Manufacturers struggle to assess and improve their processes and to understand the implications of changes in the operation of those processes. A system of measurement science that addresses this struggle is emerging. Measurement science will provide a basis for measuring the impact of manufacturing processes in terms of efficiency of resource use. The use of resources including material, energy, water, and labor needs to be understood relative to organizational and societal objectives including productivity, agility, and sustainability to make informed decisions about trade-offs that manufacturers may need to make in their operations.
Productivity is a long established and well researched goal for manufacturing and has long been the dominant objective of manufacturers. The industrial revolution itself is based on the premise that automation can be applied more productively make the goods that our society desires. Agility is understood in terms of how readily a manufacturer can adapt to changing conditions without adversely impacting productivity relative to their business objects. The significance of agility as an objective is growing as result of electronic commerce. Sustainability represents the bounds within which these two competing objectives can operate without creating undo and undesirable consequences. In other words, sustainability assessments need to factor in both what trade-offs are being made and the impacts of the different choices to inform decision makers. The complexity of these trade-offs is growing beyond human capacity for making unaided decisions.
Current methods and tools to assess and describe sustainability of manufactured products focus on the life cycle of the products and do not necessarily account for individual manufacturing processes explicitly. For a given manufacturer, however, understanding their processes is critical to improving their performance and to including sustainability goals in their decision making. Manufacturing processes consume a large percentage of our national resources and optimizing those processes performance holds tremendous potential for improvement [2,3]. Yet, existing practices leave little incentive for understanding and improving the environmental impact of the individual processes. Further, the formal methods needed to acquire and consolidate sustainability information on manufacturing processes do not exist. Our goal is to provide a scientific basis to effectively compare environmental performances of manufacturing processes, resources and associated services with respect to sustainability.
To this end together with ASTM we have developed a method for characterizing manufacturing processes for sustainability. The characterization methodology is used to develop information models of unit manufacturing processes thus helping businesses transition into scientific modeling for decision-making and production planning . A standard based on this methodology furthers measurement science to quantify manufacturing practices to benefit industrial competitiveness. The standard does not dictate sustainability goals but rather highlights the need for such goals to be established on a process-by-process basis. The goal of applying the standard is to improve a process in terms of it’s sustainability through the definition of goals specific to that individual process. By establishing that rigor one should see opportunities for improvement and have a basis for understanding the implications of using a particular process in the future. This will allow for better informed decision making and, as result, lead to more sustainable systems.