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manufacturing standard

How to Make Manufacturing Processes More Environmentally Sustainable

manufacturing standardMaking manufacturing processes more environmentally sustainable — by reducing waste or water used, for example — provides a host of business benefits including efficiency improvements, a streamlined workflow and savings on utility bills and hauling fees.

But mapping all of the environmental aspects of manufacturing processes can be difficult, costly and time consuming. Many manufactured items are created in multiple and/or complex processes, and the environmental impacts of these processes can vary widely depending on how and where the manufacturing occurs. Additionally, the data collected aren’t always reliable, and often do not compare well with those from other types of manufacturing processes or from processes at different locations.

A new international standard aims to address these issues, allowing companies to map the environmental aspects of manufacturing processes.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which led the team that created the recently approved ASTM International standard for characterizing the environmental aspects of manufacturing processes (ASTM E3012-16), says using it can lead to sustainability improvements while keeping a product’s life cycle low-cost and efficient.

The guide provides manufacturers with 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 improvements.

“It has a graphical format, with arrows coming in and out, for manufacturers to describe what types of resources might be used,” KC Morris, NIST information modeling and testing group leader told Environmental Leader. “Our intent is to provide a more uniform way for manufacturers to come up with the information they need to evaluate their processes.”

Of course, this information will vary based on products produced, processes used and manufacturers’ locations, among other variables. Morris says the standard is easily individualized for a company’s specific needs.

NIST systems engineer Kevin Lyons, who chaired the ASTM committee that developed the manufacturing sustainability standard, describes it as similar to using personal finance software at home. “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,” he said. “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 next step is to define key performance indicators (KPIs)—metrics of success—for manufacturing sustainability that can be fed back into the E3012-16 standard. To this end, the ASTM sustainability committee is currently working on a standard that will define KPIs.

The potential for efficiency gains and savings are big.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, manufacturing accounts for one-fifth of the annual energy consumption in the US. But to reduce this amount, manufacturers need to accurately measure and evaluate consumption of energy and materials, as well as environmental impacts, at each step in the life cycles of their products.

As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This new standard should give manufacturers the tools they need to do just that.

Image Credit: NIST

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One thought on “How to Make Manufacturing Processes More Environmentally Sustainable

  1. This new ASTM Guidance standard is a welcome contribution to the practice of characterizing industrial processes in order to understand where, how, and why toxic substances, materials, and energy are used. This is a vital step in undertaking any effort to reduce pollution and improve a facility’s environmental performance.

    Massachusetts has long taught Process Flow Diagramming (called, in the ASTM standard, the graphical UMP information model) as part of its Toxics Use Reduction Planner training. This framework requires a complete graphical representation of process inputs, outputs (product and non-product), product flow, and process descriptions, which is then followed by materials accounting to quantify the amounts at every point in an industrial process. Massachusetts businesses that have undertaken Toxics Use Reduction planning have achieved impressive reductions in their use of toxic chemicals, partly as a result of the insights gained through this diagramming process.

    The database schema introduced by the new guidance will establish standardized terminology and process flow structure descriptions, thus enabling development of software tools for broad dissemination of process information and integration of process information into larger software systems. This, in turn, should help bring Pollution Prevention more into the mainstream of company information systems, reduce pollution, and improve environmental performance – all desirable outcomes.

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