A Denver School Is Rewriting the Way Green Manufacturing Is Taught
Last week, I wrote about the importance of green manufacturing in the 21st century and the developing field of green manufacturing education, including a $2.5 million grant awarded by the Department of Energy to the University of Texas-El Paso and Drexel University for the development of modular learning courses to be shared by the schools.
Educators are also looking to change the paradigm in how green manufacturing is taught. At the forefront of green manufacturing education are Dr. Devi K. Kalla and Professor Aaron Brown of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, who recently presented a white paper at a American Society for Engineering Education conference on incorporating life-cycle assessment teaching to enable engineering and industrial design students to better understand sustainability. MSU Denver has an enrollment of about 25,000, but only 250 are in manufacturing-related tracks.
I spoke with Brown about the curriculum he and Dr. Kalla are planning, what green manufacturing businesses in Colorado are doing to integrate students into their workforce and what the future of green manufacturing may hold. He says the biggest roadblock to transforming engineering and manufacturing programs at colleges is decades of ingrained .
College educators “tend to teach subjects the same way they were taught — the old way,” Brown says. “And a lot of those professors haven’t been aware of the tremendous growth in green manufacturing and changes in industry. But now we’ve got new professors, younger ones, who are coming in with new ideas and who want to teach things differently.”
Brown also sees growing pressure from industry. He says many university engineering programs are fed by advisory boards with members from local industries. Coupled with laws that are requiring manufacturers to head toward green manufacturing, he says, “my intuition tells me that the push for green manufacturing education comes from companies with a big need for educated workers.”
In the white paper, Brown and co-author Kalla discussed life-cycle assessment education using real-world green manufacturing examples.
“We used the Toyota Prius several times in class and had students look at the whole process that goes into making it,” Brown says. “We did a mock overview of everything that went into a Prius. We looked at the manufacturing, we looked at what goes into it materials-wise and process-wise, and then talked about the ‘use cycle’ of the Prius.”
The class also examined what would be left at the end of the Prius’s use cycle and then discussed whether the end result is greener than other cars on the road. This “system approach,” Brown says, showed that, including the batteries of the Prius left to dispose after its useful life ended, the car may not be as green as thought.
MSU Denver’s curriculum includes many hands-on projects in the lab as well as classroom time. Kalla recently taught an engineering technology class that had students employ composites manufacturing, and Brown last year required his students to build a solar furnace out of recycled beer cans (who knew you could find beer cans on a college campus?).
Brown describes a course that he and Kalla are trying to implement at MSU Denver focused on sustainability in green manufacturing. The course would:
- Analyze manufacturing processes with an intent to point out areas of adverse environmental impact and minimizing it
- Consider alternative processes that incorporate environmental improvements through recycling, substitution of environmentally favorable materials and redesign of processes
- Evaluate life-cycles of products and/or processes and propose strategies for minimizing environmental impact while still meeting design and economic requirements
- Investigate end-of-use strategies, including design-for-recycling tools, which would be demonstrated and practiced on real products
- Conduct material selection with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of a product and/or process while simultaneously reducing material costs
- Design rules and processes to meet both current market needs and green manufacturing requirements by selecting suitable technical and supply chain management schemes.
Real-World Training Is Key
Of course, class time is only one part of any strong green manufacturing curriculum; learning also comes from hands-on work and experience with companies that are employing green manufacturing.
MSU Denver has partnered with several Colorado-based companies, including Swiss Log, which manufactures translogic pneumatic tubes used in more than 1,500 hospitals across North America; aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace; Northrop Grumman; Raytheon and SpaceDev.
MSU Denver students who’ve spent time at these companies have learned how manufacturing has changed thanks to green manufacturing and, in some cases, Brown said, helped create factory-ready sustainability solutions.
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken up the cause of green manufacturing education, proposing the Sustainable Manufacturing Curriculum for high schools, career and vocational institutes, community colleges and trade
schools. The EPA presents an ready-to-use, three-module curriculum: Environmental Sustainability, Lean Manufacturing and Pollution Prevention, and Energy and Carbon. Each module includes a slide presentation and a facilitator’s guide that is complete with handouts, activities and quizzes. The facilitator’s guide also uses visually engaging icons to assist teachers in appropriately conveying the material to students.
Obviously, there is no single “correct way” to teach green manufacturing, but UTEP, Drexel, MSU Denver and now the EPA are laying out models of education for the future.