Sustainability In The Supply Chain: Manufacturers Set Their Sights On Zero Waste

Hala Zeine

Unbearable heat is sadly becoming the new norm. In fact, I heard that this year is slated to become the fourth-hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What years does it trail? 2017, 2016, and 2015. That’s right: The last four years have been the hottest ever.

As a mother, I’m concerned about how global warming and climate change will impact my children – not to mention their children’s children. But on the positive side, my role as a supply chain professional gives me the opportunity to do something about it.

One way I’m trying to help is by dedicating myself to increasing supply chain sustainability. Specifically, I’m focused on assisting manufacturers to meet their zero-waste goals – and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – using innovative technology.

What you produce: Optimizing inventory by creating only what you need

Manufacturers want every one of their products to end up in a customer’s hands. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen. Unwanted and unused products often find their final resting places at the bottom of some landfill. We all know that the balance between inventory and demand is a delicate one, too little inventory and revenue goes down as we cannot fulfill demand, too much inventory and we just used too much resource to keep the factory running, too much oil for transport and too much material to manufacture all going to waste. The more precisely and intelligently we can figure out the match between demand sensing and production, the more we can help customers cover demand and revenue goals while still reducing the impact to the environment.

An integrated business planning solution can help your manufacturer really reduce or even eliminate overproduction and standing inventory.

What is great is that when your company can more accurately forecast customer demand, it can stop overproducing goods.

If your business manufactures dairy products, you can analyze historical data, point-of-sale information, purchasing patterns, and other data points to determine how many blocks of cheese or packages of yogurt you need to produce.

The last thing you want is your items to expire in a warehouse or on a grocery store shelf. By adding demand sensing capabilities to your operations, you can better understand how many products you can actually sell, where, and how quickly you can sell them.

What other methods can your manufacturer use to optimize inventory? 3D printing is a great new option.

Rather than cranking out a surplus of mass-produced goods, 3D printing allows your business to execute short runs of personalized products on demand.

As a sneaker manufacturer, you can make 100,000 pairs of shoes using your traditional assembly-line production equipment. Then, without a hitch, you can leverage your 3D printer to produce a single pair of sneakers with a thicker sole and a customer’s initials on the tongue.

How you produce: Developing goods responsibly with minimal materials

The materials manufacturers use to create their products are extremely important. In addition to ensuring your raw materials are ethically sourced, it’s vital to understand the precise amount you need to make your products.

By leveraging the power of a connected network and an integrated business planning solution, you can do both.

A shared business network – using groundbreaking blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) technology – allows manufacturers and suppliers to collaborate in real time. Say you’re a clothing manufacturer. With a connected network, you can gain an in-the-moment view of where your materials come from. This enables you to confirm your supplier is providing you with only organically grown cotton.

An integrated business planning solution provides your company with insight into customer demand. Imagine you’re an automotive manufacturer. With demand sensing capabilities, you can accurately determine how many cars you’ll need to build throughout the year. And you’ll know precisely how much aluminum you require to do it.

Other new technologies introduced in the supply chain can also reduce waste. Take, for example, additive manufacturing – or 3D printing. This has the potential to reduce waste as spare parts can be printed when needed removing the need to hold spare parts inventory

Suppose you’re a toy manufacturer. Each action figure you make requires 275 grams of plastic. In your current manufacturing processes, you routinely start with 300 grams – and 25 go to waste. With 3D printing, you can build your action figure using exactly 275 grams of plastic, not a bit more. In addition, the materials used in 3D printing tend to be lighter and therefore use less gas during transport.

When to start: Protecting our planet should be a priority

Reducing waste is unquestionably good for your business. Using fewer raw materials to manufacture your products and optimizing inventory can help your company cut costs and increase profit margins.

But more importantly, it’s great for the environment.

Earth is home to more than seven billion people – and we all must play a role in protecting our planet and making it a better place to live for ourselves and future generations.

Setting a zero-waste goal is a step in the right direction. And by leveraging the power of 3D printing, blockchain, IoT, and other innovative technologies to reduce waste, your enterprise can begin conserving precious natural resources, minimizing pollution, and doing its part to create a happier, healthier planet.

Planning your supply chain is critical to reducing waste, read more on IDC’s view of how to put “Digital Business planning at the heart of supply chain transformation.” Register now!


Hala Zeine

About Hala Zeine

Hala Zeine is the President of Digital Supply Chain at SAP. She is responsible for running a global Line of Business (LoB), comprising of development, and go-to-market for SAP. Hala has extensive expertise of IT industry, technology and the supply chain business and is passionate about making a real difference in solving customer’s business problems and helping them to implement digital solutions that enhance and support their mission critical business processes.