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Environmental remission

Environmental remission

Aug 10, 2007

Everyone on Earth plays a role in the improvement or degradation of our environment. That's why educational efforts like those by the Kettering Industrial Ecology Team could teach technical professionals to consider the environment when developing and manufacturing new goods.

Some might liken it to cancer. Once stricken with the disease, it may never fully disappear.

Consider this: the number of facilities spewing environmentally damaging emissions continues to grow around the world and destroy the healthy remnants of our atmosphere without discrimination. But unlike cancer, a surgeon cannot remove the damaged cells and expect the scar tissue to eventually fade as the patient grows stronger.

The likelihood of environmental degradation at the hands of people is no longer under debate. The shrinking forests, depleted rivers and inland lakes are indicative of an environment pinched of its resources by humankind. Some think it's too late to stop the damage. Others suggest that by limiting emissions and changing our consumption patterns, we can indeed slow the process down and perhaps help the environment begin to heal. But will this be enough? How can we prevent further damage in the short- and long-term future?

One possible solution is to expose engineering and business management students to ideas on how to engineer products with environmentally friendly materials.

This is precisely what Dr. Terri Lynch-Caris, an associate professor of Manufacturing Engineering, and her colleagues hope to do with the Kettering Industrial Ecology Team (KIET), a multidisciplinary group of researchers and industry professionals who examine environmental issues in product design and manufacturing. In 2005, the group won a three-year, $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF, grant no. 0511322) to create an organization and course that educates students about environmental awareness during the development process for products.

The course-IME 540: Environmentally Conscious Design and Manufacturing-is open to seniors from all majors as an elective. This class emulates Ford Motor Company's Partnership for Advanced Studies Program module titled Closing the Environmental Loop, which helps students investigate how industry is changing in response to today's environmental problems. Kettering's course utilizes professors from Industrial and Mechanical Engineering, as well as Business, Liberal Studies and Chemistry.

During the last term, students in IME 540 analyzed a number of issues concerning manufacturing and the impact of it on the environment. Some of these included looking at product lifecycles, design issues, how to make products more environmentally friendly and determining what percentage of specific products make up local landfills. To enhance student learning regarding landfills, the class visited one in Birch Run, Mich., to see how landfill companies properly manage waste and the methane gas generated by this waste.

According to Caris, the landfill company must wait about five years before they can begin to capture enough methane gas to generate electricity, which is then sold for consumer and industrial use. "We consider the landfill as the end-of-life for a product," she explained, adding that the electricity generated "can be the start of life for another product."

Students also created a bio-diesel fuel as part of a Green Chemistry Lab that consisted of 80 percent fuel and 20 percent of sodium hydroxide-commonly known as vegetable oil-and used it in a test jet engine in the institution's Mott Engineering and Science Center under the direction of Technician Ray Rust. This project clearly showed that this sort of fuel holds great possibilities for future use with limited impact on the environment.

Other activities that KIET has engaged in over the past year include a number of guest speakers invited to campus through the Green Engineering Organization (GEO), a student group that conveys to student engineers the need to consider environmental concerns during engineering processes. GEO was founded by Senior Kristie Boskey, who is also the B-Section president. The A-Section president is Eric Bumbalough. GEO works to bring awareness to engineers about the importance of environmental impact in design and processes from material selection, to product development, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life disposal.

Environmental lifecycle management has become a guide for better business decisions and an important consideration in creating efficient 'cradle-to-cradle' products. Some of the most recent speakers included Dave Rinard of Zeeland, Mich., based Steelcase. Rinard is director of Corporate Environmental Performance and during his talk he described what his company is doing to design products with the environment in mind. GEO also hosted Keith Grass, owner of a local recycling company that recycles ferrous and non-ferrous metals from old cars. He spoke about the profitability of the scrap business.

In addition, Caris, along with Dr. Ben Redekop, associate professor of Liberal Studies and a member of KIET, presented a paper titled "Bringing New Topics Into The IE Curriculum" at the American Society of Engineering Education June 2007 conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. This paper describes the overall project as well as assessment data from the first course offerings in winter and spring 2007 terms.

Finally, KIET will participate in the Lives Improve Through Engineering (LITE) program July 22-Aug. 3. LITE is a two-week residential program created by Kettering University to introduce 11th grade girls to engineering specialties. Participants learn how to design products that have a profound impact on people's lives: air bags, crash test dummies, artificial limbs and organs, and car seats.

And while the environment may have suffered damage due to industrial and human emissions, looking at new, environmentally safe ways to manufacture products could create a sort of sustainable remission that could help heal our world.

To learn more about KIET, contact Dr. Terri Lynch-Caris at (810) 762-9859.

Team Members

  • Andy Borchers, associate professor of Information Systems
  • Jackie El-Sayed, professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • Craig Hoff, professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • Terri Lynch-Caris, associate professor of Industrial Engineering
  • Ben Redekop, associate professor of Liberal Studies
  • Jennifer Aurandt, assistant professor of Chemistry
  • Vida Fisher, University Advancement
  • Kristie Boskey, Kettering co-op student
  • Mary Durfee, Michigan Technological University
  • Steven Kampe, Virginia Technological University
  • Susan Powers, Clarkson University
  • Scott Matthews and Chris Hendrickson, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Joyce Smith Cooper, University of Washington
  • Michael Faubert, DTE Energy
  • John Bradburn, Jerry King, Stella Papasavva, General Motors Corp.
  • Claudia Duranceau and Paul Poledink, Ford Motor Co.
  • David Rinard and Brian Scholten, Steelcase
  • Gabe Wing, Herman Miller
  • Angie Coyle and Ed Bissel, Delphi Corp.
  • Jalonne White-Newsome, DaimlerChrysler Global Engine Mfg. Alliance

Written by Gary Erwin