyzed and acted upon. With more insight into real-time operational metrics, equipment operators, technicians and managers can make more effective decisions about processes, calibration and maintenance. For example, data insights can drive more efficient, effective maintenance approaches such as predictive maintenance, using performance analytics to identify the very moment that a machine or part requires servicing, and not a minute earlier or later. Technicians can then make informed assessments of when and how to take the machine out of service and perform the maintenance, helping to maximize uptime, operational efficiency and replacement parts usage. With wide-ranging repercussions to inventory management and supply chain optimization, these steps can facilitate major advances in the pursuit of zero carbon production.

Futuristic factory and technology.

Review Long-Term Investment

Pursuing and achieving net zero will require operational changes throughout the facility — which does mean additional investment in infrastructure, equipment and technology. These steps do, however, pay off in the long run, through lower energy costs, reduced material expenditures, more favorable supply chain operations and a favorable standing among competition when pursing contracts and customers. Take the example of the ISO 50001 certification described earlier — although these types of certifications take time and investment to acquire, they result in an almost immediate ROI even while they are in process, due to ongoing reductions in energy costs.

Deployment and Scaling

Before, during and after the deployment of net zero tactics, it is critical to employ testing methods to gauge the effectiveness of the implementation. This data can be used to modify and fine tune equipment, as well as strategies and tactics, and will also prove useful for scaling the methodology throughout the organization, including to other facilities and manufacturing partners.

These tactics, principles and strategies provide you with the underpinnings you need to understand what net zero production is, why so many manufacturers are adopting the approach, and how you can begin thinking about your own net zero implementation. Beyond the cost savings that energy efficiency and process streamlining can yield, it will only become increasingly important to have not only an understanding of sustainability, but a measurable implementation. More and more customers are adopting these requirements, and you must be able to say “yes” on the RFP in order to remain competitive. Learn how one manufacturer was successful with their Think Green initiative with ATS support, read our case study.

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