Standardizing Sustainable Manufacturing

A new ASTM standard aims to make it easier to evaluate the environmental aspects of manufacturing systems. It also sets the stage for more environmentally aware software.

Does “environmentalism” raise your hackles? How about Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) technology applied to overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), a 1960s term for a key performance indicator (KPI) leading to operational excellence? 

Regardless of the terminology, the goals are the same: Implementing environmental strategies that improve competitiveness, customer satisfaction, safety, quality control and profits—while reducing waste, utility bills, haulage fees and other environmentally-based cost benefits. That said, as with any KPI, a problem facing industry is in evaluating the environmental strategies to employ. To that end is a new standard released by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) and led by the Systems Integration Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

ASTM E3012-16, “Guide for Characterizing Environmental Aspects of Manufacturing Processes” (astm.org/Standards/E3012.htm), helps instill uniformity in sustainable manufacturing processes by mapping environmental factors against manufacturing processes, then formalizing those maps into computer models. On the manufacturing design side, these models will help manufacturing engineers measure and evaluate the environmental characteristics of their production processes, including energy and materials consumption. On the information technology side, the uniformity of computer modeling will help engineers link manufacturing information to business intelligence and analytics systems that both monitor environment performance and control production equipment.

What’s in this new standard?
According to NIST (nist.gov/el/systems-integration-division/astm-sustainable-manufacturing-standards), ASTM E3012-16 “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 uses that data to make informed decisions on improvements. The standard is easily individualized for a company’s specific needs.” The guide does this by providing “guidelines for the formal characterization and representation of unit manufacturing process (UMP) models.”

(Think of UMPs as any manufacturing step that adds value to a material or workpiece. Linking UMPs together into a network or system of UMPs “characterizes” the environmental aspects of the production system or product being represented.)

The characterization includes identifying UMPs, their associative KPIs, and the boundaries that define the UMP. UMP attributes are inputs and outputs, manufacturing resources (such as materials and energy), and product and process information (such as production and environment metrics). Transformation equations within the UMP models describe the change from inputs to outputs and create data to establish baseline measurements (such as energy in kWh). 

E3012-16 borrows from graphical programming the use of function blocks and arrows pointing in and out. Moreover, the UMP models are XML chunks of code. Explains Kevin Lyons, NIST systems engineer, the standard “lets 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.” 

In operation, Lyons likens E3012-16 to personal finance software, saying that you “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.”

The ASTM sustainability committee that wrote this standard is also defining KPIs for manufacturing sustainability. “In the long term,” continues Lyons, “we’ll 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.”

This repository, referred generically as a “database” in the ASTM blog post announcing the standard, “will help standardize terminology and structure of mapping and reporting manufacturing process impact, reducing complexity in mapping manufacturing processes, and thereby helping companies fully and accurately understand environmental impacts and work toward reducing them.” 

There’s software for this
Standards focused on sustainable manufacturing will eventually lead to more software tools aimed specifically for assessing . . . sustainable manufacturing. One that already exists as open source is EcoProIT (ecoproit.com), a project initiated at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. This software program uses “a discrete event simulation engine coupled with lifecycle inventory (LCI) data to calculate maximum throughput, emissions and environmental impact from product life, including detailed manufacturing product life phase analyze.” Users can model a product’s entire lifecycle, as well as focus on process details within that product’s lifecycle. The environmental impact assessment is dynamic and similar to real-world operations, moreso than the static calculations in many existing life cycle assessment (LCA) tools. The EcoProIT simulation uses the core manufacturing simulation data (CMSD) structure, which is similar to that of the UMPs in E3012-16.

Cost assessment calculations are through activity-based costing (ABC).

On the commercial side, GaBi Envision is one of several sustainability (that is, LCA) software products from thinkstep (thinkstep.com). The software combines LCA modeling and reporting, and is backed up by over 9,000 LCI datasets based on actual industrial processes. Using GaBi boils down to three basic steps, according to thinkstep: “Map a product’s impacts, including carbon, water, energy, emissions, waste, materials and natural resources, social impact, costs, health and safety, across your supply chain and its life cycle. Evaluate product scenarios or compare different products in collaboration with colleagues. Optimize your product by implementing the most sustainable product design and communicate the product’s credentials through reporting.”

GaBi software features a search tool to access database objects, lifecycle impact assessment previews, the capability for intelligent process chain connections, process groupings, drill-down dashboards for visual analysis, pre-formatted templates for dashboards and reporting, static and dynamic reporting, interactive configuration tools and customizable reports.

Got manufacturing? Got environmental concerns? Make both sustainable—leading to significant dollar savings.