Friday, June 27, 2014

The internet of (green) things

Or … what would my refrigerator tell me if it could talk?

Recently I was at a conference on manufacturing where I was caught in in an avalanche of buzzwords … cloud, big data, internet of things, industrial internet, connectivity, connected revolution and so on. This feeding frenzy of connectivity and data is driven by a number of things, real and imagined. Businesses see opportunity for enhanced productivity and reduced time from design to production. Other businesses see opportunities for providing services and products to an informed customer - all at much greater speed. Others still see a chance to offer analysis capabilities to convert the “firehose stream of data” to a manageable set of results and metrics.

For example, in the manufacturing domain, General Electric is driving the creation of an “industrial internet” which GE expects will define how “industrial equipment with sophisticated sensors will be linked over a network that connects people to machines and machines to one another to boost efficiency.” They won’t be taking to refrigerators, at first, but jet engines to indicate potential maintenance requirement or, closer to the factory, failure potential and maintenance needs of sensor-enabled machinery on the factory floor.

In the manufacturing space. a leading commercial computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software provider, DP Technology/ESPRIT, has introduced a cloud-enabled tool path planning capability  - cloud-enabled CAM. The ESPRIT MachiningCloud Connection gives programmers (the smart folks that create the instructions and select the tooling to allow sophisticated numerically controlled machine tools to create the complex physical components that make up manufactured products) access to complete and up-to-date tooling product data, cutting hours of programming time by eliminating manual tool creation. This would have been done with physical paper catalogs of tools, configurations, cutting inserts, and other peripheral hardware to make it work (think of shopping at Sears or Target before websites, online catalogs or Amazon! If you are old enough to recall Sear’s paper catalog which was like a phone book for a large city, if you are old enough to remember phone books too, it is an interesting but long and manual process!). This capability simplifies the selection of cutting tools and, better yet,  offers a list of recommended cutting tools based on machining features and machining sequences that are planned. Finally, the programmer or manufacturing engineer can simulate the machine operation and behavior with accurate 3D models of tool components and assemblies.

In the design and collaboration space, Autodesk has introduced Autodesk 360 for design innovation and collaboration.  More than just two dimensional “drafting,” this cloud-based tool that provides free online data storage and a powerful, secure set of tools that improves the way engineers and others can design, visualize, and simulate anywhere and with “virtually infinite computing power”. This also simplifies collaboration among co-designers and customers, and streamlines workflows.

And then, of course, things that talk to you. Top of this list is probably the Nest thermostat recently acquired by Google, Inc. By use of training cycles, and observing your “behavior,” it learns what temperatures you like and builds a personalized schedule. Nest says if one teaches it efficient temperatures for a few days within a week, the thermostat will start setting temperature schedules on its own. And, with the Nest app you can connect to the thermostat from a smartphone and, if arriving home early (or later) change the temperature miles from home.

So what is the internet of things anyway? My favorite first “go to” source is a Google search which, usually, gets a Wikipedia hit right off … for “internet of things” Wikipedia defines the term (and acronym IoT) as referring to “uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.“  Apparently this term has been in discussion since the early ‘90s and was formally proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999 (Ashton, Kevin, "That 'Internet of Things' Thing, in the real world things matter more than ideas," RFID Journal, 22 June 2009.) though the concept has been discussed since at least 1991. Wikipedia goes on to explain that In 1994, the Internet of Things was known as “control networks,” which Reza Raji discussed in an IEEE Spectrum article as “[moving] small packets of data to a large set of nodes, so as to integrate and automate everything from home appliances to entire factories.”

Home appliances to entire factories! All communicating with other devices, computers and, presumably, people.

But what might the effect of this integration and resulting actions be? Better productivity? Increased consumption? Smart consumption? Smart and sustainable consumption? It depends.

Capitalizing on this drive to connectivity Amazon has recently introduced their own “smart phone." The New York Times article characterizes this as “a device that tries to fulfill the retailer’s dream of being integrated into consumers’ lives at every possible waking moment — whether they are deciding where to eat, realizing they need more toilet paper or intrigued by a snatch of overheard music.” Meaning … sell, sell, sell!

So, are we making progress or not? A quote from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard in a conversation to an audience of hundreds of CSR officers and aspiring eco-preneurs may offer some insight. He said “If these Fortune 500 companies are now cleaning up their act, then why is the world still going to hell?” “The elephant in the room is growth: you make an energy-efficient refrigerator, so then you buy two of them. Not one public company will voluntarily restrict growth to save the planet.”  Well … that does not sound very encouraging.

So, back to the discussion about the circular economy.

Can the “internet of things” be part of the circular economy? Can this connectedness push consumers to consider more sustainable behavior, or create products that provide increased value with lower impact, or allow effective recovery of resources at end of life?

First reaction is, again,  … it depends!  If this pushes consumers to by more “impactful” products because they are or can be connected but don’t offer proportionally increased value … then this is not a good sign and Yvon Chouinard will cry foul! If the connectedness can drive a reduction in impact (due to better efficiency, or more effectiveness, consumption only when in use and at reduced rates of consumption, for example) then probably yes. Meaning, if it can affect consumer behavior in a positive direction then this is worth exploring.

This difference between consumer actions and consumer wishes for sustainable consumption is commonly referred to as the “green gap”. We’ll discuss this more in future postings.

So we will need to be careful about tracking the cost-benefit or, at least, providing some feedback to the consumer on the performance of the product or, sadly, this will simply be another round of technology driving increased consumption. And that’s not circular.

We’ll continue with the Circular Economy, Part 2 in the next blog - which will follow sooner than this one did to the last posting (!).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Creating the Circular Economy, Part I

Or putting some wheels on the Ricoh comet circle

The end of the last posting (an embarrassing long time ago!) spoke of the need to do a better job of communicating just what sustainability is. That is, of course, one of the objectives of this blog - or at least as it applies to manufacturing, design and all things related to product creation and production.

An early concept introduced way back in September 2009 was the circular nature of sustainability as practiced in society represented by the Ricoh Comet Circle reproduced here below.

The circle diagram visualizes nested loops of tight or loose linkage between the consumer and the forward and reverse supply chain. The forward loop is from material extraction through production to delivery and use. The reverse loop (at the bottom of the comet) is after the consumer is done with the product and winds back through recycling, recovery, and return to material supply chain. Usually when a green supply chain is mentioned it is in the context of the return loop - resource recovery. That is only half the battle and, if the forward loop is done correctly, is much easier.

The nested loops start with the consumer as “the comet’s core” and can be you or me at home, or a company buying something (machinery, paper, electronic components) and the loops represent “the comet’s tail”. A key idea of the comet circle is that the closer to the consumer that the circle loops … the more sustainable/green is the scenario.

I use this image in my sustainable manufacturing class as well as in other presentations to illustrate the circularity concept of material/product use and reuse as higher valued than destruction and disposal.

As part of the earlier blog posting about the comet circle the strategy behind the creation of the circle was summarized from Ricoh as:

 1) including the identification and reduction of environmental impact at all stages (Japanese continuous improvement at its best and key to identifying elements of the operation that need to be identified, quantified, and reduced, eliminated or otherwise offset).

This places priority on "inner loop" recycling (the highest value resources are those either returned, after repair/upgrade, to the consumer or converted into product and used by their customers along with  minimizing the resources, cost, energy needed to return a used product to "the state of highest economic value.”

 2) institute a multi-tiered recycling program (reduce the consumption of new resources and generation of waste)

 3) create a more economically rational recycling system. This is important and is part of establishing the business motivation for green manufacturing, including the original production stages in the equation. That is, the "green supply chain," and

4) establishing a partnership at every stage of the supply chain. This partnership discloses materials used in production and in the product, transportation alternatives, etc.

To quote from Ricoh on the logic represented here - ”A sustainable society must also establish a recycling system in which products and money flow in opposite directions in both post-product-use stages and original production and marketing stages." At the same time, it is important to establish a social system that helps people to be aware of environmentally-friendly business activities and buy products with less environmental impact.

Flows of money and products at both the incoming side and the outgoing side of product use and social systems that influence customers awareness and buying preferences - that's novel and the combination drives business strategy.

More recently this concept is referred to (or at last popularized) as the “circular economy.” I am not sure which came first. The easy source of all information (buyer beware) - Wikipedia - indicates that it might trace to a book by Walter R. Stahel and  Geneviève Reday-Mulvey in 1981 titled “Jobs for Tomorrow, the potential for substituting manpower for energy” and published by Vantage Press, New York, N.Y. The book was based on a report for the European Commission on the potential for the service-life extension of goods as a sustainable strategy to create jobs, save energy (and GHG emissions) and prevent waste. The micro and macro level analysis was done to two sectors, automobiles and buildings, in France. There is more history on this on the website under circular economy.

Stahel’s work generally proposed four major goals: product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities and waste prevention. It also promoted the importance of selling services rather that products when possible. There will be more on this early work in following postings.

The Ricoh Comet Circle was likely motivated by this. And, of course, the “Cradle to Cradle” book by Braungart and McDonough is an outgrowth of this thinking as well.

But there is more history to this!

The concept of “full circles” animates many early philosophical and religious thinking. I heard an individual recently at a meeting refer to the Hindu teachings of full circle or full cycle (Saṃsāra) and the repeating cycles of birth, life and death (reincarnation) goes a long way back.

More recently, the  Ellen Macarthur Foundation and, McKinsey building on the Macarthur Foundation work, have been detailing business aspects of implementing the circular economy. The thesis is to move away from the “take, make, dispose” system and replacing it with restoration.

The image below, from a McKinsey Quarterly Report, No. 1, 2014 titled “Shaping the Future of Manufacturing” as part of a section on “Remaking the industrial economy”  illustrates how, in a circular economy, products are designed to enable “cycles of disassembly and reuse” and thus reducing or eliminating waste. You may want to click on the image to get a larger view.

There is a comparison between these cycles in biological-based materials on the left of the illustration and “technical materials” on the right side. At the bottom of the illustration are notes about minimizing “leakage” - the loss of opportunities to re-use materials before returning to soil for biological materials and landfilled/burned for technical materials.

The loops in the illustration (for example, on the technical material side, of maintenance, re-use/redistribute, refurbish/remanufacture, etc.) mimic the loops in the comet circle.

As with green manufacturing, this is a concept that is logical and possible to illustrate schematically but can be challenging to actually implement in practice - that is, to put some wheels on the concept so we can move with it! 

We’ll do more with this in the next posting - Part II of Creating the Circular Economy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

or ... Things that renew our faith in the future!

Over the New Year in the US (perhaps other places too) there is a tradition of making a set of “resolutions” or pronouncements and promises that one will follow in the upcoming year that will make things better. These often have to do with personal behavior (“I will try to like my co-workers”) or health (“I will work out more and eat less”) or finance (“I will try to live within my budget”) and so on. Typically these last a few weeks or months before the reality of daily life kicks in and they are forgotten. But, no worries, another new year is just around the corner.

In thinking about new year’s resolutions this time around and this first posting of the new year it seemed worth while to cite a few things that, relative to green and sustainable topics, encourage one to try to stick to at least an effort to become more sustainable.

So, I took a survey of what I had seen recently that made me encouraged. These are, in no particular order, reviewed below. The continuation of the discussion in the last posting on increasing the effective utilization of resources will come up in the next posting. But … these bright spots below certainly encourage an atmosphere that lends itself to better resource productivity.

First of all from my student researchers. We had a retreat in our lab back in November and we posed the question “What would a sustainable world look like? This came as a result of a provocative question posed to the audience at the Verve conference in San Francisco this Fall by Paul Hawken. He mused that maybe we should start concentrating on what a sustainable world embodied rather than just increasingly long lists of what is not sustainable about the world. This made good sense - sometimes the easiest way to identify the way forward is to reverse the way back!

So, in response to the above question about how the world would look if it was sustainable, the following responses, prefaced by “I know the world is sustainable because …” were noted:

- I am able to achieve my aspirations without limit
- I can meet my needs without “excess consumption”
- I have access to enough information to make truly informed decisions about consumption
- as an engineer, I can clearly see the connection between design, manufacturing, and impacts
- where to the extent possible, all output of activity or consumption is reused efficiently in the creation of new products, new energy, new capabilities, and
- I have the optimal level of control over my environment and products. I am able to use information to adapt to my environment. I live in a smart environment that adapts to my needs (e.g. NEST thermostat).

Not bad … and, as engineers, lot’s to work on there both for consumption and provision of goods (as manufacturers).

Encouraging for sure. There was more discussion which will come up in our continuing discussion about resource productivity. And, the grad course in Sustainable Manufacturing is taught at Cal again this spring so this list will be expanded thanks to input from a larger group of students.

Second, the McKinsey Global Institute publishes reports from time to on strategic observations, insights and trends in business and the world. These are invaluable both for their content and for the obvious expense that went into them (McKinsey is not cheap!). In July 2013 they published a report titled “Game changers: Five opportunities for US growth and renewal.” Granted, this is US centric but the potential, given the prominent role of the US economy is impressive. 

So, what are these five and what does it have to do with sustainable manufacturing? They are:
    - Energy: Capturing the shale opportunity
    - Trade: Increasing US competitiveness in knowledge-intensive industries 

    - Big data: Harnessing digital information to raise productivity
    - Infrastructure: Building a foundation for long‑term growth
    - Talent: Investing in America’s human capital

I will not comment on the first one as the issues of “bang for the buck” in terms of the environment are still being resolved. It clearly however offers a great source of energy close to us and not affected by global politics (the current debate in the US Congress not withstanding!).

The McKinsey report says that these five are all on this list because the technology breakthroughs underpinning these couple with the “changing costs of capital, labor, and energy around the world; policy innovation at the state and local levels; or new evidence-based understanding of how to address long-standing problems.” They go on to explain that, specifically, “… the shale boom, for example, is boosting trade competitiveness, particularly in energy-intensive manufacturing, as the shift in input costs caused by cheap natural gas has made the United States a more attractive place to base production. Big data can play a role in raising the productivity of knowledge-intensive manufacturing for export, maximizing infrastructure assets, and facilitating new personalized digital learning tools.” Addressing education and workforce training,  a “talent revolution” will be needed to train tomorrow’s energy engineers and big data analysts, as well as the skilled workforce needed for a 21st-century knowledge economy.” One result is “longer-term enabling effects that build competitiveness and productivity well beyond 2020.”

The impact in productivity and efficient use of resources is what should intrigue us. The use of  big data analytics in manufacturing and across production processes and systems and product design offers many opportunities for progress. Engineers can link computer-aided design with data from production systems to minimize production costs and raw material use (increased yield!). During production, sensors in equipment can feedback information to minimize disruptions by monitoring operations for breakdowns and wear and, then, signal for preventive maintenance. Finally,  the use advanced simulation techniques to create 3D models of new processes and factories (and the resources they consume) can make green manufacturing embedded in industry. With enough impact industry can become sustainable. 

This will require some "readjustment" in the way we develop the workforce to support this new way of operation - but that is for another discussion.

Third, and this is heartening, a recent comment published in Nature by Robert Costanza and colleagues  (Vol 505, 16 January 2014, p. 283) made the bold statement “Time to leave GDP behind” (!). The authors note that “When GDP was instituted seven decades ago, it was a relevant signpost of progress: increased economic activity was credited with providing employment, income and amenities to reduce social conflict and prevent another world war. But the world today is very different from the one faced by the global leaders who met to plan the post-war economy in 1944  … The emphasis on GDP in developed countries now fuels social and environmental instability. It also blinds developing countries to possibilities for more-sustainable models of development.” Yes! 

This is a must read! Those of us working to build sustainable manufacturing systems … in support a sustainable world … can only gain when the terms are clear, the metrics are logical and well defined and the impacts of our actions “fit” the environment we are working in.

Finally, speaking of “terms”, had a short piece by Anna Clark posted on  January 15, 2014 titled “Should 'sustainability' still be a buzzword in 2014”? Many don’t think it should ever have become a buzzword ... but stuff happens. 

And this question, of course, is posed by some of the same folks whose coverage has made the word overused and, sometimes unfortunately, linked to things or actions that are marginally sustainable or, at best, green. In fact, the first line of this short piece reads “Every New Year brings fresh jargon to the sustainability field. The practice of coining new phrases can breathe vitality into old ideas, but marketers also can overuse the tactic in their quest to sell books and training seminars. (I am guilty, too.)” She admits that our goal is a sustainable economy but the word sustainable is poorly defined and “squishy”. Her new year’s resolution is to “do a better job at communicating sustainability. Not just the concept, but also the word.” Yes!

That’s what we aim to do too! So, that’s one resolution I can keep.

More next time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Extending the life of products

Déjà vu all over again!

The last few postings have been concentrating on effective utilization of resources and resource productivity as a driver for manufacturing (including green manufacturing) innovation. In part 3 of that series a list of seven ways to improve resource effectiveness was given. These were (and see part 3 for the details):

1) Avoid use of a resource in the first place
2) Light-weighting
3) Increased yield
4) Reduced footprint of resources
5) Insure high re-use yield and low "cost" of reuse
6) Leveraged resources
7) Extended life

It's that last one that is the focus in this posting - extended life. With apologies to Yogi Berra (who I believe is the source of the subtitle of this posting!) the goal is to get people to use products longer or, conversely, give products a longer useful life. Sort of a "ground hog day" for products if you recall the film by that name some time ago. Simply put, the longer a product lasts the lower the amortized impact - impact/unit of time. And, this is generally better.

One caution - as was covered in the posting on Green and Frugal (including graphs on trade-offs in replacement of products) the one circumstance that might cause this "longer is better" scenario to play out badly is if the technology of the product (or material, or production methodology or operating characteristics) change, meaning for the better or lower impact or consumption, then it might actually be better to replace the product more frequently. Of course you'd want to 'do the numbers' on this to make sure the net effect was positive.

If this is to work, it requires the ability to update products, accept "older" styles, design and build products to last longer, change consumer preferences to accept the longer use of a product, etc. The focus here is on "updating the product" both technically as well as, to some extent, stylishly.

Before launching into this "make the product last longer" one might ask - What do consumers want? I am not an expert on consumer preferences. But, it seems reasonable that, with respect to product use by a consumer, there are some simple categories that can define behavior. So, at the risk of getting way in over my head on this, let's charge ahead.

These categories might be consumers who:
    1) replace a product when it is broken (as long as the product is still needed)
    2) replace a product  when they are tired of it or it is "out of style"
    3) replace a product when the technology is improved enough (as opposed to simply style)

I am aware that there is a class of consumer called the early adopters or some thing like that - folks who will always buy the latest and greatest. That is not the group targeted here.

Let's wade in a bit deeper on the discussion. So, with these three classes of consumer behavior for replacement, the second and third category fits for products that are still functional but no longer cutting edge. They might still be productive and even relatively low impact. Within these categories I can imagine that there are products for which style actually does not matter as well as those for which style is important. By style here I mean appearance or the ability to engender envy from others. A wash machine might be an example of a product that would not be swapped out because it did not look stylish anymore. A smart cell phone would.

We'd like to design products that lend themselves to longer lives or design for upgrading - basically, design for long life. There are likely two basic strategies. For "not style" products, just make the components out of materials and processes that last longer. For "style" products, make them so that the technological and/or stylish features can be easily upgraded when new technology and/or style comes along.

Can we do this?

I recently read an article in the Christian Science Monitor weekly edition of November 25, 2013 discussing in some detail what Chris Gaylord, the author, called "snap together a custom cell phone."  See a companion article on line. The Monitor article describes Motorola's (now Google's) project "Ara" (details on the phone) for the development of a new user designed smart phone. The customer would be able to assemble bits and pieces of the phone, sort of like a Lego toy, and select battery type and life, camera features, covers (front and back), etc. According to Paul Eremenko of the Motorola Advanced Technology and Projects group, writing on a blog posting, their goal is " to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones." He goes on to state that this will "give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs, and how long you’ll keep it."

Again, it's the last bit that caught my eye - how long you keep it! 

Here might be an early example of a product clearly in the "replace when something new comes along" category that is designed to be upgraded both technologically and stylishly. 

An image of modules designed for this "build it yourself" phone is below.

Another statement about this was also impressive - it could offer a solution to the 'alleged wastefulness' of the current two year cycle of cell phones.

Will this work? Who knows … consumers are finicky but if this is the start of a trend towards trying to address the throwaway instincts in much of society today it could be an important first step. And it will be a great challenge to manufacturers to come up with the goods.

Can it work technologically? Concerns raised in the Gaylord article include "packaging" … meaning essentially bespoke design to fit all the necessary parts into a very small package. This is pretty challenging if all the pieces are functionally individual to allow the "'plug and play" mode.

We'll follow this ... and the whole discussion about re-making products to keep them current without discarding them.

Finally, I posted this on the Green Manufacturing Facebook site earlier today ... but in case you missed it ... this is a great video following the path of a T-shirt from conception to market. It makes you think about what you buy to wear and where it came from!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sustainability as a Driver for Manufacturing Innovation

7th Wu Lecture at University of Michigan

I was invited to present the Seventh S. M. Wu Lecture in Manufacturing Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 28th, 2013. The topic was billed as "innovation in advanced manufacturing" but I used the occasion to shift rapidly into a discussion about sustainability as a driver for manufacturing innovation - a familiar topic to reader of these posts!

The lecture was videotaped and made available to stream on-line to anyone interested. In place of a written blog this time around I am offering this lecture instead. There is a link to the video post of the lecture at the end of this text section.

The content of the lecture is as follows:

    - Some history from Madison
    - Advanced manufacturing
    - What is sustainable manufacturing
    - How is sustainability linked to  productivity and innovation?
    - Riding the “wave of big data”
    - Some examples

Some explanation about this lecture series and my involvement … Professor S. M. Wu was a pioneer in the application of statistical methods to the understanding and optimization of manufacturing processes. While he was at UW-Madison in the late '70's I was one of his PhD students (actually PhD #29 out of some 118!). He later moved to Univ. of Michigan in Ann Arbor where he had a very successful career applying these methodologies to a host of challenging manufacturing problems in, among others, the auto industry. He passed on in 1992 and this lecture series is in his memory. So, it is appropriate to start with some nostalgia about the "Madison days" as a grad student with Professor Wu. You can skip that if you like.

The actual lecture starts at slide 7 (00.07:48 into the video). The video presentation is accompanied with the slides presented at the bottom of the screen.

This is an hour long lecture. If you want to watch the whole lecture you might like to break it up into pieces. The start times in the video for each section are listed below:

    - What is sustainable manufacturing - 00.09.45
    - How is sustainability linked to  productivity and innovation? - 00.22.59
    - Riding the “wave of big data” - 00.30.00
    - Some examples - 00.41.06
        - Material selection/process + system design - 00.41.06
        - Social impacts and manufacturing - 00.46.45
        - Leveraging manufacturing for maximum effect - 00.50.27
    - Summary/Acknowledgements - 00.57.12
    - Question and Answers - 00.59.30

Please follow this link to the Seventh S. M. Wu Lecture in Manufacturing Science. The lecture is introduced by Professor Jun Ni of Univ. of Michigan, also a student of Professor Wu.

I'd appreciate any comments or feedback on the content on the lecture.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Effective utilization of resources, Part 3

So … what is effective?

In the last posting we covered some additional background about “resource productivity” as a driver for innovation in (sustainable) manufacturing. That also covered some of the established definitions of resource productivity and gave an an example of efficient production technology relative to a metal forming manufacturing process. This process, in exquisite alignment with the Ricoh Comet Circle (see an earlier posting on the Comet Circle if you don't recall this!) Returning product back to the consumer with as little intervention from recycling, reprocessing, etc. as possible.

In trying to tie the resource productivity concept to the labor productivity measure so commonly referred to these days, the Wikipedia definition was cited as:

“…  the quantity of good or service (outcome) that is obtained through the expenditure of unit resource. “

The Wikipedia definition distinguished between “the efficiency of resource production as outcome per unit of resource use (resource productivity)” and” the efficiency of resource consumption as resource use per unit outcome (resource intensity).”

Our interest stems from (if you recall earlier postings in this series) the desire to wring more value of materials/processing/product per unit of impact to the environment (measured however you choose - greenhouse gas (GhG), other pollution of land, water or air, etc) as well as minimize the use of resources in the process - materials, water, other consumables and, of course, energy.

This fits with our fundamental focus, in this blog, on manufacturing. I had mentioned the "creating value" discussion (and blog posting) in my graduate class last semester - meaning that there are three fundamental ways to create wealth (real, new wealth founded in tangible assets): agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

A recent article in SME's Manufacturing Engineering magazine  noted, with respect to the "other" forms of economic activity as follows:

"Think about it. Bankers, lawyers, doctors, barbers, landscapers—they all provide services. Those services are valuable, but they don't, in themselves, create wealth. Financial instruments and financial dealings don't create wealth—they may package wealth, shift it around, and enable investment in wealth-creating enterprises, but they don't directly create wealth."   

This interpretation is not universally accepted .... But, it clarifies our thinking on the role of manufacturing and resource productivity. Might we then say that the most efficient use of resources is in manufacturing (I'm not forgetting agriculture or mining here but will stick to what I know!) because it both creates new wealth and provides the products that help increase, or at least maintain, a standard of living?

So, then, the logic is something like this (and this is built on the IPAT equation). To offer a sustainable manufacturing solution one must be able to show that the value created by a manufactured product must be large enough so that there is a factor of 10 improvement in value to impact (this is from the July 1, 2013 blog where this idea of resource productivity for sustainable manufacturing was introduced). This means that, worse case scenario from a resource productivity point of view, assuming that value of the product is constant, the productivity must increase by a factor of ten.

Ok, how can this happen? In the last posting we reviewed some work in Germany on reusing material from end of life automotive sheet metal components by circumventing the normal recycling procedure (i.e., transport to recycler, crush, melt, alloy, cast, form to sheet) and directly "re-forming" some components from recovered sheet material - paint and all.

This is certainly one way. You will recall that, even with this German process, the amount of material recovered as a "new formed product" was not 100% of the reformed sheet - maybe closer to 60% tops. So, a ways to go but in the right direction.

Here are a number of ways to improve resource effectiveness in an attempt to get the the "10X" improvement needed (in no special order and I am sure there are others):

1) Avoid use of a resource in the first place; if the product can be successfully manufactured with fewer materials that can be a big advantage.

2) Light-weighting; this was mentioned in an earlier posting and is often associated with the automotive and aerospace industries. This is the use of materials with higher strength to weight ratios than the current materials (either by shape, alloy content, material type or strategic reinforcement) that can meet the operating requirements of the product with less material. Common examples are fiber composite materials in planes and aluminum or high strength steel in automobiles.

3) Increased yield; this is the "Allwood effect" after Julian Allwood of Cambridge University (see "Less is More, Part 3"). This is the introduction of improved manufacturing processes that result in more product from the input material stream. Reduced scrap, for example, in process. A corollary of this would be improved processing to reduce defects in production.

4) Reduced footprint of resources; this focuses on the utilization of resources that require lower energy for processing or preparation for use in production. The advantage of this is, at least, honest accounting of potential outsourcing of resource impacts and, at best, inclusion of these external impacts into the analysis.

5) Insure high re-use yield and low "cost" of reuse; Re-use yield refers to the degree to which similar value of use is maintained for re-used materials - that is, not substantial down-cycling. The example in the posting about the German automotive reuse of sheet metal is an example of "same-cycling" of materials - sheet metal part to sheet metal part in the same industry (if possible). Cost of re-use is the added resources required to reuse the resources! It is not usually free. This must be accounted for in the reuse calculation to insure that, net, you have a positive balance.

6) Leveraged resources; The term "leveraging" as used in green manufacturing has been discussed before with respect to processes. This is the use of process technology that, in itself, is not particularly low impact but adds features to the product that, over its life time, makes a much lower impact. This is ideal for "use phase" heavy impacts. Same idea for resources. In spite of 4) above, there may be situations in which the use of a "higher impact" resource may be leveraged to produce a much lower life cycle impact in the use phase of a product.

7) Extended life (amortized resource burden); Simply put, the longer a product lasts the lower the amortized impact - impact/unit of time. Generally this is better. It requires the ability to update products, accept "older" styles, design and build products to last longer, change consumer preferences to accept the longer use of a product, etc.

Note that all of these suggestions assume the "value" of the product is not reduced!

We will dig into some of these more in the future. I have examples of most of them and, as I think about this, will probably add one or two more strategies for improving resource productivity and effectiveness.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Effective utilization of resources, Part 2

Examples of productive use of resources

The posting in July discussed thinking more seriously about “resource productivity” as a driver for innovation in (sustainable) manufacturing paralleling the focus we have on labor productivity. We all know the examples of more output per worker hour thanks to a wide variety of developments from automation to training and scheduling.  But, for getting at the root of “impact per unit of GDP” and setting up a path for reduction of that impact, resource productivity is one very important element – perhaps the most important if we think holistically about the costs of resources.

Turns out, not surprisingly, that there is a lot of information available about resource productivity.

For example, the European Union  (EU) defines resource productivity as:

“… a measure of the total amount of materials directly used by an economy (measured as domestic material consumption (DMC)) in relation to economic activity (GDP is typically used). It provides insights into whether decoupling between the use of natural resources and economic growth is taking place. Resource productivity (GDP/DMC) is the European Union (EU) sustainable development indicator for policy evaluation.

Resource productivity of the EU is expressed by the amount of GDP generated per unit of direct material consumed, i.e. GDP / DMC in euros per kg. When making comparisons over time or between countries it is important to use the correct GDP units so that the figures are comparable and changes are not due to changes from inflation or in prices.”

One needs to be careful that we consider carefully the contribution of services (which one might argue are typically less material intensive than, say, automobile manufacturing) to GDP growth so we are not seeming to be improving the “by to fly ratio” as we’ve discussed in the past but it is really reflecting shift, or growth, in other forms of commerce. But, I am not an economist so that’s sufficient warning for me!

Wikipedia defines resource productivity, and couples it to sustainability, as:

“…  the quantity of good or service (outcome) that is obtained through the expenditure of unit resource. “

“Resource productivity and resource intensity are key concepts used in sustainability measurement as they attempt to decouple the direct connection between resource use and environmental degradation. Their strength is that they can be used as a metric for both economic and environmental cost.”

The Wikipedia definition distinguishes between “the efficiency of resource production as outcome per unit of resource use (resource productivity)” and” the efficiency of resource consumption as resource use per unit outcome (resource intensity).”

They note that from the point of view of sustainability, the objective is to maximize resource productivity while minimizing resource intensity.

So, how do we do this?!

At the recent International Academy for Production Engineering  (called CIRP  – but that is an acronym for the French translation of the name – College International pour la Recherche en Productique!) General Assembly in Copenhagen, a working group meeting on Efficient & Effective Resource Utilization (EERU) met to discuss exactly this issue. The group is working through the various stages from design to end of life in production that impact this and a number of researchers presented ideas towards that goal. The focus of this particular EERU meeting was resource efficient production technologies and the presentations included water and material utilization in a range of industries from automotive to semiconductor.

As an example of efficient production technology, Professor Erman Tekkaya of the Technical University of Dortmund gave a number of examples for material utilization in metal forming applications. Professor Tekkaya started with a figure from Professor Kurt Lange of Stuttgart from some 20 years ago based on his work with the German auto industry. The diagram shows the utilization of material (essentially the “buy to fly ratio“) for a range of manufacturing processes. It also shows energy use per mass of finished part.

We see that for processes like cold forging (formation in dies with the material at room temperature – called “net shape processing as the material is reformed with little loss) the material use is very high (85% due to the fact that the process generates little scrap) versus cutting processes which typically have a lot of chips and waste generated as a “subtractive technology.“ (The third type of material processing is “additive“, like welding and 3-D printing – we’ll be talking about this more in a later posting.) As a result, similar to the figures we saw from Allwood in previous postings (see the “less is more“ series), processes such as cold forming have lower energy/mass values. It must be pointed out that the numbers in this figure do not reflect the whole process chain needed for these operations such as manufacturing of the tooling and dies for forging. But, the numbers are indicative of the impact of more efficient material use.

Professor Tekkaya’s presentation covered four examples – including direct material saving during processing (here a clever washer production process that used a technique similar to wire forming for nails to create washers with no waste due to the center hole or remainder from a blanked sheet), and reduced primary energy of initial material.

Let me elaborate on this second one.

The traditional life-cycle of metallic components, say automobiles, is that at end of life the vehicle is crushed (after some components are removed), collected, re-melted and recast as strip or sheet material and then reformed into new components – say a new hood for an automobile. Allwood points out that although this is helpful, the waste from the first production oft the hood (sheet metal forming is not net shape) and the requirement to re-melt, etc. is a tremendous energy burden on the material. Professor Tekkaya showed an example of reusing portions of a recovered automotive sheet metal part and a side panel from a PC with novel forming processes to create “new“ products without going through the traditional material recycling cycle.

The figure below, from Tekkaya, shows the creation of re-formed parts and process sensitivity to controlling the sheet feeding in to the mold/die setup for a sheet trimmed from a used automobile hood panel.  The trimmed sheet shown outlined from the engine hood

is formed using a process called “hydroforming“ (in which the metal sheet is deformed against a form using hydraulic pressure – this avoid the problem of the nonuniform shape and flatness of the original trimmed sheet that would prevent normal closed die forming). The sheet is deformed into a mold with the desired finished shape. The reference to sheet feeder control refers to a method to control the flow of material into the mold during forming. In one case the metal is annealed or softened to remove the work hardening from the prior manufacturing operation. But, as seen in the figure, the resulting shape is impressive – even if some of the original paint is still in place!

For the reuse of the PC side panels, Tekkaya experimented with a process called incremental sheet metal forming to create another workpiece for another product.

Consider the potential if the designers of the parts planned a bit to allow easier reuse of panel portions of the metal parts – thus enhancing the possibility of direct reforming for reuse.

There is still some scrap as evidenced by the trimmed pieces in the figure. But, compared to crushing, melting, recasting, rolling and re-forming the sheets, as usually done with recycled automotive metals, this is a tremendous improvement in “resource productivity.“

This is just one example. But, it demonstrates the role process innovation can play in improving manufacturing and promoting efficient and  effective resource utilization. Consider other "large flat sheets" used in products - sides of washers and dryers, refrigerator housings, etc. These area ready for re-use.