Leveraging Manufacturing for a Sustainable World

by | Dec 14, 2010

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I recently attended a conference on high performance manufacturing in Gifu, Japan, focusing 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 my last article 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, 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.

David Dornfeld is the Will C. Hall Family Chair in Engineering in Mechanical Engineering at University of California Berkeley. He leads the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability (LMAS), and he writes the Green Manufacturing blog.

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