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NIST, partners create new international standard to improve sustainable manufacturing

A public-private team led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a new international standard that can “map” the critically important environmental aspects of manufacturing processes, leading to significant improvements in sustainability while keeping a product’s life cycle low cost and efficient.

ASTM member Kevin Lyons, group leader, National Institute of Standards and Technology, notes that the new standard (ASTM E3012-16, Guide for Characterizing Environmental Aspects of Manufacturing Process) provides structure and formalism to ensure consistency in characterizing sustainable manufacturing processes. From there, computers can provide information and analytics on production and performance. Lyons explains that using the standard will help business transition into science-based modeling, decision-making, and production.

Manufacturers, as well as software suppliers that provide analysis and modeling solutions, will be the primary users of the new standard. The subcommittee that developed E3012 encourages manufacturers, especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), to demonstrate and report on their use of the standard, with the goal of keeping ensuring high-quality revisions in the future.

The guide 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 is easily individualized for a company’s specific needs.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, manufacturing accounts for one-fifth of the annual energy consumption in the United States—approximately 21 quintillion joules (20 quadrillion BTU) or equivalent to 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil. To reduce this staggering amount and improve sustainability, manufacturers need to accurately measure and evaluate consumption of energy and materials, as well as environmental impacts, at each step in the life cycles of their products.

However, making these assessments can be difficult, costly and time consuming, as many manufactured items are created in multiple and/or complex processes, 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, frequently not derived through scientific methods, and do not compare well with those from other types of manufacturing processes or from processes at different locations.

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.

—NIST systems engineer Kevin Lyons, who chaired the ASTM committee that developed the manufacturing sustainability standard

For their next step, Lyons and his colleagues on the ASTM sustainability committee plan to define key performance indicators (KPIs) for manufacturing sustainability that can be fed back into the E3012-16 standard to make it even more effective. In the long term, they would 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.

Through a collaboration with Oregon State University, NIST held regional industry roundtables in Boston, Chicago and Seattle to learn how best to introduce the benefits of the sustainability standard to US manufacturers, especially small- and medium-size firms. A report about those meetings will be published later this year.

The E3012-16 standard may be found on the ASTM website.

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