Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering

Research

Sustainable Manufacture Research Group

The Sustainable Manufacture (SM) Research Group brings together a number of staff with varied backgrounds to create a multi-disciplinary team with a diverse background and skill set.

The Group aims to develop strategies, methodologies and enabling technologies that safeguard long-term economic sustainability through added value and improved production capability, as well as supporting environmental sustainability through a decrease in the consumption of natural resources.

The main research goal is to provide industry with the opportunity to achieve a progressive change away from traditional manufacturing approaches to high value-added sustainable manufacturing methods. The scope of our research activities therefore covers the complete lifecycle of not only the products but also their production systems. The Group has a wide range of expertise including projects in life-cycle analysis, sustainable product and process design, resource-efficient manufacturing technologies, sustainable business models and servitisation, and end-of-life processing and recycling technologies. The group’s remit has recently been extended into the growing area of ‘long-term security and sustainability of food manufacturing’.

Visit the Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technology (SMART) website to find out more.  

Designing Ubiquitous Sustainability into Product Development

The majority of the environmental impact of a product is decided during the design phase, and as such there has been a rapid growth in generation of methodologies and tools that aim to improve design and include sustainability considerations in product development. These however are only generating incremental improvements as opposed to radical reductions in impact. This highlights a need to understand the extent and limitations of current sustainable design practice in order to enable a greater understanding of how to unlock the full potential of design improvements and how sustainability can become an embedded part of the design process in the future. In this context, this research aims to improve the incorporation of sustainable design within product development by developing frameworks, methods and tools for assessing and classifying existing design processes. These will facilitate sustainability implementation by enabling identification of the most appropriate methods for sustainable design in a given company, and the most appropriate phase to apply these methods during the design process in order to maximise the impact of sustainable design practice.

End-of-Life Management of Hybrid/Electric Vehicles

Hybrid/Electric Vehicles (HEVs) are rapidly gaining in market share as they are seen as a key solution for future sustainable transportation. The car industry however is facing a large challenge with end-of-life (EoL) management of these cars as EU directives on Vehicle Recycling is forcing more stringent targets of 95% by weight recycling from 2015. In traditional vehicles, around 75% of the weight is composed of basic metals (steel, aluminium and copper), which means that most of the vehicle value can be easily recovered using existing recycling methods. However, HEVs present a much greater challenge as they contain different technologies and material mixes, with most of the EoL value contained within precious metals and strategically important materials. These small concentrations are most frequently hidden in many of the complex electrical components unique to HE vehicles which often account for less the 10% of the total vehicle weight. As such, the goal of this project is to expand the capability of current recycling procedures to deal with end-of-life HE vehicles, as well as proactive approached towards improving design and recycling of our future hybrid/electric vehicles.

Modelling and Reduction of Water Usage in Manufacturing

The demand for freshwater in the industrial sector is constantly increasing and is expected to double by 2030. There are rising concerns, as over abstraction, source contamination and climate change are leading to increasing freshwater scarcity across the globe. Coupled with a rise in legislation, and therefore a rise in the costs of wastewater management, treatment and disposal, manufacturers have been forced to explore ways to improve their water efficiency and reduce their manufacturing water usage. In this context, current approaches and methodologies for water management are broadly reactive, offering static analysis of existing systems at a factory level. This research goes beyond existing water modelling methodologies to develop a proactive approach to water reduction whereby water usage can be modelled at production process level in order to evaluate the productivity of water usage, and to identify the water ‘hotspots’ in a manufacturing system. This approach facilitates ‘what-if’ scenario planning using simulation techniques and provides decision support for evaluation of proposed water reduction strategies.

Waste Energy Recovery within Manufacturing

Energy demand is expected to continue to increase over the coming decades, and it is predicted that global demand will be over 50% above current levels by 2030. Despite the growth in low-carbon sources of energy, fossil fuels remain dominant in the global energy mix and thus, to secure future energy supply, there has been a large focus on research into alternative solutions. This research has centred around two options of increased renewable energy supply, and reduced overall energy consumption. Progress in renewable energy technologies however has been relatively slow and costly, therefore, within the latter approach there can be three options for moving forwards: reducing scale of production activities, improving energy efficiencies processes, and recovery/reusing waste energy. In this context, this research aims to gain an understanding of the availability of waste energy from manufacturing processes and to develop a model based decision support tool to enable manufacturers to implement the most appropriate energy recovery strategies and technologies.

Material Efficient Manufacturing

There is a growing realisation that the current trajectory of increasing material consumption within our finite global system is unsustainable. The economic resilience of manufacturing in the future will rely on actions being taken now to reduce both the rate of consumption and the environmental impacts associated with material use. For example, in the case of consumer goods it is estimated that on average materials account for 50% of the production cost. In this context, the pursuit of material efficiency to decrease dependency in an uncertain future is of paramount importance for the stability, security and long term competitiveness of manufacturers. The main objective of this research therefore is to improve manufacturing productivity, whilst reducing raw material consumption to increase the resilience of the manufacturing industry in the UK. Towards this goal, this research aims to develop tools for monitoring and modelling material flow within a factory in order to improve understanding and decision making, and will also explore new technologies to aid in material efficiency during manufacture.

Towards Zero Waste in Manufacturing

Current levels of waste generation are unsustainable and valuable resources are being lost to landfill. Although many companies have taken on board the challenge to reduce waste with respect to their manufacturing activities, it has often only been due to a number of financial and legislative initiatives. These efforts to reduce waste have therefore only focused on the most cost effective solutions for disposing of waste, often without actually understanding the wider life-cycle impacts of various waste management options. As such, this research aims to investigate the methods, tools, technologies and processes required to support the long term goal of ‘zero waste’ in the manufacturing industry, whilst ensuring that environmental impacts of waste management activities over their entire life-cycle are understood and reduced. Tools for improved monitoring, modelling, management, and processing of waste will be developed, as well as new technologies for recycling and recovering materials.

Eco-Intelligent Manufacturing

Current manufacturing management systems and related decision making models are optimised for cost effectiveness, time efficiency (output) and quality control. These utilise a complex network of knowledge and information systems to enable manufacturers to remain competitive by making informed short-term decisions, and by generating forecasts for longer time scales. However at present, environmental impacts of such manufacturing decisions are often a secondary consideration, and are not routinely included in existing manufacturing management systems. In this context, this research aims to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing companies through better informed decision making, reducing the need for heavy investment. As such, industry-relevant methods and tools are being developed within this research to enable the inclusion of environmental considerations within manufacturing planning, control and management over short, medium and long timescales.

  • Sustainable Manufacturing Laboratory This is a specially designed laboratory space, used to support the research group projects on sustainable product and process design, energy and water efficient manufacturing technologies, and remanufacturing/recycling technologies, which includes :
  • Sustainable Design Hub used for manual disassembly and design analysis of various products. This provides access to range of software (e.g. LCA, material selector, CAPP, CAD, etc.) and hardware (energy monitoring, a range of mechanical and digital sensing technologies, optical cameras, etc.) tools to aid with improving the design sustainability of products and/or production processes used to manufacture them.
  • Sustainable Engineering Hub used to review and analyse the environmental performance of manufacturing processes. This provides access to a range of monitoring, control and measurement technologies for assessing resource (material, energy and water) efficiency of a process, and for investigating a range of proactive and reactive approaches to improve sustainability performance of manufacturing processes.
  • Automated Disassembly and Remanufacturing Cell used to explore increased automation in disassembly and recovery of strategically important materials (SIMs) and/or components from products. This utilises Robotic technologies to improve concentration of SIMs prior to fragmentation and to increase recovery rate for a range of valuable waste materials such as precious metals and rare earth materials.
  • Waste Sorting and Separation Line used for intelligent sorting of waste products prior to fragmentation, and separation of various waste material streams after fragmentation. This provides access to various sorting technologies using intelligent sensors, as well as mechanical, electromagnetic, and density-based separators for liberation of various materials from waste streams.

Group Academic staff

The work of the CSM Group is further supported by:

  • Peter Davies, CBE, Royal Academy of Engineering (Visiting Professor in Innovation)
  • Barbara Flynn, Visiting Professor (USA)
  • Richard Wysk, Visiting Professor (USA)