Data-driven sustainability: A how to for manufacturers

In today’s information-drenched world, the value of data lies not in its volume but in how it’s harnessed. 

In 2016, Cisco Systems calculated that Humanity had entered the “Zettabyte Era”. That’s when global internet traffic first exceeded 1024 trillion terabytes – an inconceivably massive number.

Now consider this, it’s taken all human history until 2016 to create one zettabyte. In 2022 alone, global IP traffic was at 333 exabytes (that’s a third of a zettabyte), and the rate is growing exponentially. All this data is an astonishing resource, but data on its own is not useful. It’s what you do with it that counts.

In this blog, we discuss what makes data ‘intelligent’ and share how forward-thinking companies can leverage their data to become more sustainable.

Among the many strategies and actions that companies can take to operate more sustainably, one area of opportunity gaining much-deserved attention is the use of intelligent data. Applying intelligent data across the entire value chain allows manufacturers to assess performance against sustainability goals.

This deeper level of assessment creates transparency across the value chain. Stakeholders can address inefficiencies, develop new solutions and more sustainable ways of working.

Intelligent data is connected data

Ever had the feeling of drowning in a data lake? Data in such vast quantities can be a hindrance. We’re suffering from overload. That’s why ‘intelligent data’ is so important.

Intelligent data refers to data that has been processed, analysed and interpreted in a way that adds value beyond simple context and insights. It’s about predictions and recommendations based on vast data sets. Above all, it’s about accessibility, connectivity and the way that empowers makers to make the right decisions.

Data becomes “intelligent” when it’s interconnected and contextualised. The real power of data is when it forms part of a much broader network, rather than being locked up in siloes, waiting for its hidden gems to be discovered. It’s a topic we’ve explored in much greater detail in relation to Nexus, our open digital reality manufacturing platform. For more information see this previous post on the Manufacturing Intelligence blog.

This connected approach to data breaks down siloes inhibiting development. It enhances decision-making, encourages innovation and supports sustainability strategies.

Intelligent data and sustainability strategy

The world is undergoing a full-scale digital transformation that involves putting data to work and enabling enhanced analytics. Adopting new technologies is vital to facilitate this transformation and it goes hand in hand with sustainability goals. Sustainability data has to become integrated with all the other types of data because digitalisation has become the basis for measurement, for transparency and visibility. Sustainability ought to be an integral part of every business strategy, in the same way we consider quality, productivity, even health and safety.

When organisations adopt new processes or activities they have to conduct a health and safety audit, why not a sustainability audit? The point is, sustainability should be something that happens as a matter of course. It should be an unquestioned, automatic part of everything we do and intelligent data supports that.

A successful sustainability strategy should adopt a whole-of-lifecycle view to products and technology, and the entire value chain. In many cases, companies within the process industries can leverage existing digital capabilities for sustainability efforts, unlocking large amounts of value and maximising positive impacts at a relatively low cost.

5 ways intelligent data drives sustainability

Fuelling innovation and ideas

With 80% of a product’s environmental impacts locked in at the design stage, we need to rethink ‘making’ for a sustainable future. We must ask why products are designed in a certain way. Why do we use certain materials over others? What happens at each stage of the product lifecycle? What are the weaknesses shortening usable life?

Intelligent data gives us the information we need to innovate without restrictions. This is where ideas like the digital product passport come in, serving as a comprehensive record that traces the entire journey of a product from inception to end-of-life. It encapsulates the power of connected data inspiring innovation. With digital product passports, we get entirely new feedback loops that inform future design iterations to optimise sustainability.

Intelligent data gives designers the information to create new avenues for ideas, fuelling our innovation and creating new sustainable pathways.

Optimising for production and usage cycles

Metrology solutions close the gap between design intent and finished product with inspection, prediction and pre-visualisation driving productivity by creating an intelligent data loop that upholds quality. Decisions can be made simultaneously across disciplines, supporting improved design, production, and sustainability through perpetual improvement.

The old process of build, test, evaluate, build again is redundant when you start using intelligent, connected data. It can all happen simultaneously with instantaneous feedback from every stage of production and usage.

Understanding the intricacies of a product’s lifecycle, from its creation to disposal, opens the door to many optimisation opportunities. The more we know about the product and the usage cycles, the more we can optimise what we make and how we make it.

With tools like AI and Machine Learning, we can identify weak points, limiting machine downtime, energy consumption and material waste. From there, we can design new workflows that maximise sustainability from design to production, service life and beyond.

Predictive maintenance and resource efficiency are integral components of this approach, ensuring seamless operations and minimal environmental impact. Intelligent data allows us to proactively address these issues optimising resources and fixing problems before they even occur – throughout the entire value chain and product lifecycle.

Automation and feedback loops

Automation and feedback loops are vital link in the chain of smart data for sustainable manufacturing. Advanced technologies like robotic automation, AI, and the Internet of Things help us perform tasks faster while using less energy and resources.

Similarly, the improved feedback loops that intelligent data gives us also improve the way we monitor and revise our designs. In sustainable manufacturing, we gather and study data from different parts of the product value chain, and that data helps us make things better. Smart data analysis is key here. It helps turn raw data into useful insights, so we can make smart choices.

Automation and feedback loops work in synergy creating lightning-fast processes that identify and fix errors much more efficiently than ever before. In this way, we can keep improving, innovating and making things better based on real-time data. This saves resources, cuts down on waste, and makes our manufacturing processes greener.

Using data in this way, we can make manufacturing kinder to the planet. It empowers industries to make products more efficiently, reduce their environmental impact and contribute to a better and more sustainable future.

Global collaboration and engagement

The power of intelligent data is that it extends beyond physical boundaries. It redefines how we engage with our operations, with machinery and with the things we make. By harnessing the power of connected data, we open the manufacturing ecosystem to people all over the globe. If you need expert assistance, and that right person is on the other side of the world they can still provide guidance, collaboration and support from a remote location.

Beyond the operation benefits, remote working reduces travel requirements and the associated environmental impacts. Experts with specialised knowledge can collaborate remotely offering insights and solutions that might have been otherwise inaccessible. This collaborative approach introduces fresh perspectives to solve sustainability challenges, accelerating innovation and problem-solving. For more information on the tools to promote collaboration and remote monitoring, check out this previous blog post.

Being open and Sharing data on sustainability efforts with stakeholders, including investors, customers, and local communities, fosters transparency, trust and helps establish a good corporate reputation. Transparent reporting enables stakeholders to see the measurable impact of sustainability initiatives, encouraging further support and investment.

Transparency is crucial because it shows stakeholders how sustainable practices lead to actual results. If you’re using less energy and creating less waste, this is how you quantify and communicate it. When stakeholders see the positive impacts of sustainability initiatives, they’ll have more confidence in your organisation. Clear reporting shows your dedication and proves your results are real.

A high degree of transparency encourages buy-in from stakeholders. It’ll turn your staff and employees into your most vocal advocates. Openness and authenticity build engagement and collaboration, connected data supports this. It gives stakeholders a view of your sustainability journey and invites them to join in.

Regulatory compliance and reporting

Using data-driven systems to track and report regulatory compliance is a smart way for companies to stay on the right side of the law and contribute to a healthier environment.

These systems work by gathering and analysing data about things like emissions, waste disposal and resource utilisation.  By keeping a close watch on these aspects, companies can make sure they’re following the rules and regulations set by authorities.

When companies collect and analyse this data, they gain valuable insights into their environmental impact. This awareness allows them to identify areas for improvement and align with broader environmental goals on a national or international level.

Intelligent data-driven systems for regulatory compliance and reporting create a win-win situation. Companies ensure they’re following the law while actively participating in the wider mission of safeguarding the planet for current and future generations. It’s a proactive approach that demonstrates responsible business practices and helps drive change on a larger scale.

The impact intelligent data makes in green investment isn’t just financial, it’s not just ethical or moral, it’s a physical imperative that impacts the entire world and cannot be ignored. The good news is that an optimised, streamlined company supporting and nurturing the environment can be more than aspirational – intelligent data can make it reality.

This reality, transparent at every stage, allows for easier interfacing, collaboration and regulatory compliance – this accessibility enables us to share useful data and insights between company partnerships with greater ease.

Sustainable business operations are crucial when preparing for the future of manufacturing. Key sustainability priorities and trends, and the ways in which technology and intelligent data synergise, are instrumental in helping companies improve processes and operate more sustainably, together.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out this previous blog How smart manufacturing supports sustainability.

Now we want to hear from you. Do you agree with us? What have we forgotten to say? How does your organisation use data to support sustainability initiatives?

Share this blog post with your networks and join the conversation online.


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