Sustainability initiatives are alive and well, even if we don’t hear too much about them these days. It does seem that fewer manufacturers are talking publicly about their sustainability programs—as pointed out in the recent Automation World article “What Happened to Sustainability?” by James Koelsch. Nevertheless, companies are embarking on initiatives to cut energy use and waste and improve their carbon footprint. In fact, the majority of respondents to a survey highlighted in that article said they are integrating sustainability programs into manufacturing operations and consider it a normal part of doing business.
However, how they go about outlining and implementing a sustainability strategy is another question. After all, if it is a normal part of the manufacturing process, it should be based on a systematic approach that applies industry standards, much like we do for integrating the manufacturing network, applying product quality control and adhering to good manufacturing practice regulations.
But there are no industry standards for sustainable manufacturing. Well, until now, that is.
Recently, a new standard was released by ASTM that will provide a formal approach to applying sustainable manufacturing processes thereby helping to reduce operational costs, improve quality control and enhance manufacturing resources. It will do this by characterizing manufacturing processes in a computer-interpretable way. Meaning, manufacturing information can be linked to analytics for calculating the desired environmental performance measures.
Dubbed E3012-16 Guide for Characterizing Environmental Aspects of Manufacturing Processes, the international standard, developed by ASTM and led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), can “map” the critical environmental aspects of manufacturing processes to computer models.
The reason the standard was developed was to tackle a real industrial problem: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, manufacturing accounts for one-fifth of the annual energy consumption in the United States—approximately 21 quintillion joules (20 quadrillion BTU) or equivalent to 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil. To offset this massive energy appetite, manufacturers need to accurately measure and evaluate consumption and environmental impacts at each step in the life cycles of their products. But complex manufacturing processes and unreliable data make this a difficult task.
According to an article published on the NIST website, the E3012-16 guide provides a science-based, systematic approach to capture and describe information about the environmental aspects for any production process or group of processes, and then use that data to make informed decisions on improvements.
“It’s similar to using personal finance software at home where you have to gather income and expenditure data, ‘run the numbers’ and then use the results to make smart process changes—savings, cutbacks, streamlining, etc.—that will optimize your monthly budget,” said NIST systems engineer Kevin Lyons, who chaired the ASTM committee that developed the manufacturing sustainability standard. “We designed ASTM E3012-16 to let manufacturers virtually characterize their production processes as computer models, and then, using a standardized method, ‘plug and play’ the environmental data for each process step to visualize impacts and identify areas for improving overall sustainability of the system.”
The ASTM sustainability committee will continue to define key performance indicators (KPIs) for manufacturing sustainability that can be fed back into the E3012-16 standard to make it even more effective. “In the long term, we’d also like to establish a repository of process models and case studies from different manufacturing sectors so that users of the standard can compare and contrast against their production methods,” Lyons said.