Step Eight – Circular Internet of Things


Technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) will underpin the circular economy. From the platforms for the sharing economy to sensors for monitoring maintenance to big data. We have not even scratched the surface as to what technology will do to transform our lives and we are only limited by our imagination. While many people still have no electricity, water, internet or access to these transformative technologies, the circular economy will become dependent on existing and yet to be invented technologies to advance circular systems.

3D Printing


A 3D printer builds a solid object by depositing material (filament), layer by layer, until a whole object is formed. These points outlines the value of 3D printing and how 3D printing contributes to the circular economy by repairing broken parts easily:

1. 3D printing and additive manufacturing allow users and organizations to have localized production which allows for better control over waste steams and lowers C02 emissions.

2. You can buy a type of filament made from PLA (or poly lactic acid). PLA has a super-fast transition point from liquid to solid. This means that you get less warping and therefore a better quality of print.

3. PLA is plant-derived so it has the potential to biodegrade under industrial composting conditions (industrial composting means 58°C in presence of humidity and a processing time of 6 months).

4. 3D printing is best for small quantities of parts, anything from single replacement parts to on-demand production runs for complex or out-of-stock parts.

5. 3D printing is only circular when the materials used in the printer can be considered closed-loop.

Sensors and Smart Sensors


The simplest answer to the question “What is the difference between a sensor and a smart sensor?” – a sensor is just an indicator, but smart sensor is a indicator along with controller (which decides ” what to do”). But getting back to sensors, an increasing number of manufacturers use sensors to provide data and information embedded into equipment, so the service provider can continuously monitor the state of their product and provide the necessary upgrades, repairs or maintenance to the product when it is required, thus adding extra value for the customer.

Smart sensors can be used to monitor the health of equipment or product. Sensors enabled with IO-Link technology, for example, can communicate much more data. IO-Link is an open standard protocol that provides a common communication for a sensor’s parameters and features.

Ensuring that sensors are enabled with IO-Link technology means that other IO-Link devices can connect to the sensors. By doing this, manufacturers can collect a wealth of more detailed data than standard sensors could deliver.


What does this mean for the circular economy?


Technology, sensors, smart sensors and IoT will completely transform the management of all assets (products) in the future, which in turn will ensure they are returned to either the original manufacturer or a circular centre equipped to process assets under any of the Circular R’s principles.

In addition it will allow more efficient use of resources, energy and water. For example farmers will be able to monitor whole agricultural processes in ways we have never before able to imagine.

Additional Resources


There is a wealth of resources available in our Knowledge Centre, everything from reports, images, infographics, articles, movies and tools.  For information specific to Step Eight – Circular Internet of Things, click on the images below.