European manufacturing must be sustainable in order remain competitive; energy efficiency is a key requirement of the factory of the future. Today, European research is underway into technologies that will make this a reality.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Industry remains one of the largest consumers of energy and industry continues to contribute significantly to CO2. Politically and commercially, energy security, the efficient use of energy and overall sustainability will continue be increasing priorities. The European Union's 'Europe 2020' strategy clearly identifies the need for a 20% increase in energy efficiency while the European Commission's proposed 'Horizon 2020' framework programme singles out energy efficiency as a societal challenge as well as a component of its 'Industrial Leadership' pillar. Future manufacturers will have to make the greatest use of available energy in order to remain competitive and sustainable.
At present industry is proactively working towards reducing its consumption of energy, resources and its CO2 output. This is being achieved by research and innovation in many elements of manufacturing, and energy efficient technologies are a central focus of this.
Industry recognises the need for the creation of new eco-factory models with a greater emphasis on research into new technologies to increase high efficiency and near-to-zero emissions in manufacturing processes, alternatives to energy-intensive processes based on advanced production and manufacturing systems, improved use of renewable resources at factory level and production using environmentally-neutral materials.
Of course the challenge of energy efficiency is about more than, for example, reducing the amount of power consumed by a manufacturing unit. It is also concerned with the use of energy in every aspect of manufacturing such as mechatronic technologies and requires short-term and long-term system planning. A holistic effort with solutions that use more than one technology, where innovations in particular technologies each play a role in a more sustainable use of energy which in turns allows for a more energy efficient factory.
From a mechatronic perspective, the factory of the future will use control technologies that exploit increasing computational power and intelligence in order to meet the needs of increased speed and precision in manufacturing, such advanced control technologies will allow for strategies that facilitate the use of lighter actuators and structural elements for obtaining very rigid and accurate solution, replacing more energy intensive approaches. Energy efficient technologies that are gaining increasing importance in an evolving vision of technology within factories of the future include 'super'-capacitors, pneumatic storage devices, batteries and energy harvesting technologies.
At present, practical research, either concerned solely with or incorporating energy efficiency, is being undertaken in all aspects of manufacturing from overall planning to individual components. Examples of such research can be found in European research projects such as the Energy Efficient Process Planning System (ENEPLAN) project and the Eco-Manufactured Transportation Means for Clean and Competitive Factories (EMC2 FACTORY).
ENEPLAN is based on the importance of energy efficiency in production. The project is exploring the development of manufacturing systems that will be highly flexible, and, at the same time, closely adapted to the single product. The project ultimately intends to deliver a manufacturing planning decision support tool for the optimization of the plant operation that will be able to be used from the conceptual phase of the product to the final dispatch of the product to the customer, at all times incorporating the need for the efficient use of energy.
EMC2 FACTORY is developing a radically new paradigm for cost-effective, highly productive, energy-efficient and sustainable production systems.
This successful FP-7 supported initiative represents a € 1.2 billion investment by the EU into research and innovation in production technologies; it was launched in order to have a direct economic impact on innovation and research in manufacturing.
The aim of this initiative is not only to promote such research and innovation but to use this to develop technologies that will keep European industry of every size sustainable and competitive which in turn will reduce industry's environmental impact, energy use and secure high skilled jobs that might otherwise be lost to other developed and developing economies.
The 'Factories of the Future' PPP continues to prove to be a successful model of encouraging co-operation between industry, SME's and research organisations. The active involvement of key companies such as Siemens, Daimler, SAP and key research organisations such as Fraunhofer, Tecnalia and INESC Porto.
The success of factories in the future will depend on the actions taken now. These actions are centred on the research and innovation currently being undertaken across Europe.
by Patrick Kennedy, European Factories of the Future Research Association