Driving Sustainability in Manufacturing

Driving Sustainability in Manufacturing

The role of sustainability in manufacturing has increased significantly over the past decade. With the advancement of smart manufacturing technologies, an unprecedented number of autonomous and sustainable practices are being implemented in facilities.

Another shift is the demand from consumers to have an increased level of visibility into all company practices. To enhance accountability and transparency, companies are implementing more trackable metrics to highlight their ethical and environmentally-friendly processes. According to a survey conducted by SAP, companies that maintain a high level of visibility into their supply chain sourcing and sustainability systems have a stronger position when competing for customers. Many key industry players have implemented criteria to drive sustainable change among their suppliers, which means this topic has the capacity to be a deciding factor when selecting a partner.

Companies that have yet to explore environmentally-friendly systems would be surprised to find that there are many economic, financial and recruiting benefits to sustainable manufacturing. Integrating these processes isn’t as hard as one might think, as there are numerous adjustments that can boost performance of a company’s overall organization.

Benefits of Implementing Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

- Unique selling proposition – Sustainability is now a driver for economic success. It’s not enough to react to environmental regulations in the industry. Aviation suppliers must be proactively integrating sustainable and ethical strategies across their entire value chain to remain competitive.

- Cost-efficiency – By using cheaper renewable energy and relying on digitally-advanced manufacturing technology, companies can save overhead costs and improve operational efficiency. In addition, many governments incentivize environmental practices.

- Recruiting – Companies are positioning themselves as forward-thinking, sustainable organizations to attract new talent. Generation Z is very interested in making a positive impact on its community and society and is often thinking in terms of “sustainability.”

How Aviation Businesses can Practice Sustainable Manufacturing

Evaluate the kinds of materials being used in the product. Reducing a company’s carbon footprint begins with product innovation. 

Can any materials currently being used to build the product be swapped out? Would a different component extend the life of the final product or make it more biodegradable? Incorporating sustainability into the product design will result in a chain reaction through the rest of the company’s processes.

Track the raw materials used in the production process and know where they come from. Establishing indicators to ensure materials are ethically sourced is a proactive way to develop a sustainable supply chain. Requesting suppliers to disclose environmental and social responsibility data will ensure they are doing their part. At RECARO we use indicators such as labour conditions, carbon emissions and compliance, as well as an in-house CO² calculator. Technology improvements allow for many of these indicators to be traced easily. The criteria we follow in choosing new suppliers or continuing a relationship with an existing one is highly standardized due to our quality management.

Invest in carbon-neutral systems that improve productivity and reduce costs. Energy efficiency now plays a decisive role in the acquisition of new machines. Manufacturing processes use one-third of the energy worldwide, which is why integrating sustainable practices into operations is critical in lowering the industry’s environmental impact. Implement lean manufacturing processes to reduce waste, water use and energy, while also improving safety and productivity. From investing in cutting-edge machinery and the progressive reduction of paper consumption in production to installing energy-efficient lighting and the purchase of green electricity, there are countless ways for companies to reduce the carbon footprint of their facilities.

“Companies that have yet to explore environmentally-friendly systems would be surprised to find that there are many economic, financial and recruiting benefits to sustainable manufacturing”

Leverage visibility to optimize a more flexible transportation strategy. Repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact the delivery schedule for hundreds of thousands of companies for the foreseeable future, which is why many companies are revamping their transportation strategies. A redesign of distribution networks for both domestic and global routes will facilitate a more agile approach and can open the door to minimizing carbon emissions related to distribution. The new technologies to replace the current combustion engines of industrial trucks, in tandem with the replacement of disposable packaging with reusable container systems, can result in a much more sustainable door-to-door journey for the product.

Embrace reverse logistics to remove waste from the value chain. In the aviation industry, many companies are just now starting to see the life cycle of a product as an actual loop. Partnering with companies that offer sustainable disposal services can enhance the product’s life cycle or even find a way to reuse the product. When RECARO conducted a life cycle assessment of our CL3710 economy class seat, we discovered that 99 percent of the seat’s energy is consumed during flight. This fact reinforces our commitment to using lightweight materials when designing RECARO seats.

Evaluating sustainable practices in the industry can be challenging at first and requires some heavy lifting. This is our chance to overhaul the perceived negative relationship between sustainability and aviation manufacturing. Aviation is constantly evolving and adapting to changes. This is simply another opportunity to innovate and drive meaningful improvements that can impact the world.

About the author: Mirjam Bruhns is the director of operations at RECARO Aircraft Seating, where she oversees a team of engineers, logistics experts and production supervisors to ensure that all facets of production are running smoothly. Bruhns studied business administration before starting her career in the aerospace industry more than two decades ago. Since joining the RECARO team in 2007, she has worked in leading positions in purchasing, quality and operations.

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