The Circular Economy vs. Industrial Automation.
The Circular Economy is quickly permeating throughout the way consumers/end users think about manufacturing. Beyond end-of-life solutions, the circualr economy at its heart is demonstrating the power of tapping into waste resources to create value, and new ‘product-as-a-service’ business models are highlighting the poer of new consumer demands.
Front-running companies are already pursuing circular strategies and successfully developing new, circular markets. This includes start-ups such as ACTronics, which remanufacturers automotive electronic equipment and CRS Holland, which recovers and recycles marine cable. It is becoming increasingly apparent that to remain competitive in the globl market and create a future-proof business, circular economy business strategies must be adopted.
Why is the circular economy important to industrial businesses?
Although it is a simple concept at heart, truly adopting a circular economy would be difficult to achieve overnight. It requires a change of mindset towards how we can be more sustainable and this needs to be present at every level within a business. On a general view, those who adopt the circular economy will design products and services in such a way that:
- The value added in manufactured products is maintained through maintenance, reuse, and remanufacturing.
- Where value can no longer be retained in the above way, products and packaging are recycled.
- Energy inputs are sourced from renewable sources.
- Resource use is consistent and responsible, making the most of natural resources.
What key environmental issues is the circular economy tackling today?
Through adopting the principles of the circular economy, businesses can reduce their reliance in using and disposing of the world’s natural resources. Materials “looping around” may carry lower cost structures than those extracted and processed from source – and that can mean that cost incentives line up alongside environmental goals. And that can allow industrial firms that have traditionally been focused on throughput and uptime to a more balanced view where the plan reflects the mix of targets. One of the primary environmental issues that the circular economy is tackling today is recyclability.
Recyclability is the process of retaining the highest value of products at the end of their life, enabling their recycling into high-end applications. It is also what you might call as ‘end-of-pipe’, while a circular economy’s ‘upstream’ solutions address potential problems right at the source.
“In a properly built circular economy, one should rather focus on avoiding the recycling stage at all costs. It may sound straightforward but preventing waste from being created in the first place is the only realistic strategy” – World Economic Forum.
It is common for manufacturers to partner with end-of-life resource management companies during the design phase to integrate the appropriate features to facilitate end-of-life handling.
What Novotek can bring to the table.
Novotek are an advanced industrial IT and automation solutions company who provide world class hardware and software to a range of manufacturing, process, and production sectors. Within their wide portfolio they offer products that fulfill manufacturers’ needs for greater visibility through a broader circular loop. One product that stands out is the Proficy Plant Applications software , which interacts with inventory and supply chains as well as ERP so that the condition under which something is processed in a factory is easier to share as is the provenance of the materials used.
Furthermore, the ability to track and trace in relation to having detailed data about the processes, conditions, and quality of those materials going through the full loop can be monitored using Proficy Plant Applications.
For instance, if a steel manufacturer is running a manufacturing execution system (MES) like Proficy Plant Applications, it provides rock solid traceability in terms of both the materials that go into the process and quality-related process data that occurs in relation to a specific run. Combined with final product quality data, the steel manufacturer is now able to easily understand (and prove) what process conditions allows them to make best use of recycled or repurposed materials. Which is data they can share with their customers too.
Core sustainability elements are supported in systems capabilities like MES for track and trace, and quality management alongside Proficy Historian for gathering and sharing very detailed process data. And then if we think about dealing with the variability that comes as a product or a material that goes through multiple lifetimes, that’s where an analytics tool like Proficy CSense can help determine the best way to adjust processes and recipes.
Although in its relative infancy, regulation in support of the circular economy is coming. As global political momentum gathers around climate change and related challenges such as marine plastic pollution, long term waste disposals, politicians, stakeholders, and businesses will need to adapt. Those who have already taken steps in this direction will benefit the most. There are already companies that are shaping themselves around capitalizing on the circular economy. There is still time for less sustainability-minded companies to take the necessary steps to adapt their business models to position themselves within the circular economy.
Novotek primarily sees its role as enabling industrial businesses to become more efficient. It is an inevitable consequence of this enablement that waste is reduced, and less raw materials are consumed. But the circular economy is more than that, it is also about recycling and reusing to move towards a close loop system.