More factories, less carbon: a tricky equation

The factory of the future is meant to be connected and ecological. While this is fine on paper, there are still several obstacles in the way. 

Debates on reindustrialisation tend to consider what factories will look like in the future. The factory to-be, as described by industrialists and futurists, is mainly defined by the use of digital technologies in production processes. In Germany, for example, the process is known as “Factory 4.0”. Today, the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), additive manufacturing, process optimisation using artificial intelligence, digital twins, predictive maintenance, automated quality control and connected supply chain integration are digital technology’s main avatars. Their productivity gains and cost reductions are still much debated, as traditional and modern skills collide in their wake. But with the current climate crisis, their capacity to reduce the impact of industry on the environment seems to achieve consensus.


More environmentally friendly factories

In terms of technology, the factory of the future will rely on a wide range of innovations to reduce its environmental footprint, by limiting waste and water consumption, and CO2 emissions. “Green” energy production is central to the issues at stake, to help create unprecedented synergies in the spirit of circular urbanism.

The Renault plant in Tangiers produces 92% of its energy from biomass, via olive pomace from oil production. Supported by Leonard, newcomer GreenDeed offers integral solutions for energy efficiency projects in industry, from project design to financial engineering. This needs flagging up, as according to ADEME, the energy efficiency potential of French industry is 20%, while the recovery of unused energy is being developed. In Dunkirk, ArcelorMittal’s blast furnaces are already heating 6,000 homes via Dalkia’s heating network. In terms of manufacturing processes, the technological solutions linked with the factory of the future are very promising. GE Aviation and Safran have reduced engine weight by 25% and improved  emissions by using metal powder projection printers. Startups such as InUse and Energiency are now using IoT and data to optimise industrial processes. Finally, the supply chain management has adopted innovations to streamline operations and reduce their overall impact. Transport management systems (TMS) are now used to improve fleet management. Startup Hiboo, as part of the 2020 Catalyst program  at Léonard, is helping improve the global use of equipment based on usage data. The stakes are so high that the Arts et Métiers ParisTech Engineering Institute is setting up a dedicated unit of expertise called “Energy efficiency for the factory of the future”.


Available technologies vs slow development

The technologies mentioned are yet to be scaled up. McKinsey refers to the inability of manufacturers to apply the principles of Industry 4.0 on a large scale as “pilot project purgatory”. Added to this is a focus on productivity and cost reduction, which still takes priority over the environment. Despite general awareness and available solutions, only 13% of managers believe they can “significantly” reduce their carbon emissions in the next 5 years, according to a BPIfrance study.

The road to carbon neutrality could be the key to an operating license for manufacturers, faced with increasingly strict regulations and rising carbon taxes, as seen in Sweden, with the highest tax in the world at €114 per ton . BCG lists companies that have achieved profitable decarbonisation as a source of inspiration. Bentley has reduced the energy consumption in its factories by 14% with an optimising system  for its compressed-air plants. In Sweden, Coca-Cola’s use of recyclable pallets could reduce costs by $700 million and reduce waste by 25%. Tata Steel’s use of artificial intelligence to heat raw iron ore has saved the company an annual 50M€. These companies show that reindustrialisation is compatible with today’s environmental challenges.

This article was published as part of the December 2021 Leonard newsletter: “Reindustrialisation: industrial renaissance ahead? » Find this newsletter in its entirety here and subscribe to receive future ones by following this link.



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