Recycling and resource efficiency in manufacturing

by Anne Zavala

In the manufacturing industry, major gains can be achieved tackling recycling and resource efficiency at three key levels of innovation: process efficiency, product design and value chain optimisation.

1. Process efficiency

Manufacturing processes transform raw materials and other inputs into finished products. Although multiple processes often run concurrently in complex systems, efficiency gains can easily be achived in a number of areas including:

• Minimisation of tool wear by improving geometry or materials used

• Optimisation of operating fluids and supplies (water and lubricants);

• Reducing rejects and cutting waste with process optimisation;

• Improvement of cleaning and conditioning processes;

• Advanced manufacturing and recycling processes.

2. Product design

The design of a product determines its life cycle starting with the choice of materials and finishing with the recyclability at end-of-life. Design decisions such as dimensions, weight, number of components or packaging can have a huge impact on resource consumption and in turn on profits. More complex solutions can also be thought-out to engineer products with improved eco-efficient design specifications increasing product life-time or recyclability.

3. Value chain optimisation

The largest savings can be made when the entire supply or value chain of a product is optimised from a resource efficiency point of view. To this end, the cooperation between the different layers of the supply chain is essential. Value chain optimisation can be addressed through an integrated approach to resource consumption dealing with inputs of raw materials and other semi-finished goods, output of finished products, by-products and waste, transport and storage, packaging resources and recyclability of packaging wastes.

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