How to manage Challenges of Sustainable Manufacturing through PLM

When you look at all classical definitions of Product lifecycle management, you’ll find the word “recycling” at the fag end of a typical value-chain description. It is almost added as an afterthought. And you can bet your bottom dollar that recycling isn’t really top-of-mind when a product is in the conceptualization workbenches.

But the grisly fact staring at Manufacturing in the face is the huge ecological cost involved in production of any good.

While it is tempting to look at the high energy consumption industries of automobiles and aviation and blame them for most environmental ills, we know that the damage is way more widespread and is present in practically every object that is manufactured in a factory setting.

Take for example a simple fleece jacket. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company well-known for its pioneering effort in reuse and recycling, calculated the ecological cost of one of its best-selling jackets, the R2 Jacket. The manufacturing of it consumed 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs of 45 people. The journey of it to their warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the jacket itself. The jacket left behind two-thirds of its weight in waste. And this is a recycled jacket – 60% of it is recycled polyester!

You can only imagine the environmental cost of producing a car.

The good thing, however, is that there are more companies like Patagonia who take the reduction of the carbon footprint of their manufactured goods very seriously. Car manufacturers like BMW are focusing on more responsible usage of cars by investing in shared use Aircraft manufacturers have worked with airlines to enable aircraft to fly using reused cooking oil And so on.

The rise of sustainable manufacturing and responsible consumption is spurred by both legislation by various governments and global agencies as well as by large manufacturers’ own independent initiatives. Either way, it is here to stay and will find an increasing importance in the years to come.

Recycling may not be an “add-on” to a product’s life cycle, but could very well be the center of it. Products will be conceptualized and manufactured for long-term use, post-use refurbishment and reuse, multi-owner or shared use and so on. It is vital for PLM practitioners to recognize this trend early and be ahead of the curve.

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