Engineering a new consciousness

Jul 15, 2005

Speaker series and multi-disciplinary initiative examine environmental issues in product design and manufacturing to help engineering and business majors understand the importance of remaining environmentally conscious during the product development phase.

For years, American companies would go to any length to develop products that consumers would gobble up like M & Ms during a movie. Our ravenous culture is one that is continually starving for the newest, most inane new gimmick or toy available on the market. Unfortunately, much of the engineering concepts and product lifecycle of the things we purchase come at the expense of our environment, which is irreplaceable and un-recyclable.

And as global warming increases in intensity, people are growing more worried about how the emissions of a factory on the south side of Detroit, with its exhaust stained stacks belching out thick clouds of soot, will degrade their health years down the road. According to "The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century" published by the National Academy of Engineering (2004), our world must move toward engineering practices that incorporate "attention to sustainable technology... engineers need to be educated to consider issues of sustainability in all aspects of design and manufacturing." Thus, the days of black industrial exhaust puffing from the stacks of manufacturing facilities may slowly be coming to an end.

Save The Date: July 26, 12:20 p.m.
Dr. Claudia Duranceau,
senior research scientist for the
Emissions Control and Recycling Program at Ford Motor Co.,
will speak about the importance of environmental
consciousness during the lifecycle of products.
Kettering Campus Center Room A.

This is why a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Kettering University, other institutions and industry are working on a project to critically examine environmental issues in product design and manufacturing. The primary goal of this group, which is called the Kettering Industrial Ecology Team (KIET), is to establish a multi-disciplinary coursein Industrial Ecology that provides students with the economic, managerial, ethical, scientific and engineering skills necessary to critically examine environmental issues in product design and manufacturing, and develop solutions to these problems. The ultimate expectation is to create and use proven and innovative pedagogical methods and tools to produce graduates capable of effectively incorporating environmental concerns into technical design and economic decisions regarding the lifecycle of products. The group will help publicize their efforts by bringing Dr. Claudia Duranceau, senior research scientist for Emissions Control and Recycling Planning at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., to campus July 26 to present a talk to students about the importance of environmental consciousness during the lifecycle of a product.

Some may connect this initiative to what the EPA defines as Green Engineering, which involves the design, commercialization and use of processes and products that are feasible and economical while reducing the generation of pollution at the source and minimizing the risk to human health and the environment. But is this a correct and appropriate definition of what a large company undertakes when it decides to review its engineering and product development processes in order to limit the environmental impact of these functions?

Perhaps not. For many scientists and engineers who work with product lifecycles, the term Green Engineering is pejorative at best. Duranceau, for example, feels the term Green Engineering is inappropriate and a bit naive. Part of her role at Ford includes instructing Ford engineers in this area through a course in the company's Partnership for Advanced Studies (PAS) titled Module 5: Closing the Environmental Loop. This module helps students study how industry is changing in response to today's environmental problems and learn about a range of incentives for reducing the environmental impact of products and processes. Module 5 instructs students on the use of data for monitoring progress toward environmentalgoals. By utilizing role-playing activities, students develop the negotiation skills needed to build financially and environmentally sustainable partnerships. Additionally, students will apply their learning about products and companies to a product of their own choosing. For their final project, they present proposals for making their products more environmentally sustainable.

Kettering's proposed Industrial Ecology class will emulate Ford's Module 5 because of the success the company achieved in the early 1990s. According to Paul Poledink, director of the PAS program, a precursor to this module conducted by Ford in the 1990s reached more than 70 high schools and realized important results. For example, 40 percent of students were women and there was also a large number of minorities who participated. Poledink also noted that based on a follow-up survey, 61 percent of participants enrolled in post-secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, which suggests that offerings in this area could increase female and minority student enrollments in disciplines that have experienced decreasing enrollments over the past several years.

While all of this is good news for schools like Kettering that wish to expose students to this subject, Duranceau explained that there are both risks and benefits involved with developing products with the environment in mind.

"The idea is to show engineers and business people how the company can reduce the depletion of resources through the product development lifecycle," she said. Most importantly, company representatives involved in this effort agree that producing products without impacting the environment is a wonderful thing. However, it must also be economically viable for corporations to undertake such an enterprise. "Ultimately, if we can avoid increasing degradation of theearth's biosphere whilelimiting costs associated with this effort, we will succeed," she added.

This lecture is one of many that Dr. Terri Lynch-Caris, an assistant professor of Industrial Engineering, and the rest of KIET group hope to initiate. "We would like to invite more industry experts to campus for presentations and talks," she said. She also added that the group expects to show students the impact this class and associated research will have on dozens of fields. The team also plans to share information they obtain during their research and course development efforts on a national level through the drafting of technical papers, presentations and industry interaction. In recent months, the team submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) titled "Development of a Course in Environmentally Conscious Design and Manufacturing for Undergraduates" to support the development of the Industrial Ecology course. Trevor Harding, associate professor of Manufacturing Engineering, is the primary investigator on this proposal. Some of the activities expected from the course include case studies, field trips and hands-on experiments. "One day we expect to take this beyond the undergraduate level," Caris said, adding that plans are under development for potential graduate study opportunities in this area, as well as modular programs that meet the needs of Kettering cooperative education partners.

Duranceau's talk will take place July 26 in room A of Kettering's Campus Center at 12:20 p.m. General Motors Corp. contributed $15,000 toward the project, but additional support is necessary to fully develop the course and fund research activities. Caris noted that current board members are enthusiastic and very supportive of this project, and their insights are critical as the group works toward developing a fuller understanding of the economics involved in environmentally safe engineering. For more information on this project, contact Dr. Trevor Harding at (810)762-9811, or via e-mail at

Team Members
Andy Borchers, associate professor of Information Systems
Jackie El-Sayed, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering
Trevor Harding, associate professor of Industrial Engineering
Craig Hoff, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering
Terri Lynch-Caris, assistant professor of Industrial Engineering
Ben Redekop, associate professor of Social Science
Karley Shulz, Kettering co-op student at Steelcase
Michael Faubert, DTE Energy
Mary Durfee, Michigan Technological University
Steven Kampe, Virginia Technological University
Susan Powers, Clarkson University
Scott Matthews and Chris Hendrickson, Carnegie Mellon University
John Bradburn, Jerry King, Stella Papasavva, General Motors Corp.
Claudia Duranceau, Ford Motor Co.
David Rinard and Brian Scholten, Steelcase
Gabe Wing, Herman Miller
Angie Coyle, Delphi Corp.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538