'Some factories are noticeably more efficient than others,' Evans added. 'We want to know why, and whether they are squeezing every last drop from best practice. If not, how much further can they go and what can competitor factories learn from this?'
Other companies studied by the team have focused their steps on improving environmental performance on packaging reduction (Philips), shifting operations from a product-based system to one in which it provides a service (
'Understanding how far you can push current systems is the most urgently needed step. But technological development is also essential to achieve the significant changes in efficiency that we need,' said Evans. To help this agenda, the Centre is also looking at the technology needed to manage factories. One software tool they have built - THERM (for THrough-life Energy and Resource Modelling) - models the way that energy, materials and water can flow around factories. 'Traditionally, these processes are considered as secondary to modelling production of the product and yet they are integral to approaching sustainability at a factory level.'
The THERM project, funded by the Technology Strategy Board, gathered a team of practitioners (
'The greatest opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of an industrial system comes about when we consider the system as a whole, because the optimisation of any one part is ultimately constrained by other aspects,' explained Evans, who is a member of the Foresight lead expert group that is combining the latest scientific evidence with futures analysis to help policy makers consider the Future of Manufacturing for the
Evans and his team believe that this 'systems thinking' approach is crucial. 'The evidence we have seen from case studies shows that sub-system approaches can dramatically improve sustainability. But to help future generations meet the needs of humanity within the carrying capacity of the planet it will be important to develop the know-how to enable changes across the whole industrial system. Such a system is likely to look very different to today's global industry. We believe that manufacturing will change its shape.'
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