The next decade will see manufacturers come under pressure to ensure their processes are significantly more sustainable. But what impact can service play in this shift? Through technology and servitization, Mark Glover discovers a strong will in the sector to make a difference and to make it happen.
Activist Gretha Thunberg has shifted focus on climate change; protest groups such a Extinction Rebellion here in the UK keep the subject in the headlines; and as I type news reports suggest bush fires in Australia show no sign of abating, a tragedy being attributed in part to climate change.
As we pierce the new decade, governments are being forced to initiate legislation that attempts to offset global carbon emissions with industry sectors such as manufacturing being targeted as an area with potential to up its green credentials.
Given its heavy supply chain, it’s no surprise that the sector is top of the government’s green hit-list. Several initiatives such as Green Manufacturing already exist. However, a programme to replace an already established manufacturing process with environmentally friendly operations will require a significant overhaul and much lobbying from government to wary manufacturing associations.
But what role can the delivery of service play in manufacturing's attempt to get greener? Through its many nuances, from technology to the study of servitization, the sector does have the potential to contribute. As a community, it seems the service sphere is conscious of the impact sustainability is having, a shift I’ve witnessed having spent the last 12 months attending conferences and working groups and speaking to people from all strands of the industry, including the aforementioned areas of technology and servitization.
Here the general consensus is one of acceptance; that sustainability, in terms of legislation and regulation, will have an impact on manufacturing. Although to some it goes beyond business, people who see this shift as an opportunity to make a genuine difference to the environment and are being driven on an emotional and human level.
"Perhaps the strongest motivation for me, not least being a father of young kids, is the whole sustainability aspect and how we can make a meaningful impact." Says Henrik Lenirius, Chief Product Officer at technology firm Syncron, who spoke to me at the company's Innovate2019 event in November. I asked the Swede, as I do to all interviewees, what inspires him to do what he does and he responded with the environment in mind. “It gives me some deeper sense of purpose in what we’re doing,” he told me, conscious of the footprint a large technology firm like Syncron leaves and the affect it can have on his own family.
The company operates primarily in the service arena and Lenirius was keen to share with me how the firm’s green attitude cascades down to their suppliers. "Being a software service company, the amount of energy that computation takes up means we can make a difference in our operations and we put pressure on our suppliers to make sure we use renewable energy. But even more powerful is that we can enable our manufacturing customers, through the supply chain to be more sustainable," he said.
From technology to servitization, the process of manufacturers supplementing their products with services, and in particular where academics are exploring the environmental benefits servitization can bring to a production cycle, sustainability is being debated in lectures and ending up in research papers. I got an idea of this when I spoke to Professor Tim Baines, a leading authority on servitization at a specialist conference last year.
Over coffee I asked what the future might look like for those practicing servitization and what challenges might lie ahead. His immediate response was a green one. "There is a force which is going to hit people very soon," the Director of The Advanced Services Group at Aston University warned, "and that is the sustainability and climate change agenda which will hit us in a big way."
He is however hopeful servitization can contribute to negating the environmental impact of material-heavy supply chains and to this point he cited a presentation from Cranfield University’s Tobias Benjamin Widmer, who that morning at the conference had presented to delegates an overview of his research into de-materialisation of the supply chain and how to reduce the consumption of raw materials through servitization.
From that, our conversation naturally turned to regulation and the influence of Government on sustainability initiatives. Firm polices around electric cars, for example, would Professor Baines said, have an impact on supply chains. “If the incentives are there for electric cars, why would you have a diesel manufacturing plant? If you don’t have a diesel manufacturing plant, then your whole supply chain evaporates.
“Here’s an interesting one,” he smiled. “The number of rotational components in a diesel engine car: about 1,500. In an electric car: about 22. Now what’s that going to do your material supply chain?”
While appearing as a guest on the Field Service Podcast, he further reiterated that manufacturing should brace itself in response to society's reaction to climate change, affirming how shifts outside the factory gates will affect what's happening inside.
"If you think the paradigms in manufacturing are in response to what's happened in the business environment,” he explained, “one set of pressures, is the environmental and climate change agenda, which has not yet fully hit manufacturing companies.”
He warned the environmental responsibility now lies with the manufacturer of product and not the recipient. “Don't sell me a car, sell me mobility,” he outlined, assuming the role of the customer before that of a manufacturer, “and when I start to sell you mobility, I try to do it with the least amount of energy with the least amount of materials because energy and materials are burdens upon me now and not upon you as the customer.”
Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and images of bush fires across Australia are all, in their own way, forcing us to acknowledge and react to global warming. It’s inevitable, says Professor Baines that manufacturing will be affected in a big way. “The climate change agenda has the potential to really set this area alight,” he urged, “and I think that is something that we have to be mindful of; it is on the horizon."
He concluded: "It's around us now, so just keep an eye upon that. It is going to shift things very drastically.”