Innovative IT Solutions for Ecological Manufacturing

Since the 1960s, there has been a tendency to strengthen environmental legislation in developed countries. At the same time, environmental safety at enterprises remains one of the main problems. A striking example is the discussions around the spread of dumping, i.e. of hazardous chemical and radioactive waste in water bodies. How do IT solutions help companies establish ecological manufacturing? And what modern technologies are fighting the threats of environmental pollution? We will answer these questions in our article.

The latest ecologization trends

Over the past two decades, the environmental situation in regions with an increased concentration of enterprises has noticeably improved. This has been influenced by both the popularization of respect for nature and the expansion of the financial, technological, and organizational capabilities of large companies. Previously, the general level of technical equipment didn’t allow enterprises to ensure their environmental safety. The rapid development of the IT sphere has managed to solve a number of the main problems in the industry.

Economic growth has created the necessary conditions for meeting the environmental needs of the population. Among them are clean air in industrial premises, supply of drinking water, etc. Legislation also plays an important role here. Decrees and recommendations on proper industrial waste disposal, specialized landfills, and storage facilities have appeared. In the EU, a system for assessing the state of the environment has been developed, and an optimal balance between fiscal and incentive measures for environmental policy has been achieved.

Today, ecological well-being is inextricably linked with the development of society. This is partly due to major tragedies caused by countries’ negligence towards the environment. For example, the emergence of progressive laws and standards of production in Great Britain was preceded by the Great Smog. From the 5th to the 9th of December 1952, the Great Smog claimed the lives of several thousand London citizens.

The interconnection between the severity of environmental problems and anthropogenic load is gradually disappearing. Industrial saturation and population density no longer have the same impact on the environment as before. As an example, we can mention indicators at the Scheldt and Lower Rhine large water transport junction in the Netherlands. Over the past 50 years, the scale of the water area pollution has been reduced by several times.

In the modern world, the environmental industry occupies one of the most important places among enterprises. The pace of constructing wastewater treatment facilities has noticeably accelerated. Factories for the utilization and recycling of industrial and household waste have appeared. In Germany, Spain, France, and a number of other European countries, trade fairs of equipment and technologies in the field of environmental protection are held annually.

Ecologization has become an important component of scientific and technological progress. It affects almost all spheres of manufacturing and acts as one of the main criteria for quality of life. However, several environmental protection major problems still remain unresolved.

Current environmental hazards

For a long time, natural resources were considered inexhaustible, and the level of their consumption was not calculated. This period of technological development has left its mark. The situation was aggravated by the insufficient attention of countries to industrial emissions and the impact of environmental degradation on economic and social development.

Human activities have led to irreversible consequences. Many species of plants and animals have disappeared, and the planet’s ozone layer has depleted. Today, we can observe active pollution of water bodies and contamination of soil with aggressive reagents. Desertification and the rapid decline in mineral resources are rampant.

According to estimates by UN experts, the current pace of increase in production capacity and deforestation will lead to the rise of the Earth’s surface temperature by 3.5°C in 30 years. This will cause the rapid melting of the Antarctic and Arctic glaciers, a rise in the World Ocean level, severe floods, and droughts.

A number of economic and legal factors that are common in many countries contribute to the aggravation of the situation. They include the macroeconomic policy of extensive development, government support for resource-exploiting sectors, and the absence of a long-term environmental strategy.

An uptick in the amount of plastic waste in the environment remains one of the most serious threats. This was announced at the World Economic Forum in 2016. By 2050, plastic will occupy more space in the world’s oceans than all fish put together. This flood of pollution can only be stopped by the joint efforts of consumers, producers, and country leaders.

According to WHO estimates, despite significant results on the path of manufacturing ecologization, more than seven million people die every year due to air pollution. A critical increase in the concentration of fine suspended particles, in particular, is associated with the operation of industrial enterprises and the combustion of coal and wood.

To solve the current problems, many enterprises are introducing the recycling of secondary raw materials. Companies pay more attention to improving environmental protection equipment and purification facilities, apply methods of cooperation of various industries, and reduce the volume of eco-hostile products. One of the main tools in achieving the set goals today is innovations in the IT sphere.

The contribution of IT to manufacturing ecologization

Digitalization plays a controversial role in addressing issues related to environmental protection. Environmental management systems and special eco-friendly equipment at enterprises can significantly reduce and control the level of toxic emissions. At the same time, the active introduction of information technologies leads to the multiplication of enterprises and a rise in electricity consumption.

Nowadays, companies face a daunting task. They need to develop and increase production capacity. At the same time, businesses have to apply eco-friendly technologies in order to comply with environmental laws. In this matter, IT developers who create advanced environmental software are helping businesses. Such solutions are likely to remain relevant for a long time in the context of a rapidly developing production sector. For example, many enterprises are testing and using IoT to monitor the main parameters of the environment: biodiversity, air, water, etc.

The development of this sphere is also stimulated by private companies. A sparkling example is the technology investment fund by Amazon, which offers solutions for reducing emissions and generating greener energy. According to the data from Pitchbook, in 2018, the green innovation industry in the US attracted over $7.1 billion from venture capital investors.

The policies of large international associations have a substantial influence on the industry. The EU plans to impose a carbon tax in 2021. Enterprises producing goods with a high level of energy intensity and carbon footprint will become the most vulnerable in the new conditions. Among them are products of the chemical, oil, and metallurgy industries, agriculture, etc. The necessity to achieve carbon neutrality is pushing companies to research and develop green technologies.

Caring for the environment in modern conditions has become an important image tool. The social responsibility of a business and its transition to environmental protection mechanisms determine the loyalty of customers, partners, and the government. In order to avoid falling behind competitors and increase profits, enterprises need to implement the most cutting-edge IT solutions for ecologization.

Innovations in practice

Ecological software solutions are already helping factories comply with the latest legislation in this area and are contributing to the care of nature. 

For example, in 2016, Russian scientists discovered a method that allows enterprises to fully optimize their energy efficiency and emissions into the environment. Within the framework of the scientific project Anselm, enterprise managers can accurately assess losses at each site and quickly make decisions to eliminate problems. The method is recognized by the UN and the World Wildlife Fund and is being actively implemented in many industries. In the near future, this may become the impetus for a new technological revolution.

Companies are already using advanced IoT modules to process and transport waste. An example is 3G sensors monitoring the filling of containers. At enterprises producing drinking water, sensors that measure the concentration of harmful microelements are common.

Modern geographic information systems help in studying pollution and modeling environmental modifications. Such GISs are capable of processing satellite images, topography, data state borders, highways, rivers, wilderness areas, etc. This ensures highly accurate forecasting and helps manufacturers make the best environmental decision before starting work in a particular region.

Technologies related to the analysis of natural resources in order to increase production efficiency have become widespread. An example would be systems for detecting sensitive marine species with the help of dedicated sensors. An accurate assessment of the mussel population, for instance, makes it possible to promptly prevent changes in water quality, fight pollution, and save energy resources.

Advanced manufacturing intelligent systems are able to monitor the state of the main enterprise objects: pipelines, reactors, assembly machines, and other equipment. Real-time processing of data obtained with the help of sensors makes it possible to prevent accidents and develop effective strategies for waste disposal and for fighting against environmental pollution. The innovations being introduced continue to be actively modernized.

Prospects for IT in the field of manufacturing ecologization

For the sustainable development of the economy without harm to the environment, several conditions must be met. Among them are a slowdown in the depletion of non-renewable natural resources, a maximum reduction in the level of environmental pollution, and the introduction of low-waste technologies in all spheres of production. The main hopes associated with overcoming the industry’s challenges lie in IT tools.

The developments being tested today will facilitate cooperation between different enterprises in order to create associations with a high degree of isolation of products and raw materials. The introduction of effective systems for emission capture and waste disposal can be considered another ultimately unresolved problem.

Near future

In modern conditions, an integrated macroeconomic approach to solving environmental problems is required. This means that the proposed innovations must not only respond to the challenges associated with environmental protection and the exploitation of natural resources but also take into account the peculiarities of the development of other industries.

In recent years, the Best Available Control Technology concept, which is popular in the USA and Great Britain, has become widespread. Its essence is the use of the currently most advanced technologies – combining availability, controllability, and commercial acceptability – in solving urgent problems. This enables us to predict the acceleration of the implementation pace of advanced developments in the field of environmental safety.

Amidst regular launches of numerous startups, it can be difficult for companies to choose the right sustainability management software or other IT tools. The prerequisites for this are seen in the launch of GreenTech Startup Booster and the announcement of a similar program by Google. Thus, the world community seeks to jointly solve the main tasks of manufacturing ecologization.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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