Green Manufacturing Gains Traction -- In Southwest Michigan

Joint projects between academia and industry have focused on topics from bio-waste to energy efficient facility improvements and chemical remediation of hazardous waste.

The concern manufacturing corporations have expressed towards driving their companies on the road to green (sustainable) manufacturing has grown immensely. In response, a Green Manufacturing Initiative (GMI) at Western Michigan University (WMU) has been launched to collaborate with industry in order to address these needs.

This year, WMU received a $1 million federal grant from the Department of Energy to establish an initiative that will serve as a conduit between the university and industry partners. The objective of the initiative is to solve "green" related issues in manufacturing and provide a forum for manufacturers to network. Despite the downfall of the economy in 2009, green ventures have seen a receptive audience in Southwest Michigan. The concept for the initiative was developed by John Patten PhD, PE,CMfgE, the Director of the Manufacturing Research Center at WMU and founding director of GMI. The initiative is supported by a multi-faceted team of graduate and undergraduate students, with faculty members from engineering, chemistry, biology, geosciences, environmental science and business.

In addition to the GMI, the Green Manufacturing Industrial Consortium (GMIC) was founded this year. This effort is being lead by David Meade, PhD, Associate Professor of Manufacturing Engineering and Associate Director of GMIC who will act as the chief facilitator for creating the conduit between the university and industry. Meade describes the consortium as the catalyst between academia and industry, to allow working partnerships on green research to emerge. The focus of the consortium targets member company's internal research initiatives in search of mutual interests, where research funding can be leveraged to solve problems economically.

Consortium leverage is emphasized on a non-competitive/pre-competitive environment. The philosophy on green manufacturing is open source. Environmental consciousness is a necessity and an asset for social responsibility but innovation needs to be transparent. The basis of this philosophy is guided by the consortium's nature-information is shared mutually. Member companies of the consortium provide direction for the research efforts through a steering committee responsible for project selection and budget allocation. Member companies are given equal access to discoveries emphasizing the non-competitive environment.

The vision of the consortium is to attain a critical mass of 5-6 member companies by the end of 2010 with a maximum membership of 10-30 companies over the next few years. These members will have a non-binding commitment of five years and provide financial support through annual membership dues The dues provide research funding for faculty and graduate/undergraduate students. Research teams (faculty and students) will be formed on a project by project basis, that match technical expertise with the needs of the project. Consortium projects will vary from monthly to multi-year timelines.

As of January 2010, the initiative has worked on several industry projects. Results of these initial projects have been very successful. Projects have focused on various topics from bio-waste to energy efficient facility improvements and chemical remediation of hazardous waste. All of these initial projects have provided positive value to their perspective companies; results can be viewed on our website.

A few notable projects include the following:

  • Bio-waste has always been of concern for many food manufacturers. Much of this waste is sold as low-cost feed supplements to farms. Local companies have approached the GMI with a food waste, to determine if this waste source has a useful facility energy value. Steven Srivastava, a research student in the GMI, has developed cost analysis and feasibility studies for companies to convert these waste streams to useable biofuels. These biofuels could then be used to generate electricity and facility heat. Initial results have proven profitable and some of the projects are entering the pilot validation stage.
  • Another project consisted of a study on a company's overheard doors and the efficiency of the door heaters. Student researchers, Nathan Christensen and Ryan Kamm provided design solutions to accommodate differential steam control valves on the heaters as well as proximity sensors to automatically open/close doors. The initial investment is $5,100 and provided an annual energy savings of $28,400 to the company.
  • A third project, lead by student researcher Matthew Johnson, dealt with hazardous waste in the electroplating industry, which has been a continuous problem for many years. In small-scale electroplating companies, remediation and reduction of hazardous waste is often cost prohibitive. The research resulted in a plan to reduce their hazardous waste output by 97% with a capital payback of less than 1.5 years. The project is at implementation stage as new equipment goes into production this fall.
  • Other projects include a forklift efficiency study with new smart charging and improvements to Autophoretic and powder coating process efficiency.

As the GMIC gains traction through the fall more projects will be undertaken. Progress reports are released periodically on our website. Also the GMI has created the "Green Scoreboard" which highlights the financials of projects and provides links to information regarding the initiative. The final mission for GMIC is to provide environmentally benign solutions to industries processes and products through a forum of applied research that can reduce the impact on our environment while providing an economic benefit to the surrounding area.

Matthew A. Johnson, a student member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, is currently a graduate research assistant working under the Green Manufacturing Initiative at Western Michigan University.

This article was made possible by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Lean to Green Sustainability Tech Group.

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