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.