Modular production makes sustainability affordable
By splitting the production line into modules, companies can become sustainable in a more affordable way. Circular production based on reusing old components requires a flexible production chain. This is the way towards a sustainable future, says Associate Professor Thomas Ditlev Brunø from the Department of Materials and Production at Aalborg University.
Circular economy and circular production are key words when it comes to creating a sustainable society in the future. Basically, the words mean that companies must improve their ability to recycle used or worn-out products to create new ones. Not by spending precious resources smelting them or churning them into a pulp to reuse raw materials, but by putting still usable parts back into new products once more. This way, the carbon footprint becomes even smaller.
However, this demands a flexible production chain as it is no simple task to reintroduce an older, used component into a modern, highly efficient production line, says Associate Professor Thomas Ditlev Brunø.
Along with his colleagues he conducts research in how to create so-called reconfigurable production; production chains made up of exchangeable modules, making the system more flexible. Particularly in relation to the circular manufacturing method ‘remanufacturing’. This is where companies take back used products from the market, take them apart and reuse single components as parts in new products.
One of the solutions according to Thomas Ditlev Brunø is to establish a modular production chain. This enables the possibility of exchanging modules that produce or fit new components with modules that renovate used components and fit them into the product. That makes it possible to maintain a single, flexible production line instead of several parallel ones. As a result, the investment in circular production is reduced drastically.
To do so, the production processes ned to be analysed in order to identify the production steps that has to change to allow used components to be added. It is equally important to change as little as possible to accommodate the production tweaks, so that companies can reuse as much as possible of their original production system, says Thomas Ditlev Brunø.
- There is a close relation between the way a product is designed and the way the production line is designed. Through our research we can point to how design changes will influence the production system, he explains.
So far, Thomas Ditlev Brunø and his colleagues have conducted research into how companies can apply reconfigurable production systems to become more sustainable and circular. But the experiences they have made can be used to design the energy systems of the future, says Thomas Ditlev Brunø.