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Sustainable manufacturing system developed by US University

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Engineers at Oregon State University (OSU) have developed a ‘sustainable manufacturing’ system that attempts to better include the human component of industry.

The new approach begins on the factory floor and tries to encompass the totality of manufacturing issues – including economic, environmental, and social impacts.

Researchers claim this approach builds on previous approaches that considered various facets of sustainability in a more individual manner. Past methods often worked backward from a finished product and rarely incorporated the complexity of human social concerns.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Commenting on the research, Karl Haapala, an OSU assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering said, “In the early days, industry dealt with 'end-of-pipe' challenges to reduce pollution or increase efficiency. There's still a place for that, but we're trying to solve the problem at the source, to begin the process right at the drawing board or on the shop floor.”

The researchers demonstrated the approach with the production of stainless steel knives, based on an industry project. But the general concepts could be used for virtually any system or product, they said.

With every decision the method considers manufacturing techniques, speed of the operations, environmental impacts, materials, energy used and wastes. Decisions can be based on compliance with laws and regulations, and the effects of different approaches on worker safety and satisfaction.

"This is one of the few approaches to systematically consider the social aspects of the workplace environment, so that people are happy, productive, safe, and can contribute to their families and communities," said Hao Zhang, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering and graduate research assistant on the study.

Social components have often been left out in the past, Zhang said, because they were some of the most difficult aspects to scientifically quantify and measure.

OSU researchers are further developing these approaches in collaboration with Sheldon Manufacturing, Inc., of Cornelius, Ore., a designer and manufacturer of laboratory equipment. This work has been supported by Benchmade Knife Co., Sheldon Manufacturing and the Oregon Metals Initiative.

Image: Oregon State University

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