How circular economies promote sustainable design and limit manufacturing waste

By establishing visibility through product life cycles, materials can be conserved, efficiency maximised, and circular, sustainable practices supported.

The manufacturing industry is one of the biggest emitters of carbon in the world, so the sector has a particular responsibility when it comes to embracing and implementing sustainable ways of working to reduce its environmental impact

A crucial way to achieve this is to embrace the ideas of the circular economy. Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation* suggests that if the four most emissions-intensive industrial sectors – cement, steel, plastic, and aluminum – were to embrace circular economy practices, they could reduce global CO2 emissions by 40% or 3.7 billion tons in 2050, thereby achieving almost half of their zero emissions target.

3.7 billion tons

amount of CO2 emissions the four most emissions-heavy industries could avoid in 2050 with circular economy practices

Three Sustainable Practices in Manufacturing Process

But what is circular economy and what are circular economy principles? Broadly, it is a systemic approach which seeks to move away from our current ‘take-make-waste’ linear model that is focused on the consumption of finite resources and create a more regenerative one. For the manufacturing industry, this means optimizing all parts of a product lifecycle with the intention of limiting manufacturing waste and maximizing reuse of components, ultimately paving the way to carbon-free production.

How can manufacturers go about implementing circular economy practices? It is something that needs to work across the whole value chain, and throughout the product lifecycle. This means each part of the manufacturing process has the opportunity – and indeed, the obligation – to incorporate the concepts of circularity into their approach.

To achieve this, companies can leverage the power of digital tools to enable them to implement the most effective change at each stage of a product’s development:

1. Sustainable design and development

The first crucial step in building a circular economy is designing products that can be used in circular systems. For example, by using 3DEXPERIENCE®’s cloud-based 3D design and simulation applications, product designers can build products that look downstream, with components that can be more easily extracted from obsolete items and returned.

Furthermore, by utilizing the 3DEXPERIENCE operational planning applications, users across all stages of the product lifecycle, from engineering to marketing, have access to a single digital thread and can discuss more sustainable designs and how they could be best integrated across the system. By having total control over who has access to proprietary product data, designers can also share exactly the technical information and blueprints they need to in order for internal or external stakeholders to take any necessary actions, without the fear of compromising business-critical IP.

This means smoother data sharing, less wasteful research and development processes, and the establishment of integrated supply chains that can allow more effective reuse and recycling of components. 

2. Right-the-first-time manufacturing

Alongside the end products, the manufacturing process itself can be an area where circular economic approaches can be implemented. The digital visibility and traceability provided by the 3DEXPERIENCE planning solution ensures that manufacturers know they are using the correct materials, tools and processes for the precise job in hand. 

Being able to track the flow of products throughout a factory through digital tools can also help substantially reduce manufacturing waste. For example, the manufacture of many electronic devices involves the use of materials that can react with air. This means that manufacturers have a limited time to assemble these products. Bottlenecks in production (through, for example, a machine error) can consequently lead to these parts oxidizing and becoming unusable. Or it can lead to faulty parts making it into devices and into consumer’s hands.

Through the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, businesses can trace these components throughout the assembly process, ensuring relevant components stay functional, and that errors can be tracked and remediated in a timely manner – all adding up to less manufacturing waste.

3. Reverse manufacturing

A particularly effective way to reduce waste is by collecting, disassembling, and repurposing end-of-life products, so that materials remain in use through the system. This is a process known as reverse manufacturing. For example, batteries in electric vehicles or smart phones can be repurposed as domestic battery storage. 

However, doing this effectively requires end-to-end traceability of all relevant components in a product. This is necessary so that manufacturers can understand the provenance of individual products, and how they have been affected throughout their life cycle. 

By leveraging virtual twins, as well as IoT functionality (like scannable QR or RFID codes), product genealogy can be recorded and traced, ensuring manufacturers have the information they need to maximise reusability of materials. 3DEXPERIENCE’s virtual twinning solutions provide a centralized knowledge base, by through which this information can be collated and tracked.

Across every stage of a product, data can help manufacturers make more informed, more strategic decisions on how best to implement sustainable practices into their businesses while minimizing disruption. Whether that means ensuring effective cross-collaboration between designers, engineers and third parties, breaking down data siloes or building virtual twins to see how it would look in practice, digital technology can act as the enabler to making circular economies more central to manufacturing, and ensuring sustainability sits at the heart of operations.

In order to effectively reuse an EV battery at the end of its life cycle, you need to know things like when and how it was manufactured, or what its tolerances are. If you have an effective tracking system, all of that information about the battery is maintained. And this gives you more confidence in how you can re-use it as part of the circular economy.

Adrian Wood> Operational Optimization> Dassault Systèmes®
Adrian Wood
DELMIA Strategic Business Development Director, Dassault Systèmes

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