Posted by: Christian Verstraete | November 18, 2009

Using IT to make the Supply Chain Green

In one of my previous posts, I referred to the WWF report “The potential global CO2 reductions from ICT use”. Last week I had the opportunity to talk to one of my colleagues who collaborated with the WWF in this report, and we started a very interesting discussion on the use of IT to reduce companies’ effect on the environment.

IT consumes 2% of the world energy, and although it is important to reduce that one, there are the other 98% and according to the report, 37% comes directly or indirectly from the industry. Our topic of discussion turned around how we could use IT to help reduce this amount. There are three clear areas that we came up with, first, the manufacturing process itself, second transportation and third the use and recycling of the product.

I remembered a conversation a couple years ago where somebody told me a CPU chip would go two or three times around the world prior to being delivered as part of a computer at your doorstep. Frankly, is that really needed? Could we use simulation software to optimize the manufacturing process, ensuring that, while maintaining the lowest possible cost, we can reduce the CO2 emissions. To do this however, we would need information from the players in our Supply Chain to understand why things are done the way they are. We will probably realize that many of the situations are historically grown and that there is no real rational for them. We will encounter the “we’ve always done it that way” syndrome. Analysing things, understand what makes sense and what not, not only reduces the environmental impact but often also cost. So two reasons for taking the time to gather the data, analyse it and improve.

 Many of our factories are automated today, and they use MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) to understand and optimize their operations. But those systems do not take environmental concerns into account as they exist today. This is another area we should work on.

As part of research for a greener IT, HPLabs has focused on effective cooling methods for computers and racks. In doing so, they managed to reduce the energy usage by up to 40%.  Now, many manufacturing processes require to be cooled. Could some of the approaches developed by HPLabs being used for those processes? Although there is no clear answer today, it’s worth asking the question and looking at potential opportunities for piloting. Now, you may argue this has little to do with IT directly, and you are right. However, if it helps, that’s the most important isn’t it.

At HP we are using a design for the environment (DFE) approach in product development, identifying the actual implications of the product under development to the environment. Simulations during the process allow us to anticipate future consumption and other key data items. Here again, IT can help understand what is required to develop a loc carbon product.

I realize I have only scratched the surface here, but am looking at your inputs and ideas. This subject will be core and center in conversations between manufacturers in the near future, so let’s prepare ourselves.


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