What is SMART Manufacturing?

U.S. manufacturing, a key component of national economic development and prosperity, has been greatly challenged by competitive trends over the past decade, as global manufacturing competition has begun to shift towards fast implementation, just-in-time model-based manufacturing, frequent product transitions, and shifting of technical personnel to meet those changing needs. Further burdens are being placed on all industries owing to uncertain energy prices and possible greenhouse gas constraints. Revitalization of U.S. manufacturing is of utmost importance in the national economy. In academia, engineering sustainability, advanced manufacturing theory, alternative energy and biofuels have become very active but relatively disconnected research areas. Research coordination in the academic community and its networking with industries are insufficient and lack depth. To bridge the gap between the academic knowledge discovery and industrial technology innovation for sustainable manufacturing, our multidisciplinary team proposes to create an interdisciplinary, international research coordination network to promote Sustainable Manufacturing Advances in Research and Technology (SMART). SMART reflects the theme of the joint effort among a number of leading academic laboratories, centers, non-government organizations, and major manufacturing industries.

During this project, the team will (1) conduct comprehensive and in-depth review of frontier research and technological development for sustainable manufacturing, (2) define the roadmap towards manufacturing sustainability and identify the bottlenecks in a number of focused research areas via several workshops, (3) coordinate research through sharing knowledge, resources, software, and results, (4) establish partnerships with industrial groups to expedite technology introduction, and (5) conduct education and outreach to a wide range of stakeholders. The SMART coordination network (CN) will be further strengthened through collaborating with eight leading research laboratories in seven other countries.

Sustainable manufacturing research involves a wide spectrum of areas and disciplines, such as advanced manufacturing, sustainability assessment and decision making, product and process systems engineering, energy and environmental engineering, multiscale complex systems science and engineering, information technology, economics and sociology. The SMART CN will support a new paradigm for manufacturing sustainability and aggregate concerted efforts from multiple research groups with complementary expertise to transform the knowledge base of manufacturing sustainability, and develop a consensus roadmap for future efforts. It is anticipated that success in this endeavor will have a significant impact on industrial efforts in developing sustainable manufacturing technologies. The SMART CN will serve as a starting point for further increasing the diversity of the next generation of researchers, especially under-represented groups, and will have a hub-type website to serve the different communities. The project will also generate a number of case study educational modules for sustainable engineering education that should be widely adoptable for undergraduate/graduate education and professional training in industries.

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Manufacturing: A Key Economic Driver in the U.S.

The U.S. economy has been able to sustain a general trend of economic growth and standard of living increases for its population in the past two centuries.  This has occurred largely through American innovation and a sustained ability to achieve ever higher levels of productivity in industry, agriculture, and commerce.  However, over the past decade it has become increasingly apparent that America’s leadership cannot be taken for granted.   Global competition has been eroding the U.S.’s economic leadership, which is largely reflected in industrial innovation leadership.

There are four key industrial sectors: (i) raw material extraction industries such as farming and mining, (ii) manufacturing, refining, and construction industries, (iii) service sector involving law, medicine, and distribution of manufactured goods, and (iv) a relatively new type of knowledge-based industry focusing on technological research, design and development such as computer programming and biochemistry.  Manufacturing is a wealth-producing sector of the economy. Chemical manufacturing, automotive manufacturing, semiconductor manufacturing, and now energy manufacturing are among key manufacturing types.  The chemical and allied manufacturing industries, for example, operate over 20,000 establishments with $1.5 trillion in annual sales, a $79 billion payroll, and 1.7 million direct employees.  These contribute over 5% to the U.S. GDP. On the other hand, most manufacturing involves significant social and environmental costs.  The clean-up costs of hazardous waste, for example, may outweigh the benefits of the product that creates it.  Hazardous materials may expose workers to health risks.  The chemical and allied industries currently consume 45% of the energy resources and emit about 650 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) annually.  It is known that manufacturing one car in the U.S. requires, on average, at least 20 barrels of oil. In the U.S., manufacturers have been subject to various regulations by EPA and OSHA.

Over the past decade, U.S. manufacturing has been greatly challenged in multiple facets, as global manufacturing competition has begun to shift towards fast implementation, just-in-time model-based manufacturing, frequent product transitions, and shifting of technical personnel to meet those changing needs.  Further burdens are being placed on manufacturing owing to uncertain energy prices and possible GHG constraints.  As to the job market, 1978 was the peak year for jobs in manufacturing.  By 2007, the manufacturing industries had lost 27% of its jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, largely due to increased employment overseas. The Economic Policy Institute indicated that in many states in the U.S., manufacturing represents a large part of their state economy.  However, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Oregon, for example, have had 41.2% of the total jobs lost since the recession began.

Needless to say, revitalization of U.S. manufacturing is of utmost importance in the national economy.  In March 2003, Donald L. Evans, Secretary of Commerce, announced the President’s Manufacturing Initiative in a speech before the National Association of Manufacturers in Chicago, and ordered a comprehensive review of the issues influencing long-term competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing.  The Manufacturing Initiative was a series of 57 recommendations taken from discussions with U.S. manufacturers during 23 public roundtables held by the U.S. DOC. In the chemical manufacturing industry, Vision2020, created by ACS, AIChE, CCR, ACC and U.S. DOE in 1995, represented a unique opportunity to bring the voice of industry to the nation’s strategic R&D planning processes. In the spring of 2009, the Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative was established by the Chemical Industry Vision2020 Technical Partnership.  Specific RD&D topic areas were identified, such as alternative feedstocks, energy efficiency, materials for sustainable manufacturing, next generation of chemical manufacturing, waste reduction and recovery, and water conservation, recycling and reuse. Similar efforts have been made in many other manufacturing industries.

The drive for global competitiveness in manufacturing has spawned a number of new studies in the past three years.  A plan for economic growth by the White House (2011) couples manufacturing to American innovation, especially in clean energy industries. This follows on a workshop held by President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2010 and the National Science and Technology Council in 2008.  The National Association of Manufacturing proposed a manufacturing strategy for job growth in 2010.  The European Commission has been actively funding efforts in European companies for the adoption of ICT (Informational and Communications Technology) as a way to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprint. Recently, a coalition of companies and universities in the U.S. has promoted smart manufacturing as a way to make manufacturing operations more productive through the massive adoption of modeling and simulation tools as well as sensor and information technology.  This group, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), arose out of an NSF-funded network of engineering faculty and industry leaders and developed an initial roadmap for smart manufacturing in 2009.  Subsequent great interest by the government agencies such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. DOE led to a significant gathering of technical leaders from a broad range of industries in a private-public partnership to develop tools to raise manufacturing performance to a new level.

It appears that manufacturing revitalization is essentially an industrial sustainability problem.  In an influential Harvard Business Review (HBR) article in September of 2009, Prahalad and his colleagues posited that sustainability is the new key driver of innovation.  Observing that being environment-friendly can lower cost and increase revenue, they predicted that, in the future, only companies that make sustainability a goal will achieve competitive advantage.  This is a significant conclusion, because this would mean rethinking business models as well as products, technologies, and processes.

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Sustainable Manufacturing Research and need for Coordination

According to Peterson, Advanced Manufacturing has been listed as the second in the top five national priorities of engineering research. A fundamental issue of the advancement of manufacturing is how to ensure manufacturing sustainability.  In 1987, the Brundtland Report stated that the “current patterns of resource consumption and environmental degradation could not continue as they were and in order to reduce the problem facing us, society must act as a whole.”  In mid 1990’s, green chemistry/green engineering became a focused area in academic research. It is well-recognized that industrial pollution often has complex negative effects on biological systems in the environment.  The various policies and regulations set in place to help protect the environment have stimulated researchers to search for effective, economical ways to minimize pollution. NSF and EPA jointly initiated a funding program in 1995, called the Technology for a Sustainable Environment (TSE) program.  It was designed to address pollution avoidance/prevention processes and methodologies, and to support scientific and technological research with long-term impact on industrial applications. Many funded research projects were directly related to environmentally benign manufacturing, which contributed greatly to the advancement of the discovery, development, and use of innovative technologies and approaches to avoid or minimize the generation of pollutants at the source of manufacturing systems.

Sustainable engineering is the science of applying the principles of engineering and design in a manner that fosters positive social and economic development while minimizing environmental impact. This mission is largely accomplished through efforts to redesign and retrofit existing systems of various scales based on an analysis of current operations, production quality, and the functional deficiencies that may potentially hinder these systems.  Sustainable engineering practices should be applied to all industries, including manufacturing, energy systems, transportation, waste management, and environmental remediation.  Any industry where energy is expended or resources are consumed can benefit from implementing responsible sustainable development strategies.

Sustainable manufacturing can be defined as the creation of manufactured products using processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers, and are economically sound.  Supported by various programs at NSF and other federal agencies, sustainable manufacturing research has been a very active area.  The efforts can be roughly divided into two closely related categories: (i) advanced manufacturing theories and methodologies for multiscale system design, optimization, product design, system operation, supply chain, and management, where sustainability concerns are taken into account, and (ii) engineering sustainability theory and methodologies, which are mostly for introducing and evaluating sustainability metrics, conducting assessment and decision making under uncertainty, exergy analysis, life cycle analysis (LCA), etc. Today, environmental sustainability, energy sustainability, process/product sustainability, water sustainability, and business sustainability are studied extensively.

While significant research progress has been made in the above two main categories, a true advancement of sustainable manufacturing largely depends on how the research efforts in various areas can be coordinated, knowledge can be shared effectively, and how well the academic research and industrial technology innovation efforts can be networked.  It must be pointed out that effective integration of sustainability into advanced manufacturing requires a multidisciplinary effort, as sustainability refers to a state of harmonious interaction among various economic, environmental, and social aspects of the system of interest, and sustainable development is a continuous process of improvements that must be followed in order to achieve that state of sustainability.

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