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March 5, 2024

Many have heard the 1972 song by Billy Preston called Will It Go Round in Circles?

It was a catchy tune, but if you listen to the words, you realize the singer had no idea if his suggestions would work or “go round in circles.”

Others have wondered the same thing about a more recent trend called the circular economy. Since its conception, most have considered the concept aspirational rather than reality-based.

But with the digital revolution and the advancement of the technologies that make up Industry 4.0, it may be time to look at the concept and see if a circular economy can go around in circles.

What Is the Circular Economy?

The concept of a circular economy centers around creating efficient, regenerative, or restorative products and processes in manufacturing. It focuses on how the production system can be changed and managed to create products that hold value and can be reused, recycled, or repurposed entirely at the end of their lifecycle.

The concept grew out of the push for sustainability and encompasses a whole system approach to production. However, traditional business models in manufacturing were overly manual, inherently wasteful, and needed more data processing capabilities to make them a reality.

But today, new technologies are building a digital foundation that makes the possibility of a circular economy more of a “when” than an “if.”

Using a Digital Foundation to Set the Stage

The key to creating true circularity lies in putting together complex processes and elements of doing business under one digital roof. Because real-time data and advanced analytics can manage enormous data sets and deliver automation and efficiency above anything human management could, critical elements of a circular economic foundation are tied together.

Here is a quick look at the components of a circular economy that a digital foundation brings together in one ecosystem.

Sustainability

Sustainability has moved front and center in manufacturing in recent years. However, sustainability in manufacturing is more than just using recycled materials. It extends to sourcing sustainably produced raw materials, advanced strategies for the purpose and use of scrap and waste, and even designing products purposed for reuse or recycling.

Sustainability also includes energy use and energy sourcing, with many companies gravitating toward alternative energy, microgrids, and other advancements. Because this wide range of sustainable initiatives impacts supply chain management, business processes, physical plants, and other functional areas, it can only be tracked and managed through big data analytics software and platforms.

Operational Efficiency

With analytics, insights from manufacturing data can be used to implement advanced automation and optimize production processes. This also extends from the production floor at the machine level to the monitoring of energy requirements and other resource management.

The digital thread in manufacturing uncovers trends and patterns that help companies produce more efficiently and with better resource utilization.

Quality

With advanced automation and production monitoring, quality can be significantly improved. But in a circular economy, product design is taken a step further, ensuring that quality is extended, and the end of a product’s lifecycle is considered. This may be as simple as ensuring that all components are recyclable. Or it may mean designing products for refurbishment or conversion to other uses.

Advanced digital tools like digital twins help designers simulate product performance without costly and wasteful R&D iteration. It also helps them build sustainability into the product from the start, eliminating uncertainty about how it will be returned to the resource stream.

Supply Chain

Supply chain management has traditionally been opaque at best. A digital foundation helps ensure complete visibility of the supply chain. With a circular economy requiring sustainably produced raw materials, energy, and other components, this level of visibility can only be achieved with advanced supply planning software.

The software allows planners to optimize shipping and logistics using RFID, sensors, fleet management tracking, and other technology to intricately trace raw materials and ensure they meet the exacting standards required.

Advanced supply chain software from Plex DemandCaster helps forecast demand with high levels of accuracy so that inventory is well-spent and sufficient, providing the foundation for managing circularly produced products.

Unlock the Circle in Manufacturing

A circular economy was unthinkable a few short years ago. But with the power of big data analytics and other technology from within the Industry 4.0 ecosystem, it is reaching the point of reality. Plex DemandCaster offers a suite of solutions to help you build the digital foundation to leverage closed-loop production that is responsible, sustainable, and profitable.

Contact us to learn how our solutions will help your product go around in circles.

About the Author

Plex DemandCaster Supply Chain Planning

Plex DemandCaster