Green technology manufacturing
The topic of green manufacturing was examined in depth last week at the AMT/NCMS Manufacturing Technology Forum, held in Nashville, Tennessee. A good overview of the challenges and benefits of green manufacturing was presented by Dr. David Dornfeld, a Will C. Hall Family Professor of Engineering, and Director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability at UC Berkeley.
Dornfeld opened his talk by querying the audience for their personal habits on purchasing sustainable products, given both the extra costs and benefits. The results from the audience were mixed, but Dornfeld’s point was salient: industrial and manufacturing purchasing habits tend to lie very close to consumer purchasing habits. However, when considering sustainable manufacturing, it’s even more important to consider costs as related to benefits, because these elements will span not only the entire manufacturing process, but affect the whole organization. Cost-benefit analyses must be in-depth and accurate. But where to start? How to begin to identify all the factors that must be considered, let alone figure out how to quantify and monetize them?
A good definition of sustainability put forth by the Department of Commerce is “the manufacture of products that use materials and processes that minimize negative environmental impact, conserve energy and natural resources, and improve safety for consumers, communities and employees.” Businesses, however, need to add a caveat to this definition – it also needs to be profitable.
Dornfeld addressed the multitude of reasons to pursue green, sustainable manufacturing. First, companies may be compelled to do so by federal, state and local laws. Manufacturers may also be attracted to the cost savings ushered in by the increased efficiencies inherent in sustainable methods. Additionally, organizations may be feeling pressure from consumers as they become more environmentally conscious in their purchasing habits. Letting competitors provide customers with what they demand is a quick way to lose market leadership. Finally, companies may be feeling pressure from players all along their supply chains.
Whatever the reason for pursuing green manufacturing, said Dornfeld, there are many opportunities on the table. Today, a lot of effort toward sustainability in areas such as energy transport, lifestyle, defense or building demands increasingly precise elements and components being precision-manufactured. Machine tools that use less energy, materials and space will effect a long-term improvement in operations efficiency.
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