Building a Sustainable Product Lifecycle with IoT
Read to learn how the Internet of Things can help make the product lifecycle more sustainable, from sourcing to waste management.
Sustainability has become a key success metric in today's increasingly climate-conscious world. As the effects of environmental degradation take hold, consumers are becoming more aware of the need to purchase products that do as little harm to the planet as possible.
The growing demand for sustainable products has pressured manufacturers to move from linear to circular product life cycles. Fortunately, modern technologies like the Internet of Things give them the tools they need to meet the challenge.
Today's post looks into how IoT can help make each stage of the product lifecycle - from sourcing raw materials to collecting waste after the product has reached the end of its life - more sustainable.
What is product lifecycle?
The product lifecycle is the journey a product takes before, during, and after it fulfills its purpose. It comprises five primary stages;
- Raw material sourcing
- Manufacturing and design
- Waste management
Traditionally, these stages occur linearly, where companies source raw materials to create products that eventually become unusable waste. However, recent developments in technology and sustainability thinking have resulted in a more circular approach to the product lifecycle.
In the circular model, companies utilize sustainable raw materials and practices to create products for maximum recyclability. As a result, the product lifecycle transforms into a continuous loop, with waste a valuable resource for new products.
Using IoT to create a sustainable product lifecycle
The Internet of Things can play a vital role in creating sustainable product life cycles. With connected devices that provide real-time data across the supply chain, businesses can optimize their processes to use resources more efficiently.
Let's see how IoT can make each stage of the product life cycle more sustainable.
1. Raw material sourcing
All physical products in-store today comprise raw materials sourced through different supply chains. More often than not, retrieving and transporting these materials wastes significant resources and leaves an extensive carbon footprint.
For example, agricultural practices like monoculture farming and deforestation lead to soil erosion and biodiversity loss and decrease the quality and quantity of available raw materials.
IoT can help reduce the waste associated with raw material sourcing in some noteworthy ways.
- Using IoT to track the location of resources can enable businesses to optimize their transportation routes and minimize fuel consumption.
- With real-time data on the condition of raw materials, suppliers can reduce the need for excessive conditioning or processing. For instance, farmers using IoT for real-time crop moisture monitoring can adjust their irrigation systems accordingly to save water.
- IoT-based inventory management solutions like bar-code scanners and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags can help businesses avoid raw material wastage due to overstocking or expirations.
Manufacturing companies have made commendable progress in reducing their environmental impact in recent years. However, a substantial scope for improvement still exists.
For instance, many businesses continue to use harmful chemicals and energy-intensive processes that release greenhouse gases and pollute water bodies. Moreover, the growing trend of planned obsolescence - where products are designed to break down after a certain period - creates mountains of e-waste that are difficult to recycle.
IoT can help overcome many of these challenges and make manufacturing more sustainable. For example;
- Including sensors in products can enable manufacturers to track their condition and predict when they will need repair or replacement. With this data, they can create more effective maintenance schedules that prolong product lifespan.
- IoT-enabled machines can communicate with each other to optimize production processes and achieve higher levels of accuracy. As a result, factories can minimize wastage along production lines and avoid resource-intensive rework.
- IoT can help manufacturers design products that are easier to recycle. For instance, with sensors and software, businesses can track the materials used in each product and create a database of recycling instructions..
Wastage is rife in modern-day supply chains. Poorly planned transportation routes, inefficient warehousing, and damage during transit lead to significant losses. For example, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 30-40% of the total food produced globally is lost before it reaches the market. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 26 million tons of cargo are damaged during shipping every year.
IoT can play a vital role in creating sustainable distribution lines. For instance;
- Sensors can track products throughout the supply chain and identify potential issues early. This information can help businesses plan transportation routes more effectively and avoid delays.
- Using IoT devices to monitor environmental conditions like temperature and humidity can help companies reduce the risk of damage to perishable goods.
- In the event of loss or damage, businesses can use IoT to locate and retrieve products faster and more efficiently. For instance, GPS-enabled devices can track a missing shipment and minimize losses.
The way products are used after they are sold also has a significant impact on their sustainability. For instance, devices left on standby can consume large amounts of energy and shorten their lifespan. Meanwhile, a refrigerator that is not adequately cleaned and maintained experiences at least an 8% drop in efficiency year on year.
Incorporating IoT into products can help optimize their usage and reduce the environmental impact in several impactful ways.
- Connecting products like home appliances and personal electronics to the internet can help users track their condition and receive timely alerts about potential issues. With this information, they can make proper repair, replacement, and upkeep decisions.
- IoT can collect valuable customer usage data, which manufacturers can utilize to optimize designs and improve the sustainability of future product generations.
- Connecting devices to the internet can enable firms to track their products' post-sale condition and provide timely maintenance. As a result, they can keep working for longer, reducing waste.
When a product has reached the end of its useful life, it becomes a waste. Disposing this waste in an environmentally responsible manner is critical to sustainable production. Unfortunately, many businesses still resort to landfill disposal, which leaches harmful toxins into the ground and contaminates water supplies.
For instance, recent studies indicate that only 5-6% of U.S. plastic waste is recycled annually. Moreover, although glass can be infinitely recycled, just a third of the waste ends up in recycling plants.
IoT can help businesses manage waste more sustainably and close the product loop.
- Sensors can track the location and condition of waste throughout the disposal process. This information can help businesses optimize their waste management operations and reduce costs.
- IoT can help monitor environmental conditions in landfills and identify potential risks. For example, if sensors detect a build-up of methane gas, they can trigger an alarm to warn nearby communities.
- Businesses can use IoT to locate obsolete products and facilitate recycling. For instance, a failed refrigerator with an embedded sensor can send its location to the manufacturer, who will dispatch a collection team.
Invest in IoT to transform your product lifecycle
As climate change continues ravaging the planet, businesses must look for ways to reduce their environmental impact. By rethinking how they create, distribute, sell, dispose, and repurpose products, manufacturing companies can reinforce their commitment to sustainability and protect the planet for future generations.
The Internet of Things has immense potential to drive sustainability across the entire product cycle. Investing in IoT today can help your business extensively reduce its environmental footprint.