Mirriam Webster defines ubiquitous as “existing or being everywhere at the same time; constantly encountered; widespread” and gives the example “a ubiquitous fashion.” The adverb ubiquitously means, essentially, in a ubiquitous manner. Another term that could be used here is holistic – meaning incorporating all aspects.
We will explore what this means when it modifies green or sustainable and how it can be a pathway of thinking that can lead to the creation of green and sustainable products by focusing on the manufacturing capabilities – meaning viewing manufacturing technology as an enabler – not just a constraint. And also we’ll look at what those green manufacturing technologies will be capable of.
Much of the motivation for this discussion, and the next posting, came from conversations with and a presentation to my graduate class on sustainable manufacturing from Dr. Yoon Lee (Managing Director, Product Innovation Team at Samsung in California). Dr. Lee is a 2000 graduate of Berkeley and did his PhD thesis under my direction. (His views represent his own perspective and not necessarily that of Samsung.)
His presentation was titled “Consumerizing Technology and Products – a paradigm shift from DFm to MFd” and covered a range of topics including the influences of sustainable and green design on his work. He titled the slides covering that material as “ubiquitously green” as part of a “green as a way of life” movement.
I like to think of it with respect to our discussion here as “green as a way of manufacturing” movement.
As part of my class this semester I asked the students to develop a definition of sustainability and sustainable manufacturing. We had previously discussed various aspects of this term as it applied to manufacturing. The class then voted on the one they thought was most reasonable. The winner, 40 percent selected it as their first choice and 25 percent as their second choice, was:
“Sustainability considers the past, present and future of products, services and/or economic processes to ensure that future generations enjoy a healthy environment and access to necessary resources. Sustainability is a holistic approach to materials, processes, use, shipping and end of life, extending beyond traditional norms and paradigms. At its best, sustainability inspires innovative business models by redefining economic incentives and consumption patterns.”
Not bad…only a few overused words like “paradigm” but, importantly, it covers the main bases of the concept. They did not use ubiquitous but did use holistic. That’s on target. We are now working on how to map this definition onto the manufacturing space to determine specific actions in design and manufacturing that follow. This is the hard part.
Dr. Lee’s lecture in my class started by explaining the process by which products are “consumerized” – meaning moving from a “here’s some neat technology – use it” from the engineer’s perspective to “I need the product to do it like this” from the consumer’s perspective. This latter view challenges us as manufacturers to create new products with new capabilities. This is contrary to the perspective that the designer tries her best to design “in the box” created-by-manufacturing capability. This is part of what the definition of sustainability from my class cited above meant when including the term “redefining consumptive patterns.”
It is here where we find the challenges. Perhaps you’ve heard of the terms “design for manufacturing” (or DfM) and “manufacturing for design” (MfD). This is very commonly used in the semiconductor industry where manufacturing restrictions often limit the capability of designers in chip design.
The concept is that, from the perspective of the designer, she should be able to look down the product development and manufacturing pipeline and anticipate problems and challenges to manufacture the design or some particular feature. It’s the reverse for the Mfd side. The manufacturing engineer should be able to look up the pipeline and see design features and elements that are going to cause challenges. Or, ideally, see the requirements of design in advance so that the capable manufacturing processes or systems can be in place when the design rattles down the pipe to production.
So, back to ubiquitously green (or sustainable). This term implies a product design and development process through manufacturing that is driven by the objective of “generating meaningful value” to customers. And here we might be so bold as to suggest that we view the environment, or society or business as “our customers.”
Dr. Lee draws an equivalence between sustainability and delivering lasting value. And the need to “create the equilibrium point” for sustainability between the needs of the consumer. This means that delivering lasting value meets a consumer need.
Now, granted, the company Dr. Lee works for is engaged in manufacturing consumer products – not the machinery that makes them or capital goods, etc. But it is this viewpoint of ubiquitously green or sustainable that will be most valuable in our work to drive green manufacturing.
That is, throughout the stages from extraction of materials through the process of their conversion, to manufacture and assembly of the product, its distribution and delivery, use and eventual reuse, remanufacture or recycling, the principles of green and sustainable manufacturing should be “everywhere at the same time; constantly encountered.”
In a few weeks, Part II of this discussion will elaborate on how we do that. Not surprisingly, metrics will be part of the discussion.
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.