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Circular Industry 4.0: Redesigning the future

Lead contributor: Dr. Alessio Franconi

This chapter will provide insights into how technology can concretely shape and enable the circular economy throughout the supply chain. The industrial revolution offers companies great opportunities in terms of process efficiency, cost reduction, and productivity improvement and to rethink circular products and new services. The different sections in the chapter introduce the reader to more relevant approaches and technologies for narrowing, slowing, and closing resource cycles. Where applicable, the chapter provides brief case examples to help readers better grasp the alternatives available. The approach is based on the product life cycle, from primary or secondary material extraction through resource recovery to start a new product life cycle. The chapter is divided into eight parts (1) Industry 4.0 (2) Urban mining the future of mining industry (3) Intelligent systems: Smart Circular Design; (4) Smart factory, (5) Use and Service in the digital era, (6) Recapture value from users; (7) Recovery strategies and technologies opportunities and (8) Final remarks. The first section explains industry 4.0 and its value and influence on circular product design activities and strategic decisions. Industry 4.0 will include the economic, social, and environmental elements to address the issue and prospects. The reader will understand the chapter’s key technologies and structure in this section. The second section presents how new technologies are revolutionizing the concept of material extraction. The third section introduces how technologies are changing designing products and systems. The fourth section discusses smart factories and technology linked to product manufacture, focusing on how to decrease resource use (e.g., electricity and materials). The most significant advantages of intelligent manufacturing are reduced resource consumption, improved operations across local business networks, and increased access to data for resource reuse. The fifth section of the chapter will present some of the essential digital technologies, particularly digital platforms. In this section, the technologies mentioned play a key role in slowing down resource cycles and promoting maintenance and reuse. The sixth section introduces technologies for obtaining value from consumers. In this phase of the supply chain, reverse logistics begins, leading to the product being properly integrated and reprocessed. The technologies utilized for product reconditioning are introduced in the seventh section. This section summarizes how these technologies may slow down and close resource cycles at the beginning of a new product life cycle. The eighth and last section presents the remarks of the chapter and the key takeaways. This chapter is primarily intended for all stakeholders engaged in decision-making across the supply chain, such as product designers, industrial designers, process design engineers, product development managers, accounting, marketing, distribution, and strategy managers and employees. 

The main SDGs of this chapter are Goal 7: clean and accessible energy, as energy conservation and the utilization of alternative energy are critical in smart manufacturing. Objective 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure directly parallel technology and industrial innovation on a broader scale. Finally, goal 12: To ensure sustainable consumption and production addressed in the chapter via the links between digital technologies and consumers. 

What's inside

Why is Industry 4.0 crucial in the Circular Economy?

The fourth industrial revolution is decentralizing and self-regulating the system. Discover how Industry 4.0 enables businesses to monitor, optimize, and improve their supply chain in real-time. The potential of new data, connections, and processes are explained via an overview of the most important technologies.

How will resources be extracted in a circular economy?

New technologies contribute to the reduction of mining’s environmental impact. However, novel approaches such as urban mining are gaining popularity. Explore the most cutting-edge technologies and learn how resource extraction and reuse in urban areas may increase material circularity.

How can technology advancing circular design?

Multiple sensors are included into products to provide additional functionality or to monitor how the material or device is being used or reacting during operation. Discover here how the data obtained by various sensors may be utilized to inform design choices.

How can smart factories enhance the circular economy?

The concept of “smart factories” is central to Industry 4.0. Explore here how future factories will be able to make quick design modifications and operate autonomously. Also, how much more easily digital data can be moved than commodities or products.

What role do digital technologies play in enabling new circular services?

In the circular economy, products are leased, rented, or shared wherever possible. Through an examination of key technologies, explore how digitalization allows the traceability and localization of goods, enabling the creation of more user-centric services.

How can value be recaptured in the digital era?

Digitization is crucial not only for consumers but, above all, for reverse logistics. Knowing the history of a product, component or material helps its reuse or regeneration. Discover know how to guide and encourage consumer recovery behaviours in the new digital era.

How can technology support in the slowing and closing of flows?

Technologies enable the facilitation, acceleration, and enhancement of the slowing and closure of flow cycles. Get access now and explore the major value recovery strategies, as well as the technology that makes the circular economy viable and practical.


Realizing a circular economy is now conceivable, thanks to advancements in innovation and technical progress. These technologies’ potentials and prospects will be linked and described to encourage thoughtful and focused adoption for the transition to the circular economy.