Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leveraging all your resources

Future planning/future rewards

A number of items passing across my computer screen (or my ears from the radio) have prompted an additional posting on "leveraging" following our last blog on leveraging manufacturing.

These are, in no particular order, the continuing development of the Chinese high speed rail network (as reported on NPR the other morning), recent e-mails among a few "green friends" on the need for, and feasibility of, inclusion of influences other than economic terms in net present value (NPV) calculations, and a discussion I had recently with some "design" folks at a meeting on how a major company can include green manufacturing "awareness" in its products and get some recognition of this from the consumer.

These sound unrelated - but, I will now try to string them together! And apologies in advance if this sounds like rambling to you.

Let me start with the NPV discussion. This came up due to an article in a trade press basically stating that, since "green technologies" really only have positive net present value due to subsidies they cannot really drive economic recovery or create "high value jobs." This was presented as part of a discussion as to why we will be better off without cap and trade.

So, first, what is NPV? Referring to our old friend, Wikipedia, net present value  is "simply the present value of future cash flows minus the purchase price." It is a means to take expected future cash flows from an investment, usually a series of expected cash inputs over time, and convert them to an equivalent sum (present value, PV, or present worth, PW) based on an assumed interest rate or growth rate over the time of the future flows. Sort of, if you had this amount today (present value), and invested it over the same time period, it is the accumulation of value you'd realize over the amount started with.

If the NPV is greater than zero, the investment will yield positive results and may be worth the risk of investing. As Wikipedia says, "NPV is an indicator of how much value an investment or project adds to the firm." The assumption is, then, that if the NPV is zero, or less, the investment is not worth it.

So, now we throw in environmental considerations, or carbon footprint, or some other metric of impact or consumption, These are hard to monetize so the impact of these potential "rewards" cannot be easily determined. So, some say, we should not consider them in our calculations of investment and only go with those costs that can be solidly determined.

So, since we cannot estimate the "value" of reducing the carbon footprint of our process, or product, we cannot really determine whether the NPV of any investment which has the effect of reducing the carbon footprint is worth it. And, this brings cap and trade into the cross hairs. Cap and trade is a market-based approach that uses economic incentives to drive pollution reduction by steadily reducing the allowable amount of pollution that can be emitted. The idea is that if you are successful in reducing pollution below your allowable level, you can "sell" your excess allowance to someone else who has not yet been able to reduce their pollution.

And this is, to some, an artificial subsidy to some technologies that reduce pollution that cannot be justified by a reasonable economic analysis, like NPV.

The challenge is, can you include environmental metrics into NPV?

This was originally brought to my attention by Ralph Resnick of NCDMM in a note to a few of us asking whether or not we could include sustainability metrics in NPV. One response from John Sutherland, a professor at Purdue University and a leader in green manufacturing, referred to a great article in Forbes from June 2009 on "Calculating the true cost of carbon" by David Serchuck. This article offers a balanced and rational (to me!) explanation of carbon cost evaluation and the value of carbon taxes in an economy to drive CO2 reduction and technology. And the article puts an average price of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide.

The real question is - how do you value risk? And, then, how do you figure this in your NPV calculation?

Most folks I talk with, over a wide range of companies, see the potential risks associated with driving full speed off the "business as usual cliff" as real. Recall our recent discussions about water, rare earth metals, etc. This is all part of the equation. What is it worth to you to be able to reduce your carbon footprint and is the investment needed to do this worth it?

One common proxy for carbon is electricity (or rather one common proxy for electricity is carbon!). You can calculate the cost of electricity. You can determine the impact of your use based on where you are and the mix of fuels used by your local utility. So, we can use that for NPV.

You can estimate the impact of regulation on the cost of your product if we expect some areas of the world (and California) to start to track the carbon footprint of your product and, maybe (probably) tax you for excessive carbon use. This already occurs in France when you buy a car that has a gCO2 equivalent/kilometer travelled value less than a prescribed level. So, I can use that in my NPV for transportation.

There are probably more. We'll work on it.

NPV is a way to estimate the impact of future benefits in today's terms. Or, put another way, the degree to which an improvement today leverages benefits in the future.

So, what about the Chinese trains? The  NPR program talked about a new high speed train that cut the travel time from Shanghai to Wuhan to just 4 hours. It used to take 10 hours.  Wuhan is a rural area with lower costs of operation (by 50%) than in Shanghai nearer to the coast. Companies are moving there now (and these are international companies) due to the supply of labor, lower costs of operation (like living expenses for employees and, yes, local incentives) but accessibility due to the train. And they mentioned the investment in high speed train networks in China which will create a high speed rail network with more kilometers of track than the systems of the rest of the world combined.

And in US, some recently elected governors are refusing to accept Federal stimulus funding to build high speed high speed rail networks in their states.

In another e-mail exchange on some common research collaboration on energy efficiency and resource effectiveness we had a go around on the meaning of terms. John Sutherland made a simple definition that is worth sharing -  "In lay language, efficiency is "doing things right," and effectiveness is "doing the right things."

That's a great way of looking at investments that can be leveraged in the future for big returns - like high speed rail for example with big returns on impact/unit of distance travelled.

Finally, conversations with "design folks."

One of the discussions was on the motivation that companies (and societies) have for "doing the right thing" even if it is not possible to fully compute the benefits today. Sounds like the NPV discussion!

I was chatting with a particularly clever designer and we came up with a neat "app" for your smart phone or pad computer - "text messages from the future." Meaning, some algorithm for sending you, extemporaneously, a hypothetical text message from some friend (or relative) far in the future commenting on their life experience, or job or some other topic - just like you get text messages from folks today.

We thought of one - "Hi great-great-grandpa, wish you had cut down on your CO2 emissions 50 years ago; bought a new respirator today and my sister just moved to a great ocean front place in Savannah." LOL (not).

What do you think are likely text messages from the future?

We'll get back to more on green technology next time. And, let me know if you have ideas about calculating the leverage effect of your green technology wedges.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Leveraging manufacturing for a sustainable world

Or, more beef!

I recently attended a conference on high performance manufacturing in Gifu Japan focussing on a variety of technical advances to push manufacturing ahead in the face of increasing competition, rising costs, difficult to process materials and changing requirements due to advanced product designs. A sub theme of the conference was energy efficient manufacturing.

One of the keynote speakers was a senior managing director of Toyota in Japan. In his presentation, in which he concentrated on the production of hybrid vehicles, he covered a number of manufacturing challenges Toyota was tackling with respect to getting more performance out of the automobile components. His examples ranged from magnetic elements for motors (which they stamp and assemble from materials with decreasing concentrations of rare earth metals!), to braking/energy recovery systems, to battery storage elements, to other power train components a heat recirculation system that shortens engine warmup time - all boosting fuel efficiency.

This work at Toyota tracks the performance improvement discussed in the last posting but, this time, for electric motors and systems and not internal combustion engines. The result is systems that hold a larger charge for a longer period of time increasing the range of the vehicle without engine assistance and, thus, dramatically improving vehicle performance.

A major portion of the improvement cited by Toyota for reducing CO2 emissions are due to merging (consolidating) production lines and discontinuing processes. This means looking for ways to remove, or eliminate, process steps in manufacturing by developing new technology with better capability to convert materials (recall that manufacturing is basically "shape transformation") with fewer process operations. Or, eliminate them altogether.

This resulted in a total annual CO2 emissions of the company to 1.22 million tons - a reduction of almost 10% since the previous year (see their 2010 corporate sustainability report (CSR), page 29 for details).  The per vehicle CO2 emission from production was down a bit also - but this could have been greater reduction except for the downturn in sales. Leveraging manufacturing!

Other companies, in the regular paper sessions, reported on their efforts to improve performance of their products and cited the impacts of their products in use. A paper by Mori Seiki engineers started out listing an estimate of the power consumption/green house gas emissions of their installed base of machines worldwide as an indication of the potential for improvement in machine operation and process improvement. This will serve as a basis to track the impact of their new machines introduced to the market which will, presumably, offer substantially reduced energy consumption (and hence green house gas emission). The goal is 40% reduction!

My immediate reaction was  that this is a bold move to "own up" to the performance of your product (even in the customer's hands) to establish a base line of performance. I was reminded of Toyota who list the cumulative savings of CO2 the 2.5 million hybrid vehicles they've sold compared to equivalent gasoline powered vehicles (Toyota CSR, 2010, page 24). This provides a baseline for measuring improvement. The figure below, from the Toyota CSR, shows this impressive reduction.

What if we could show this for all products as they evolve to more energy (or resource) efficient performance? You might think that for automobiles or machine tools this is an easy measure - impact per unit of product (which translates into reduced impact per unit of GDP from our discussion last time about the impact equation).

But not all improved performance can be easily equated to reduced impact per unit of GDP. There are many things that are sold in the world - but not all of them contribute productively to our life, or work, or well being.

It made me to wonder whether of not we could extend this kind of impact per unit to other products. What might the rules be for this (meaning what kinds of products would fit the analysis)?

It seems like it would have to be something that performs a function as a product, where function is a useful benefit, like transportation, or washing clothes or dishes or a tool used in production. Or, it must relate to quality of life (but not necessarily video games which use less energy or an iPod with a longer battery life for a charge).

What about food? One can't really deliver "more protein/unit" unless we eat fish paste (although, spending time in Japan one realizes just how many different forms of nourishment you can eat!).

I'm not finished thinking about this but if you have some ideas on extending the concept of reduced impact/product unit to a wider range of products let me know.

At the end of the conference we visited the Mazak Machine Tool Company's manufacturing facility. They practice something they call "done in one" which refers to using one machine in place of several individual process steps - basically multi-tasking on steroids. I discussed the potential of such approaches in a posting on "green balancing" last December. And this fits with Toyota's consolidating production steps/eliminating processes. Mazak gave an example of applying this to a crankshaft prototype production operation which went from 13 machines to 1, and a reduction of 2800 hours of processing to 8! Done in one. There is some info about this on their website.

So, if Mori Seiki (or Mazak) reduce the machine's consumption by 40% while reducing the product manufacturing phase impact as well by process consolidation or elimination, and then the product goes on to have a substantially improved fuel consumption (in the case of an automobile) with dramatically reduced CO2 emissions - that's leveraging manufacturing. And that's a technology wedge that takes a big bite out of the gap between business as usual and a sustainable level of performance.

And, if you'd like another neat example of eliminating process steps for dramatic improvement, "google" grind hardening or see an example on the Mori Seiki website. It avoids a heat treatment step which, usually, accounts for a substantial portion of energy consumption in production of precision hardened components - like shafts.

For the talk I gave at this Japanese conference I prepared a graphic to summarize the concept of leveraging manufacturing, see below.

It is a bit of a busy image but this shows the amplifying effect of manufacturing improvements (including the reduction in manufacturing phase impact or consumption) on the eventual benefit in product use. And, from my observation and evidence from other companies (like the Toyota and Mori Seiki examples) the characterization of small seeds of process improvement yielding large rewards over use is right on target.

More on this in the future I am sure!