Sustainability is set to be a big topic for our next cohort as it is one of the two challenge areas set by the team – the other, if you need a reminder, is digital reality.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that sustainability is high on the agenda. One fifth of the world’s carbon emissions come from manufacturing and production sectors and they use 54% of the world’s energy resources according to The World Economic Forum. Manufacturing is under even more pressure than most other industries to innovate more sustainable practices.

This innovation could have a big impact – the European Commission suggests the product design phase impacts for more than 80% of a product’s environmental impact. Companies big and small are activating to make a difference.

“Significant change is afoot (in manufacturing) and it necessitates bigger thinking. Those unprepared may find themselves being left behind,’ wrote Deloitte in a 2021 report titled “Sustainable Manufacturing: From Vision to Action.”

Eva Carranza, head of sustainability, Hexagon agrees. “We are at a turning point in humanity because there is more awareness of the actual impact we have had on our planet. We are at that moment where we either act now or it will be too late.”

Manufacturers have a range of areas they can target to improve sustainability. From resource consumption in prototyping, improved manufacturing, reduced energy use and waste created over product lifetimes, ensure durability, reusability, recycling and end of lifecycle. There’s so much to tackle.

The role of start-ups

“We must not only innovate our own processes but enable through our solutions that our customers produce more sustainably,” says Eva. “Start-ups can play a big role in this. Through programmes like Sixth Sense we have a further opportunity to further expose ourselves to new ideas and needs. This expands our thinking and could help us co-create specific features swiftly. We can also help these companies in their early stages to define and deliver on their sustainability missions.”

This mission, for Eva, and one of the big things she expects to see from start-ups, is around improving utilisation. “Using data and AI to help us to understand the most efficient way to get things done is key. This is especially powerful in manufacturing where every 1% can mean millions of tons of CO2 emissions avoided or materials that don’t need to be extracted from the planet.”

This goes hand-in-hand with dematerialisation – another theme she wants and expects to see coming up. This involves either using recycled materials, creating the ability to use parts again or ensuring they can be recycled. “It’s moving towards a more circular economy and involves starting any design process already thinking about the end of the lifecycle – which is not something we’re used to doing – manufacturers are currently preoccupied with what customers will do with something now, not ten years down the line. This shift, to a whole system thinking, can be accelerated with new technologies.”

Inspiration for a future we can see

Eva is excited to see what our cohort will bring to the table. The industry is pushing hard to find new solutions to this sizable problem. One example of this that impressed her recently was in the automotive industry. “I’ve seen leading manufacturing companies committed to no longer creating physical prototypes” she explains. “Imagine if everyone could do the same. If you’re going all of the way through the product development process only on digital prototypes, you have to be extremely sure that your simulations and modelling works perfectly, and you trust that digital ecosystem. But if companies can manage that, there are almost no limits to the sustainability improvements a company could make by using the Smart Digital Reality.”

Our cohort will be revealed on Selection Day 20 September 2023