The SATW Sustainable Manufacturing Expert Group: Pathways to a sustainable industry

In the near future, manufacturing processes in Switzerland will be deeply rooted in circular principles. Products will be designed for durability, reuse, repairability, and recyclability, and the associated production processes will be capable to exploit and prioritise recycled or renewable resources, reducing reliance on virgin materials. Those products’ performances, during lifecycle stages, will be declared through easily recognizable digital passports to support informed decision-making by heterogeneous stakeholders. Manufacturing plants – largely powered by renewable energy – will leverage advanced technologies such as AI, IoT, and robotics to optimize resource utilization and energy efficiency, minimizing waste and excess inventory, and assuring context-aware production choices. Supply chains will be transparent, accountable, and traceable, ensuring ethical sourcing of materials and fair labour practices and promoting stakeholders’ awareness. By adopting novel business models – focused on service and sharing practices – Swiss manufacturing will commit to innovation and sustainable stewardship while optimizing its profitability.

In the context of this vision, the related developments, and the growing importance of the field, the Swiss Academy of Engineering Science SATW established a new Expert Group Sustainable Manufacturing as part of the SATW Research Alliance Advanced Manufacturing. This expert group offers support for the transformation of industry away from a linear economy to a circular economy. This change poses many challenges for companies that develop, produce, and market material goods. The group aims to establish and promote a common understanding of the broad field of sustainable manufacturing. It offers easy access to experts and their specialist knowledge, providing researchers and industrial companies with specific information through frequent publications, workshops, and events.

This article provides an initial overview of relevant topics in sustainable manufacturing that require a more detailed analysis. This includes the challenges of net zero targets and those posed by new laws and bans, as well as assessing sustainability with the help of life cycle assessments. Finally, the article provides an overview of the SATW expert group, other existing networks, and training opportunities in Switzerland.