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Manufacturing – The News: From Greenwashing to Micro-Factories

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From the hopeful demise of greenwashing to the promising birth of micro-factories… Augury listens to machines. But we also listen to the world. This helps us to better know our place in making it a better place. Here’s a round-up of some of the manufacturing-related press from the last month that caught our eye – and why it mattered. 

The Wobbly Road To Driving Change

Looking at the news of June, much of it seems to confront the big news of May: ‘“Powerful Signal”: In A Single Day, Big Oil Suffers Historic Blows on Climate’. Meanwhile, more such lawsuits are reaching the courts.

Meanwhile, scientists are claiming they can now directly link actions taken by individual companies with subsequent global climate change. In addition, more non-fringe voices are arguing that capitalism needs a reset: so that success is no longer defined purely by profit and growth, but also by social and environmental metrics. Others continue to warn us that some ‘solutions’ turn out to create as much CO2 as their fossil fuel equivalents.

Certainly, mitigating climate change requires many different innovations that involve the individual and collaborative efforts of academia, the business world and policymakers. Together, we can drive change.

Away From “So-So” Technologies

“For one of the most distinguished critics of automation, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu has been, ironically, cranking out research on the subject lately like he’s a machine,” according to ‘A New Way to Understand Automation’.

And yes, his research shows a clear net loss of jobs from automation in the US. Of course, automation has many benefits, but these seem to be decreasing over the last decades. Part of the problem, according to Acemoglu, is how much of the automation being implemented today is “so-so”. Namely, these actions are not actually leading to increased productivity. Think: self-checkout kiosks at supermarkets that only just lead to increased frustration.

“Businesses are using machines to kill jobs without generating significantly lower production costs, he says, while also imposing all the costs on society that comes with greater unemployment and lower wages.” In short, we must get smarter about automation.

“Last year, Acemolgu testified before Congress and urged them to reform the tax code, invest more in R&D, and play a bigger role in directing the future of technology.”

The Right To Repair

“The UK government recently announced legislation aimed at tackling premature obsolescence. Expected to come into force from this summer, the new rules will mean manufacturers of white goods will need to build spare parts so products can be easily repaired,” according to ‘Ending Planned Obsolescence Is A “Brilliant Opportunity” For Designers’.

The lifespan of goods is expected to increase by up to a decade by these measures.

“To ensure compliance, consumer goods manufacturers will need to invest in expertise across a range of disciplines; from product design to supply chains, retail and branding.”

Of course, many brands are already ahead of the game. “Dutch company, Fairphone, for example, produces modular mobiles that can be easily repaired and updated. Rather than having to buy a new smartphone every two years – contributing to the UK’s 1.45 million tons of annual electrical waste – Fairphone owners can simply upgrade their existing handset.”

“Manufacturers of all types have a lot to learn from its modular approach.”

Enter: Arrival.

Re-Inventing The Wheel Factory

Arrival is taking a very modular approach as they develop an affordable commercial EV, according to ‘To Make a New Kind of Electric Vehicle, First Reinvent the Factory’. In fact, the company is approaching automotive not as a separate category but as “a device on wheels”.

“In the process, Arrival hopes to solve two of the great problems of car-making in the 21st century: how do we make electric vehicles that don’t create almost as much CO2 as their petrol equivalents? And how do we dismantle the massive assembly lines that define today’s automotive industry, along with the environmental and social issues they bring?”

For example, steel stamping and the painting are the two most costly, polluting and energy-intensive parts of automobile production. So why not replace these with pigment injected thermoplastics reinforced with glass fiber?

And what happens if you can’t afford the massive capital investment of setting up a massive factory? Why not make the factory modular as well?

“We’re offering an electric vehicle at a competitive price, but we’re also offering the chance to have factories in small cities that serve community needs,” says one of Arrival’s founders. “You can have a factory in a church hall if you only want a few vans a year. Post-industrialization moved factories around the world. This is bringing it back to communities. So it’s cheaper, the owner has more control and understanding, you can have factories in every city, there’s no supply chain… The old system isn’t working any more. It’s time we made a change.”

Buckle your seatbelts. It looks like we’re in for a ride.

Interested in reading ‘Manufacturing – The News, May 2021’?

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