Future of Material & Products

A sustainability mindset is challenging the norms for material and product innovation of the future. Manufacturers need to start addressing the root problems, not just solving symptoms.

By manipulating materials or developing bio-based ones, and designing machines and products that support and enable new ways of producing, manufacturers can set new norms for collaborating and overall ‘greener’ thinking.

Driven by the circular economy, we see an ongoing push from consumers and regulators to move towards more repairability as part of the (product) experience and a possibility to put remanufacturing at the centre of the circular economy. This will change how manufacturers design and plan their production processes now and in the future.

To go even further, along with an altering consumer mindset and growing support from some economists, the degrowth debate is accelerating. Jason Hickel, author of the book ‘​​Less is more, how degrowth will save the world’, clarifies that degrowth is not about reducing GDP, but rather about reducing [energy and resource] throughput. All of this is putting pressure on manufacturers to be more open to a radical paradigm shift. Or as mentioned by one of the interviewees:

“Manufacturing needs to shift to a degrowth mindset. With the existing mindset, even if we do it in a green way, manufacturing will not be sustainable.”

Remanufacturing Businesses are Relevant

Remanufacturing is “the rebuilding of a product to specifications of the original manufactured product using a combination of reused, repaired and new parts.”

The concept of remanufacturing is not new, but is gaining momentum. The European Remanufacturing Network has estimated that the remanufacturing industry could grow to €90 billion by 2030 and employ 255,000 people. Along with changing consumer expectations, especially of younger generations that demand different standards, it is up to manufacturers to take the remanufacturing opportunity seriously.

Remanufacturing is opening up possibilities for cost-effective innovation while complying with sustainability mandates and addressing customer expectations. The manufacturers that are pioneering and finding out how to be proactive by researching flexible remanufacturing models, reverse planning, sharing and accessing accurate data and developing their own industry-specific solutions, will be the ones who will stay relevant and lead in the future.

“What is remanufacturing? It’s not repaired, it’s not refurbished, it’s not pimped, it’s not resprayed. It’s not on EBay. It’s a product that has gone through a manufacturing process, a remanufacturing process. I manufacture it, I make losses. I remanufacture it, I break even. Then I start making money. That’s the business model”

David Peck, TU Delft

Manipulating Materials & Machines

Successful material innovation goes hand in hand with developing the machines for it.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence are more frequently used in material research and in the creation and design of newer and better materials. It opens up opportunities for manufacturers to work with materials that contain the right characteristics and requirements from scratch.

Researchers at MIT have even developed a machine learning algorithm that can help to detect defects in materials before they even occur, improving the reliability and efficiency of existing manufacturing processes. To ensure manufacturers also have the right machines to handle the new materials, recent developments are focused on the industrial compatibility of material and machine. In the end, it is all about creating and manipulating materials that bring a positive impact to the world.

“We can engineer the raw materials right now. And there are many startups that are working on it right now in Europe, but also in North America. Using engineered materials, building them cell by cell. Building them from the molecular level. So instead of using components that have to be either mined or harvested or whatever, we engineer those materials”

Ramon Antelo, Capgemini

Bio Materials and Manufacturing

New materials and processes will be developed to make a positive contribution to the planet, instead of taking things aways from it.

Inspired by nature and a regenerative mindset, and enabled by science and technology, we see better bio-based materials being developed that are influencing the manufacturing sector. Bio-based materials offer alternatives to plastic and other well-known polluting materials that for too long now have been some of the main causes of the environmental crisis. Most experimentation and innovation comes from young start-ups, designers and entrepreneurs and they are setting new norms for material innovation. Furthermore, biomanufacturing is not only about new materials. Biomaterials using DNA are also used in chips, to address the challenge of data storage.

“We have lived in a manufacturing environment in which the manufacturing was tightly coupled to where the raw materials were sourced, either in the form of minerals or harvest or whatever. If we can decouple that, then Europe, especially, might have a very good competitive edge because we will then have access to producing any type of products without the limitation of the raw material. I think biomanufacturing is one of the key elements of the future.”

Ramon Antelo, Capgemini