How sustainable cloud computing can supercharge your manufacturing goals

By optimising processes, increasing visibility and enhancing collaboration, cloud computing can help manufacturers reduce their environmental impact while improving operational efficiency.

Cloud computing refers to the delivery and use of IT services, such as storage, processing power and software applications, over the Internet. It leverages remote servers and networks, rather than relying on local servers or devices, allowing users to access data and applications from anywhere, anytime, using any internet-connected device. The business advantages of cloud computing are numerous. It offers scalability, flexibility and cost efficiency while also enhancing productivity, collaboration and security. 

As a result, more and more manufacturers are migrating their enterprise applications and even entire IT infrastructure to the cloud. Common industrial use cases include cloud-based:  

While the positive impact of cloud computing on productivity and profitability is widely recognised, there is less awareness regarding how cloud-based tools can propel sustainable manufacturing initiatives to new heights.

Manufacturing production has transformed in recent times as industrial businesses evolve into digitally-connected, tech-enabled operations. Such a move brings a wealth of opportunities to drive productivity improvements, cost-savings, market differentiation, customer insights and new revenue streams. The challenge for businesses lies in how best to harness the disruptive force of these technologies and translate it into a competitive advantage. In our Smart Factory of the Future series, we cover the five key areas that help the manufacturing industry drive down production costs while driving market productivity levels and competitiveness.

Sustainable cloud computing can bring improvement in the following business areas:

Real-time insights

A key benefit of cloud computing is its ability to capture, store and analyse vast amounts of data in real-time. Access to accurate and up-to-date information is crucial for driving sustainability improvements. 

Establishing an environmental baseline is essential for setting meaningful targets, identifying hotspots, prioritising areas for improvement and measuring progress. However, this involves calculating numerous factors, such as energy consumption, water usage, raw material sourcing, equipment utilisation, chemical management, packaging and distribution. Gathering such a vast amount of information can be daunting. Thankfully, the power of the cloud simplifies this task.

Cloud computing provides the infrastructure, data management capabilities and analytical tools to collect, store and scrutinise vast amounts of data. It transforms information from sensors, equipment, production systems and other data sources into actionable insights, enabling manufacturersing to make more informed decisions. 

Cloud-based real-time monitoring and predictive analytics can optimise production processes, minimising energy use and maximising resource efficiency. Production stoppages, anomalies and areas of concern can be quickly spotted and proactively addressed. Ultimately, this translates into reduced downtime and operational costs and a smaller environmental footprint. Take Grupo Bimbo, a Mexican multinational food company with a presence in more than 30 countries.

To help achieve its ambitious sustainability goals, Grupo Bimbo turned to Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, a comprehensive solution for automated sustainability management built on trusted Microsoft technologies including Microsoft Azure, Dataverse, Power BI and Microsoft Power Platform. Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability helps Grupo Bimbo streamline data collection, integration, analysis, and reporting and provides the single view of its progress that the company was seeking.

With connectivity to its data sources established and automated, Grupo Bimbo can spend less time collecting and managing data and more time using that data to understand the company’s environmental footprint and make choices that help the company meet or beat its sustainability goals.

Simplified Data Management

Managing large volumes of data from different sources is especially valuable for reporting. Sustainability-related assessments, such as for Scope 3 emissions, are becoming more detailed and time-consuming.

Scope 3 emissions refer to the indirect emissions generated throughout a manufacturer’s value chain. These include those from activities like raw material extraction, processing and transportation through to end-of-life processes such as recycling or incineration.

These emissions typically account for the bulk of an organisation’s total emissions, sometimes as high as 70% for those with complex supply chains like automotive manufacturers. While this means small reductions can have substantial environmental benefits, these emissions are the hardest to quantify and capture.

Cloud computing platforms offer a centralised infrastructure that simplifies data collection and management from disparate sources such as suppliers, customers and distribution partners. This streamlines the process and ensures accurate and comprehensive reporting.

Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, for example, offers advanced reporting capabilities to help companies better manage and prepare their data for analysis and ultimately accelerate their progress toward achieving sustainability goals.

The solution provides more than 400 tables covering carbon, water, waste, social, governance, biodiversity and general business areas, enabling organisations to gather and transform data from across business units and supply chains into a standard format that’s ready for advanced analytics and reporting.

Designing low-impact products

Sustainable cloud computing plays a pivotal role in driving sustainable product design and conducting comprehensive life cycle analysis. By harnessing the power of cloud-based design and simulation tools, manufacturers can optimise various aspects of their products, including performance, material usage and energy efficiency, right from the design phase.

Using digital models and simulating real-world scenarios, companies can identify flaws and improve designs without the need for physical prototypes. Being able to make informed decisions regarding material selection, manufacturing processes and energy consumption results in more sustainable products. 

Cloud computing also provides crucial support for life cycle assessments, allowing manufacturers to comprehensively evaluate the environmental impact of their products from ‘cradle to grave.’ 

By accessing and analysing vast amounts of data on energy consumption, emissions and waste generation associated with each stage of a product’s lifecycle, manufacturers can understand environmental hotspots and prioritise their sustainability efforts accordingly. 

Cloud-based platforms often integrate with databases and software systems that provide valuable information on material properties, regulatory compliance and environmental standards. This further streamlines the lifecycle analysis process and improves accuracy by leveraging up-to-date and reliable data sources. 

Also, manufacturers can rely on standardised reporting formats and recognised sustainability frameworks, making it easier to communicate the environmental impact of their products to stakeholders and consumers.

Sustainable supply chains

Sustainable manufacturing extends beyond the factory walls. It encompasses the entire value chain, from raw material sourcing to product distribution and recovery. Cloud computing enables seamless collaboration between manufacturers, suppliers, logistics partners and sellers, fostering transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain. 

Cloud-based supply chain management platforms offer real-time visibility into inventory levels, demand patterns and distribution networks. With access to this information, manufacturers can identify opportunities to optimise production volumes, streamline transport routes, consolidate shipments, reduce unnecessary travel and minimise their environmental impact. 

By analysing real-time data on consumer preferences, market trends and other external factors, manufacturers can adapt their production and distribution strategies accordingly. This agility allows businesses to optimise inventory levels, reduce waste and prevent overproduction, resulting in more sustainable and efficient supply chains. 

Cloud collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams make it easy for manufacturers to communicate and coordinate activities with suppliers, distributors and customers. Sharing environmental goals and metrics helps ensure sustainable practices are aligned throughout the value chain, with all stakeholders actively working towards shared environmental objectives. 

Additionally, cloud-based systems enhance traceability by enabling manufacturers to track and monitor the sustainability performance of suppliers. 

By integrating sustainability metrics into supplier evaluations and audits, manufacturers can assess and incentive sustainable practices throughout their supplier network. This promotes responsible sourcing and encourages suppliers to embed sustainability within their operations. 

Green data centres

As manufacturers strive to reduce their environmental impact, one area they should focus on is their IT infrastructure. The Microsoft Azure cloud platform, for example, can be up to 93% more energy efficient and up to 98% more carbon efficient than traditional on-premise solutions.  

Cloud service providers operate large-scale data centres designed to maximise energy efficiency. Facilities are equipped with high-density servers, advanced cooling systems, power management techniques, renewable energy sources and optimised hardware configurations. 

By maximising the efficiency of computing resources, energy consumption is significantly reduced compared to individual on-premise setups where resources often remain underutilised.

Dynamic resource allocation is another way cloud computing enhances energy and carbon efficiencies. Manufacturers can scale their computing resources up and down based on their precise needs at any given time. This flexibility eliminates overprovisioning, a common practice in on-premise environments to handle peak workloads. 

With resource optimisation, energy-efficient infrastructure, renewable energy integration, dynamic resource allocation and strategic data centre design, the cloud offers unparalleled environmental advantages. 

By adopting cloud solutions, manufacturers can supercharge their sustainable transformation, reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a greener future while reaping the benefits of a flexible, scalable and powerful IT infrastructure.

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