Marginal Column

Photo | David Dornfeld

Prof. David Dornfeld heads up the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability and the consortium for green manufacturing technology at the Berkeley campus.

His focal points are sustainable production, the analysis of manufacturing processes, precision manufacturing, and process surveillance and optimization. Get more information on his blog (see below).

Photo: David Dornfeld

“Companies will increasingly see the big picture.”


Professor Dornfeld, how did green manufacturing get started?

Probably the most proactive industry would be semiconduc­tors or electronics, because they use a lot of chemicals as well as lead and other materials, deionized water – and energy. This was one of the most heavily regulated industries because of the materials they use. So they probably got started in the area of green manufacturing fairly early on, maybe 15, 20 years ago, trying to reduce resources, consumables and waste. Of course a lot of it was originally an effort to save money and energy for the company as well.

What are the most important factors that motivate com­panies to get involved in green manufacturing today?

A recent study showed that out of about 50 reasons for green manufacturing, the first seven or eight were not about cost, but with corporate reputation, competitiveness, marketplace perception, employee comfort and employee recruiting. There’s also regulation, consumer demand and competitiveness – gaining an edge by saying “Our products are green and our competitors’ aren’t.”

What are the biggest challenges in making green manu­facturing work?

The biggest one is measuring return on investment. When companies specify new machinery, they know how to measure productivity increases, maintenance savings and cost per manufactured part. But for green manufacturing, it’s a little more challenging. I think people are beginning to do energy calculations: wasted energy becomes heat, so you have to cool the building. People can calculate that. The trick is to know where to look for savings: utilities, how things are distributed throughout the factory, and productivity. Of course, big organizations like automotive manufacturers have a lot of resources to figure out ROI. Smaller operations often don’t have the resources or the time to do a detailed analysis.

How does automation fit into implementing green manufacturing?

First, you can automatically increase or decrease the energy used by the system, as needed. Second, automation helps you concentrate your operations and increase productivity per square foot. Well-designed automation lets you heat or cool smaller spaces in a facility. Another way is taking excess energy from one place and using it in another. You can also speed up your processes. Because actual production is a small portion of the energy used in making something, if you can make things faster you can use a machine’s energy consumption much more efficiently.

Automation can ensure that more energy is expended in actually making something whenever machines are running. There’s also the idea of getting better information on energy or resource consumption. We’re working on a Bosch Rexroth initiative (Rexroth 4EE, ed.) to track energy profiles to see whether something is going to increase energy or resource consumption, or eventually cause a failure, which really wastes resources.

In which industries is green manufacturing well advanced?

Some furniture and carpet manufacturers have looked at the materials they use and how they impact recycling and other processes. One carpet manufacturer diverts hundreds of mil­lions of tons from landfills by taking their carpets back and reprocessing them for use in new carpeting. Electronic manufacturers are focused on reuse and recyclability for components, printers and PCs.

How do you determine whether a company is green? Are there any ways to monitor this and quantify it?

Measures include energy consumption from public grids and emissions. You can also use the energy consumption per item or per dollar of sales as your yardstick. But you can also look at water or other resource consumption and the amount of waste. The goal is “zero waste.” Some US vehicle manufacturers have been aggressive lately in developing zero waste facilities. One manufacturer wants to double its business by 2050 but use no more water than today. Some retailers track waste and packaging to reduce disposal costs and to help measure efficiency.

Where do you think green manufacturing will be in 20 years?

Companies will increasingly see the big picture. They’ll track the right kind of data, and track items through their supply chain. Companies will look at overall product life cycles, from putting materials together to disposing of it in a landfill. The consumers will also see the product life cycle and how producing and disposing of it impacts the environment, strengthen­ing the incentive for green manufacturing.