The greatest challenge facing society is the preservation of our environment. In the UK, legal net zero commitments have already been made to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, with ambitions to make this happen by 2030. To deliver on this promise, everything we make will need to be completely re-imagined and re-engineered. Being able to accurately measure the carbon footprint of products and processes in the manufacturing environment, will be a vital step towards achieving a low carbon future.
But how do we quantify a carbon footprint? As with most digital technologies, the journey begins with data. The focus is on acquiring, analysing and accurately interpreting data on energy consumption and waste. By collecting and aggregating the data from sensors, the equivalent carbon footprint can be calculated in a straightforward way - and precisely allocated to individual projects and products to achieve traceability across the manufacture lifecycle.
As part of Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI), a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority, Digital Catapult has partnered with the National Composites Centre (NCC) to drive innovation in the design and manufacturing of composites using Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, developing software that uses cutting-edge technology to calculate carbon footprint more accurately. This has culminated in a successful proof of concept for an application called the ‘eco-meter’ – which measures the carbon footprint of products manufactured by the National Composites Centre (NCC).
Recently announcing a selection of research highlights from its first year in the Digital Now report, DETI is focused on helping companies to overcome the challenges to digitalising design and manufacturing processes. It identifies the technologies that drive innovation in developing sustainable products, systems, businesses, infrastructure and transport that underpin a net zero environment. Enabling the region with the necessary digital skills to achieve sustainability goals, it will also develop a comprehensive skills and workforce development programme to ensure the current and future workforce is digital-ready, inspiring future generations.
The eco-meter works by using sensors, and by streaming data on the equipment’s energy consumption and multiple process variables. It will enable the visualisation of carbon footprint data on an hour by hour basis, as well as providing retrospective data to enable decision-making and planning based on carbon footprint. Using the Automated Fibre Placement (AFP) machine, where continuous fibre tapes are precisely laid to manufacture multi-layered composite products such as parts of aircraft wings, allows the NCC to include carbon footprint analysis and estimation as part of their value proposition. In the future, it will enable the NCC to price jobs, choose to use the equipment differently and perhaps invest in different, more environmentally friendly equipment.
While only a proof of concept at this stage, there is a view to explore the provision of the eco-meter as a service to wider industry - aiding engineers and technicians in manufacturing businesses to make intelligent decisions and cut emissions across their programmes.
To discuss the project further and how it could help your business, you can get in touch with David Pugh, Manufacturing Markets Lead at Digital Catapult on [email protected]