According to the USA’s National Council for Advanced Manufacturing, sustainable manufacturing is the creation of products through processes that are non-polluting, conserve resources, and are economically sound and safe. It’s a real-world profit-driven approach, just with an added ethos of pro-world responsibility in its execution – meeting the needs of the present without jeopardising the ability of future generations to do the same.
What manufacturers are beginning to realise is that sustainable strategies not only have a positive impact on the environment, but on profits and the welfare of employees and customers as well. After all, companies committed to the ideal of sustainability are more likely to run well-maintained facilities that are inherently safer for employees and the environment alike.
Staying on track, however, depends on measuring performance against a new set of sustainability-related KPIs – energy efficiency, raw material consumption, greenhouse emissions, waste generation, and the like. Since many of these depend on complex relationships, sometimes along entire supply chains, maintaining a real-time trace of company achievement requires a little help. Luckily this is now available in the form of the digital technologies of the IIoT. The key to their successful deployment though hinges on interoperability between the variety of IIoT and automation solutions out there, in a way that allows end users to mix and match their systems for maximum flexibility.
So, to deliver on the vision for sustainable manufacturing, the industry needs an interoperability standard that delivers on the requirement for devices capable of supplying process-related information in a plug-and-play fashion. Enter OPC UA, fast emerging as the standard of choice for industrial data communications in the process and discrete manufacturing industries.
In a recent report, the ARC Advisory Group recognised OPC UA as “the most important interoperability technology in today’s industrial landscape”. This because it has become a key technology for several next-generation automation standards capable of delivering against sustainability requirements – Industry 4.0, NAMUR NOA, and the Open Process Automation Forum, for example.
In summary then, if we carry on doing things the way we always have, eventually we are going to destroy our planet’s atmosphere and deplete its natural resources. Thankfully, this is now widely recognised, and the self-centred business strategies of the past are being replaced by forward thinking visions of environmental conservation and social equity. None of these are practical though unless companies can realise them in ways that remain profitable. Efficiency then is key, and automation is the key to efficiency. However, the traditional ‘islands of automation’ approach is not flexible enough to optimise production methods across global supply chains. The technologies of the IIoT are powerful enough, but deployments on this scale require new levels of interoperability between edge devices and cloud-hosted AI and analytics services. OPC UA is fast emerging as a solution to this interoperability problem.
This is the stuff of the new Technews Industry Guide: Sustainable Manufacturing – the team and I hope you find the information on these pages useful. Interested readers can download the ARC Advisory Group report on OPC UA at https://tinyurl.com/2rzjvty2.
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