Waste is a guaranteed byproduct of manufacturing, plain and simple – all of the optimization, all of the strategies to reduce manufacturing overhead cost, all of the lean manufacturing in the world isn’t going to completely eliminate waste. Thankfully, waste doesn’t need to be completely vilified. With the right techniques and a circular economy mindset, waste can even provide value to your business!

What exactly is a circular economy? How does it differ from the way manufacturing deals with waste currently? Most importantly, since Gartner predicts that in 10 years all linear economies will be completely replaced with these circular ones, how can simple additions to your supply chain such as the incorporation of industrial grade PCs fuel these initiatives for smarter waste management? 

What is Circular Economy?

The circular economy is the next stage in sustainability in manufacturing. In contrast to “linear economies” we see today that produce waste and simply dispose of it, the circular economy is one that, according to Gartner, “separates the ability to achieve economic growth from the consumption of natural resources.”

In more digestible terms, it is an economic model that promotes the continuous reuse of materials in order to minimize waste. But what does that look like in practice? 

Circular Economy Examples

Circular economy practices aren’t limited to a certain sector or vertical. The reuse of materials previously considered “waste” is something any industry can get behind. 

For automobile manufacturers such as Renault, batteries that fall below being able to carry 75% of their max capacity are often deemed unfit for use in a vehicle. However, the company realized that batteries with this level of energy capacity could still be repurposed for various uses that didn’t require as much energy such as solar energy storage for local schools.

The water treatment company Aquazone takes another approach, repurposing wastewater into fertilizer by biochemically removing solids and water from nutrients still found in the liquid.

 When asking how to promote circular economy practices, it’s important to understand that the answer to that question can look very different from industry to industry and even business to business within that industry. Adopting a circular economy mindset simply means challenging your views on what is truly “waste” that provides no value and what can be repurposed for innovative uses.

How to Promote Circular Economy Practices

On the topic of how to promote circular economy practices then, there are hundreds if not thousands of ways to reoptimize waste for different uses that could financially benefit your business. Because this kind of repurposing can be performed for all manner of different types of waste, your imagination is truly the only limiting factor. That said, there are a few common threads across several of these innovative applications that make up a basic foundation essential to any circular economy program. 

Communication Systems/Shared Digital Platforms 

When creating a circular economy, collaboration is key. There needs to be communication between you and the parts of your supply chain where waste is being produced. Furthermore, if you plan on partnering with other businesses who could use your waste product for their own ventures, naturally, communication with them will also be paramount. 

Manufacturing communication systems, thus, are a perfect solution thanks to their ability to link communication between these often disparate groups within a supply chain. Using these forms of software, collaboration can be promoted by giving employees and partners an easy to use apparatus for communication. Paired with hardware such as an industrial panel pc that can house data and live readings on waste as it’s being produced, team members can collaborate with peak efficiency and accuracy as to how much product is available for repurposing.

Raw Materials and Waste Tracking

Reliable inventory and asset management is also paramount in keeping a close eye on how much waste is being produced and, later on in your circular economy ventures, how much product is being created from that “waste.”

Tablets with RFID and barcode reading hardware built in can make tracking assets, products, and waste as simple as swiping materials across a scanner. With a real-time outlook on how much material is being used and discarded, manufacturers can receive a better idea of what waste is being produced and how much more value they can create by repurposing that waste. Furthermore, when you’ve decided on how you want to repurpose that waste, you can also use these devices and programs to track how much product is being produced from those “waste” resources. 

The goal of a circular economy is to repurpose materials until they are no longer of any value. By closely tracking production across all these levels as a piece of “waste” is turned into different products or used for different use cases, you can make good on that promise of a circular economy by guaranteeing the most value is squeezed out of every stage in your supply chain. 

Create a Value Stream Map

Lean manufacturing is a means of production that promotes the complete elimination (or extreme mitigation) of all waste. And while that may sound counterintuitive on the surface when we’re discussing how to use waste that is produced, lean manufacturing practices remain a pillar for those asking how to promote circular economy practices in their plants. 

The first thing any lean manufacturing program worth its salt will have you do is create what’s called a value stream map. These maps are created to give manufacturers a clear, concise picture as to how raw materials go from stage to stage of production up until the very moment they translate into financial gain for the company. Usually this is done so managers can eliminate any step in that process that doesn’t facilitate that transition into financial gain. 

With the circular economy approach, however, there’s a small tweak to be made. Instead of simply focusing on the product being created, you’ll want to keep a close eye on where waste is being produced, what kind of waste is being produced, and how much of it is being produced. This can all be done rather simply by investing in the scanning hardware and communication platforms we mentioned earlier. 

Once you know what kind of waste is being produced and how much of it you have on hand, your team can begin exploring innovative ways to repurpose the use of that waste, whether it be for the benefit of your own business or a more charitable benefit for other companies and communities.

The Circular Economy Benefits You, Others, And the Planet

Circular economy programs are widely accepted as the next step in manufacturing because, on paper, they’re a no-brainer. Previously junked materials that served no purpose to your business can begin improving your bottom line. For those who don’t have a use case that benefits their company specifically, they can make a difference in communities in much the same way as Renault and Aquazone have. And the best part is, regardless of which of these routes you take, you’re cutting down on waste produced by your plant and aiding in the global effort to mitigate pollution that could otherwise harm our planet and ecosystems. It’s a win, win, win. For more information on how you can start implementing industrial grade hardware to get a jump start on your circular economy programs, contact an expert from Cybernet today.