Collaborative design now the key to sustainable manufacturing

Manufacturing business models look set for a major upheaval with calls for more collaboration and new ways of thinking with sustainable design and manufacturing processes.

IN THE prevailing climate of economic and political uncertainty around the world, there is increasing questioning of the strong historical focus on growth, and recognition of the need to find pathways to sustainable manufacturing.

Professor Richard Hames, director of the Asian Foresight Institute in Bangkok is an Australian futurist who believes that there is an urgent need to transform industry and that today’s system is unsustainable.

"We need to develop a system that enables us to prosper without growth and the prevailing addiction to consumerism. With 7 billion people on the planet, a world over-population crisis is fast approaching," he told a recent conference in Melbourne.

"Some 15-20% of the world’s population is obese, while on the other hand 15-20% is starving. Food, water, climate, and social and economic systems are all in a state of tremor, if not collapse, and we can see the start of a breakdown of social order and the possible failure of nation states.

"Tomorrow’s businesses will need to harness new technologies to improve productivity, and we must quickly move from a fossil fuel based system to renewable energy.

"There is a need for new business models including networked intelligence, collaborative co-design, and the development of niche manufacturing of new products. Australia can punch above its weight and become a design laboratory for the rest of the world. We must move from intense competition to collaboration, because the future is about design, not machine thinking," Hames said.

Mission zero

Leading carpet tile manufacturer, InterfaceFLOR, is actively pursuing a Mission Zero objective to eliminate any negative impact by the company on the environment by 2020.

Central to this is a strong focus on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to identify the environmental impacts in product life cycles, including both downstream and upstream influences on the company’s footprint.

InterfaceFLOR’s CEO and president of the AsiaPac region, Rob Coombs, says it is important to look at the whole of life impact of the company’s products.

For example, only about 15% of its CO2 emissions relate to its own manufacturing activities.

"We work closely with upstream suppliers of materials as well as downstream providers of services such as transport to reduce our LCA footprint," he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

"Our sustainability drive started by introducing a war on waste at our factory in Picton, NSW, which calls for a reduction in waste of 10% year after year.

"Other achievements include reduced emissions from process energy by 41 percent, reduced water consumption by 60 percent, and reduced non-renewable energy by 72 percent. In addition, our use of recycled and bio-based materials has increased to 39 percent," Coombs said.

"To date we have diverted more than 250,000m2 of carpet tiles from landfill through our ReEntry recycling program, InterfaceFLOR packaging is now made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content, and new innovative sustainable products have been designed.

"Such results are having a significant beneficial effect on the company’s bottom line. Better products are being produced at lower costs, and this is helping us to compete effectively with Asian-based textile companies. InterfaceFLOR is now one of the most profitable companies in the global carpet manufacturing industry."

Coombs points out that people increasingly want to work for sustainable companies, which is especially important in a highly competitive labour market.

"At the end of the day there must still be a strong profit motive, but there are ethical ways to make money and a key is to replace old ways of thinking with sustainable design and manufacturing processes," Coombs said.