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Focus on the Workforce: Green Manufacturing Requires Educated Workers

  Pamela Hurt

By Pamela Hurt
Society of Manufacturing Engineers 


Western Michigan University’s (Kalamazoo, MI) Manufacturing Research Center is helping manufacturers to "green up" their manufacturing plants, processes, and products through the Green Manufacturing Initiative (GMI).

The objective of the GMI is to develop a research culture that promotes practical, multi-interdisciplinary and collaborative research to incubate people and ideas. Faculty and students from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Geology), the College of Business, and the Environmental Research Institute and Environmental Studies program participate in the Green Manufacturing Initiative activities. The GMI addresses the needs in the areas of environmental and energy applied research, industrial-economic development, and education. Research focuses on science, engineering, and technology by establishing analytical tools for analysis and benchmarking. The environmental and energy impacts of design and manufacturing decisions are evaluated in conjunction with economic impacts, with special emphasis on the introduction of green materials and processes to manufacturing products. University students, undergraduate and graduate, work with faculty to conduct the industrially relevant projects and follow through with implementation at manufacturers’ facilities.Green Manufacturing Initiative

The GMI and its collaborating partners assist manufacturing companies with environmentally benign and energy-conscious manufacturing practices, with an emphasis on economically viable projects. The GMI tag line is Pursuing Environmental, Energy and Economic Opportunities: the three Es (or E3) of green manufacturing.

In the area of education, outreach, and workforce development, the initiative’s efforts are focused on educating the workforce (students and industrial professionals) for challenges facing manufacturers relative to environmental and energy issues. One aspect of this activity involves developing leading-edge competencies that can help companies take advantage of the benefits of technology without incurring environmental-related degradation of plant and facilities through proper design and appropriate manufacturing processes. A targeted effort also exists to help small manufacturing companies that lack the depth and breadth of expertise to take advantage of these emerging technologies. The GMI is also an ALLY of the DOE Save Energy Now program, which works with industry (Leader companies) to advance energy efficiency and optimization.

John Patten, chair of Manufacturing Engineering at WMU, recently (2010) received a $972,000 grant from the US Department of Energy to support applied research activities targeting this emerging area of importance to manufacturing operations. David Meade, associate professor of Manufacturing Engineering, has been working with Patten on project identification and oversight of the graduate and undergraduate students and faculty teams that have been working on the projects. Meade also manages the Green Manufacturing Industrial Consortium (GMIC). More than ten projects are underway and some have already been completed under this program (which began operation in January 2010). Companies where projects have been completed are benefitting from cost savings in energy, materials, and other operational costs such as hazardous waste disposal. Armstrong International, Bell’s Brewery, Borroughs Corp., Erdman Machine, Haworth, Herman Miller, Kellogg’s, Landscape Forms, Rapid Line, and Ottawa Gage are some of the companies that have been assisted through this program so far.

Projects and areas of expertise include:

  • Paint use reduction and reuse,
  • Hazardous waste; significant reduction in chrome usage,
  • Heat recovery, reuse and recycle opportunities,
  • Mixed Polymer Materials: reuse and recycle,
  • Automation of auxiliary heating systems,
  • Upgrade forklift-trucks charging infrastructure,
  • Revamping of process controls to reduce energy consumption,
  • Polystryrene reuse and recycle opportunities,
  • Pyrolysis evaluation to reprocess spent polymers,
  • Green Designs and Green Certification of products,
  • Green Materials: alternatives for plastic and wood materials,
  • Evaluation of applicability of renewable energy (wind and solar) technologies,
  • Reuse of automotive lithium batteries for energy storage,
  • Energy: biofuels for heat and power,
  • Evaluation of tri-generation (combined heat and power, and cooling) opportunities for manufacturing.

The Green Scoreboard is a way of publicly displaying GMI projects, the research it has conducted, and their projects’ projected economic impact. On the GMI homepage, a snapshot, or condensed version, of the Green Scoreboard is available. This snapshot looks at total project investments, the total annual amounts saved, the simple payback (for the total costs and their returns), and both temporary and sustained jobs potentially provided by implementing our solutions. The Green Scoreboard Web page displays more detailed information relating to each project, as well as presentation material that is available for those projects. The projects shown are some of the first to have been conducted within the GMI.

Currently there are 15 faculty and 10 students from WMU participating in various aspects of these green programs at WMU. In addition to WMU, other organizations and universities contribute to the overall success and impact of the effort by contributing additional resources and expertise to the enterprise. One of these activities involves the national E3 (economy, energy, environment) program, in which the GMIC has partnered with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center West (MMTC-W) and the Michigan Industrial Energy Center to provide site assessments to identify cost-effective environmental (mainly materials savings) and energy opportunities for GMIC members as needed.

In addition to the direct-assistance activities funded through the grant, Meade has been working to develop a consortium of companies interested in working together on common Green Manufacturing related research activities long-term—beyond the initial startup funding period covered by the DOE grant. Companies become members of (i.e., join) GMIC at an annual cost of $25,000/year, and companies are asked to join with a long-term view, i.e. a five-year, nonbinding, commitment is requested. It’s envisioned that the GMIC will have 6–10 member companies by the end of its first year (2011), with a maximum of 20–30 member companies at its peak.

The GMIC founding members are Fabri-Kal, Landscape Forms, and Ralcorp-Post Foods. ME


This article was first published in the May 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF


Published Date : 5/1/2011

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