Impact of Digitalisation on Environmental Sustainability in Manufacturing Systems
Licentiatavhandling, 2021

Manufacturing companies are striving to improve productivity and reduce the environmental impacts of their activities. Meanwhile, digitalisation plays an important role in increasing productivity and has a profound impact on the environment of manufacturing systems. It is unclear whether digitalisation affects this impact positively or negatively; this information is crucial if manufacturing companies are to better harness digital technologies in an environmentally friendly manner.

This thesis aims to explore the potential for digitalisation to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing systems by revealing its extent. With the vision of an environmentally “harm-free” manufacturing system, this thesis intends to provide practitioners with insights into the use of digital technologies to benefit our living environment. This study adopts a qualitative methodology to investigate theoretical and empirical data through literature reviews and case studies.

The results show that the impact of digitalisation on environmental sustainability may be viewed through a multiple-lifecycle perspective, including product and technology lifecycles. Digitalisation applications throughout the product lifecycle contribute positively to environmental sustainability by increasing resource and information efficiency, dematerialisation, virtualisation/monitoring impacts and reduced transport. The negative environmental impact is primarily due to increased resource and energy use, plus emissions and waste from manufacturing and the use and disposal of digital hardware in the technology lifecycle.

The multiple-lifecycle perspective helps practitioners in manufacturing companies to consider the environmental impact of both product and technology lifecycles when adopting digital technologies. The summary of positive impacts provides companies with implementation practices as to where and how to implement digital technologies. They may thus reduce environmental impact, especially in the production stage of a product’s lifecycle and at the 5C architecture connection level.

This study provides a holistic view of the environmental impact of digitalising manufacturing systems and supports practitioners in applying digital technologies in an environmentally “harm-free” manner, thus achieving sustainable manufacturing systems.


environmental impact

Industry 4.0



zoom password: 784930
Opponent: Prof. Magnus Wiktorsson, Department of Sustainable Production Development, KTH, Sweden


Xiaoxia Chen

Chalmers, Industri- och materialvetenskap, Produktionssystem

The Environmental Implications of Digitalization in Manufacturing: A Case Study

Sustainable Production, Life Cycle Engineering and Management,; (2021)p. 249-263

Kapitel i bok

Environmental Sustainability of Digitalization in Manufacturing: A Review

Sustainability,; Vol. 12(2020)p. 1-33


Chen, X., Despeisse, M., Johansson, B. Environmental impact assessment in manufacturing industry: A literature review. Presented at the 6th International EurOMA Sustainable Operations and Supply Chains Forum, Gothenburg, Sweden, 18th – 19th March 2019.

Chen X., Gong L., Berce A., Johansson B., Despeisse M. Implications of Virtual Reality on Environmental Sustainability in Manufacturing Industry: A Case Study. Submitted to CIRP CMS 2021.

Enabling REuse, REmanufacturing and REcycling Within INDustrial systems (REWIND)

VINNOVA (2019-00787), 2019-03-01 -- 2022-02-28.

Twinning for Industrial Sustainability (TRUST)

Europeiska kommissionen (EU) (EC/H2020/810764), 2018-10-01 -- 2022-06-30.

SUstainability, sMart Maintenance och fabriksdesIgn Testbed (SUMMIT)

VINNOVA (2017-04773), 2017-11-01 -- 2021-04-30.


Produktionsteknik, arbetsvetenskap och ergonomi

Annan naturresursteknik



Hållbar utveckling



Thesis for the degree of licentiate of engineering / Department of Product and Production Development, Chalmers University of Technology: IMS-2021-5



zoom password: 784930


Opponent: Prof. Magnus Wiktorsson, Department of Sustainable Production Development, KTH, Sweden

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