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Home » Manufacturing » How simulation software supports sustainability in the manufacturing sector

Umair Ejaz

Product Marketing Manager, Visual Components

As governments around the world collectively set targets for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, organisations across all sectors are being urged to contribute to a more sustainable future.

One core focus among manufacturers in recent years has been on the adoption of renewable sources of energy to power operations and end the reliance on fossil fuels. Back in 2011, Toyota installed the UK’s largest Solar PV array connected to an industrial site — aiming to generate 4,300,000KwH of energy each year.

However, beyond the adoption of renewable energy, manufacturers must consider sustainability in all its forms. Green strategies today need to cover alterations to manufacturing processes on the factory floor and beyond, such as considerations around business travel. The technology to underpin innovation across all aspects of business operations is that of 3D simulation software.

Improvements on the factory floor

3D simulation software provides a virtual sandbox environment where users have free reign to make any number of mistakes before identifying the best solution for the real world. For example, an excessive transport path of an AGV, forklift or other robots could be negatively impacting the organisation’s carbon footprint. The trial-and-error nature of the technology allows manufacturers to continuously test efficient, new pathways. On a much larger scale, the software can be applied to the creation of new smart factories on existing brownfield land, ensuring that fewer greenfield spaces are used.

The ability to test new strategies in a risk-free virtual sandbox also brings benefits in the reduction of waste. According to research by Visual Components, 72% of respondents say that less than 50% of the materials used in the manufacturing process are sustainable. Organisations can virtually test environmentally friendly packaging materials to achieve fewer use of plastics and avoid expensive product trials. The technology can even be used to simulate processes across the wider supply chain, allowing organisations to account for Scope 3 emissions.

The ability to test new strategies in a
risk-free virtual sandbox also brings
benefits in the reduction of waste.

Encouraging collaboration

Newfound efficiency on the factory floor is only one aspect of enabling company-wide sustainability. 3D simulation software also has a role to play in employee collaboration. A digital twin can interact with real/physical assets to accurately replicate real-life speeds, loads, temperatures, inertia, pressures and even the external forces that could theoretically act on the system. Employees from different teams in the organisation can access this key data to make optimisations. The technology can also enable service life and maintenance predictions, evaluation of new operating scenarios and operator and maintenance training. Managers can also replay past events to take lessons from what previously went wrong.

Before Covid-19, it wasn’t unusual for employees to travel via car or plane to present future factory layouts in-person to colleagues or clients. The accuracy and detail made possible by simulation software can enable effective communication of detailed plans from any location. Staff can also be trained and upskilled from anywhere, which helps to address the growing skills shortage in the technology sector.

Sustainability and Industry 5.0

With 3D simulation software able to provide sustainable value in a number of ways, its role in the advancement of Industry 5.0 is clear. Alongside the prioritisation of employee skills and training, Industry 5.0 favours circular production models and supports technologies that make efficient use of natural resources.

The pressure is building on businesses to play their part in protecting the environment and helping to battle against rapidly escalating climate change. Simulation software is now being used in academia and research — such as universities and research centres — to help train the engineers of tomorrow. This is helping to bridge the skills gap and enable a long-term understanding of sustainability for up-and-coming professionals in the industry.

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