Methodology could lead to more sustainable manufacturing systems
Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a new “sustainable development methodology” to help address a social and regulatory demand for manufacturing processes that more effectively consider their economic, environmental and social impacts.
The work - recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production - outlines a way to help designers and manufacturing engineers carefully consider all the ramifications of their design decisions, and to evaluate the possible different ways that a product could be built – before it ever hits the assembly line.
“There’s a lot of demand by consumers, workers and companies who want to make progress on the sustainability of products and manufacturing processes,” said Karl Haapala, an associate professor in the OSU College of Engineering.
“There’s usually more than one way to build a part or product,” he said. “With careful analysis we can identify ways to determine which approach may have the least environmental impact, lowest cost, least waste, or other advantages that make it preferable to a different approach.”
This movement evolved more than 20 years ago from an international discussion at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, which raised concerns about the growing scarcity of water, depletion of nonrenewable sources s of energy, human health problems in n the workplace, and otherher issues that can be linked to unsustainable nsustainable production patterns ns in industry.
The challenge, experts xperts say, is how to consider the he well-being of employees, customers, mers, and the community, all while hile producing a quality product and staying economically competitive. mpetitive. It isn’t easy, and comprehensivemprehensive models that assess s all aspects of sustainability are re almost nonexistent.
To aid that effort,t, OSU researchers createdd a new methodology incorporating rporating unit process modelling elling and an existing technique que called life-cycle inventory.y. This allowed them to quantify uantify a selected set of sustainability metrics, and ask real-world questions. Should the product use a different material? Would running the production line faster be worth the extra energy used or impact on worker health and safety? Which approach might lead to injuries and more lost work? How can scrap and waste be minimized? Which design alternative will generate the least greenhouse gas emissions?
To illustrate this approach researchers used three hypothetical “bevel gear” alternatives, a common part produced in the aircraft and automotive industry. Their six-step system considered energy consumption, water use, effluent discharge, occupational health and safety, operating cost, and other factors to evaluate the use of different materials and manufacturing processes –ultimately concluding through mathematical modelling which of three possible designs was the most sustainable.
This work was supported by the Boeing Company and the Oregon Metals Initiative.
This assessment approach, when further researched and tested, should be applicable to a wide range of products during the design decision-making process, researchers said in the study.