A public-private team led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created an international standard that can map important environmental aspects of manufacturing processes, leading to significant improvements in sustainability, while keeping a product’s life cycle low cost and efficient.
To improve sustainability, manufacturers need to accurately measure and evaluate consumption of energy and materials, as well as environmental impacts, at each step of the life cycles of their products.
However, completing these assessments can be difficult, costly and time consuming, and the environmental impacts of these processes can vary widely depending on how and where the manufacturing occurs.
Additionally, the data collected are often unreliable, and do not compare well with those from other types of manufacturing processes or from processes carried out at different locations.
These issues are beginning to be addressed through a recently approved ASTM International standard for characterizing the environmental aspects of manufacturing processes, ASTM E3012-16.
The standard 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 use that data to make informed decisions on improvements. The standard can be easily individualized to suit the specific needs of a company.
NIST systems engineer Kevin Lyons, who chaired the ASTM committee that developed the manufacturing sustainability standard, said, “it’s similar to using personal finance software at home where you have to 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.
“We designed ASTM E3012-16 to let 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,” Lyons said.
As the next step, Lyons and his colleagues on the ASTM sustainability committee plan to define the metrics of success for manufacturing sustainability that can be fed back into the E3012-16 standard to make it even more effective.
“In the long term, we’d also like to 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,” Lyons said.