Herrmann, Schmidt and Sandborn awarded NSF PREMISE grant

Associate Professor Jeffrey Herrmann (ME/ISR), Associate Professor Linda Schmidt (ME/ISR) and Associate Professor Peter Sandborn (ME) are the principal investigators for a new NSF Product Realization and Environmental Manufacturing Innovative Systems (PREMISE) grant, "Applying Decision Production Systems to Improve Environmentally Responsible Product Development." The project begins January 1, 2003, and runs until June 30, 2004.

Environmentally responsible product development (ERPD), also known as environmentally benign manufacturing, considers both environmental impacts and economic objectives during the numerous and diverse activities that accompany product development.

There are many ways to minimize the environmental impacts that products generate throughout their life cycle. The greatest opportunity for ERPD occurs during the product design phases, when designers and others make the decisions that determine most of the product's environmental impact.

Numerous tools have been developed to help designers create environmentally benign products. The two major classes of tools are life cycle assessment (LCA) and design for environment (DFE).

The most significant obstacles to using LCA and DFE tools effectively are the difficulties acquiring the needed data and the challenges developing realistic, appropriate metrics of environmental impact. That is, there exists a real conflict between the information flow and decision making that exists in a product development organization and the information flow and decision making that LCA and DFE tools require to be effective. Consequently, these tools are, generally, not integrated with the other activities of the product development process, and the tools' ability to improve ERPD is limited.

A product development organization includes the engineers, managers, and other personnel who make process and product engineering decisions while trying to satisfy a variety of constraints and managing tradeoffs between multiple competing objectives, including environmental concerns. This research views product development as an information flow governed by decision-makers who make decisions under time and budget constraints. From this perspective, a product development organization is a decision production system.

This research seeks to understand how product development organizations use environmental information in their decision-making. It will consist of two tasks:

  1. Constructing a long-term collaborative research agenda that guides a research program using the decision production system perspective to improve ERPD, particularly by integrating LCA and DFE tools into other product development activities.
  2. Conducting an exploratory study to describe the flow of information related to LCA and DFE in the product development activities of an electronics manufacturing company.

The research will explore a novel, systems-level paradigm to develop new insights into the behavior of product development organizations. The decision production system perspective results from the principal investigators' experience creating design decision support tools and the careful study of product development. Unlike many existing approaches, this perspective examines the entire organization, not just individual product development projects.

Applying the decision production system perspective to ERPD will yield novel methods that guide the development of powerful LCA and DFE tools (for specific decision-makers) and the rational and systematic deployment of these tools across the entire product development organization. Ultimately, this will reduce the time and cost of ERPD by using effective LCA and DFE tools in a coordinated manner. Successfully completing the research will contribute fresh insights into ERPD and will begin an innovative research program that has academic and commercial importance and will make significant theoretical and practical contributions to ERPD across a range of industrial sectors.

The research will integrate research and education by using the research results to enhance and create courses. In addition to graduate research assistants, undergraduate students will participate on the research team. Research projects are exciting, effective learning experiences for undergraduates, and participation in such projects increases the number and diversity of American students who conduct research and earn advanced degrees in science and engineering.

The research will enhance the research and education infrastructure by establishing collaborations between organizations working to improve ERPD and developing a long-term research plan for the participants. The research results will be disseminated broadly through scholarly publications and conferences, as online document collections, in undergraduate and graduate engineering courses, in projects with collaborating manufacturers, and in short courses offered to engineers working in industry. In addition, the research will benefit society by helping manufacturing companies develop energy-efficient and environmentally benign products.

Published August 1, 2002