Sustainable global manufacturing network between the UK and China

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Centre for Engineering Sustainability


The major global challenges the world is facing today need to be addressed in the multifaceted context of economy, society and the environment. Manufacturing industries account for a significant part of the world's consumption of resources and generation of waste. Worldwide, the energy consumption of manufacturing industries grew by 61% from 1971 to 2004 and account for nearly a third of global energy usage. Manufacturing industries are also responsible for 36% of global dioxide (CO2) emission. This is in stark contrast to its image, during the last two centuries, as a particularly valuable sector of the economy. Manufacturing remains a very important component of wealth creation, but concerns over pollution, scarcity of resources and climate change may soon lead to manufacturing being seen as a 'necessary evil' rather than a desirable capability.

Manufacturing must move away from simply addressing the transformation of raw materials into value-added products at the right time with the right cost and quality and instead consider the demands of society as a whole, addressing environmental and social concerns as well as economic ones. This requires that manufactured goods consume less energy, demand fewer scarce materials, and exhibit less toxicity at every stage of their life cycle - a life cycle that should itself be extended, such that products are more useful, for longer.

Nowadays, manufacture is global, so is environment impact. To be effective, the improvement of the environmental impact and sustainability of manufacturing operations requires a broadly based multi-disciplinary and global approach that is unlikely to arise locally. Global complexities result from inherently different local legislation, technologies and capabilities - a situation that is costly in economic and environmental terms.

An international network addressing sustainable global manufacturing is particularly important at this time. The current economic downturn has provided a short 'breathing space' where manufacturing companies are able to focus upon profitability through efficiency improvements rather than concentrating purely on output. In addition to examining pollution and wastes, Chinese industries were troubled by resource shortages during the recent economic boom, while Europe faced difficulties with landfill cost and availability, and in compliance with legislation such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, and the End of Life Vehicles Directive.

Aiming at contributing to sustainable manufacturing and low carbon economy, a multi-disciplinary research and educational network would enable a collaborative interaction between academics in two important regions of the world, pooling knowledge on emerging trends, forthcoming legislation, technologies and best practices that support low carbon economy in the UK and in the world as a whole, achieved through the more efficient use of available resources, the deployment of more effective products and services, the salvage of components and systems at the end of life, and the adoption of timely, innovative sustainable manufacturing methodologies.

Planned Impact

The following positive outcomes will occur as a result of the network:

Technology transfer: communicate best practice between sectors, nationally and internationally. For example, a solution for an environmental problem may already exist and is being used in a different industry.

Setting up of new partnerships including international partnerships, funding mechanisms permitting. It is aimed that a good number of novel, high quality proposals shall be generated collaboratively within the partnership, as a result of this network.

New knowledge generated from a deeper and better understanding of sustainable global manufacturing will be used for the education and formation of the next generation engineers. This will lead to the creation of new modules, new MSc programmes in sustainable manufacturing within the academic members of the consortium, for instance, Cranfield, Liverpool, Notthingham in the UK. Thus, any basic skills shortages that are identified by the network can rapidly begin to be rectified. Employers in both UK and China will benefit as a result.

Academic (and perhaps trade) publications will be produced as a result of the information gathered during the visits and other network events. It is anticipated at least two journal papers will be produced. The first one will be a comparative study of environmental drivers in the two countries under study, (contributing to the general understanding of environmental issues, legislation and compliance in China and UK). The second one will present the timeline for technologies required in order to achieve sustainability over the next twenty years, as identified within the roadmapping exercise. The roadmapping activities could serve to attract additional partners to future collaborative projects to address gaps in emerging capabilities, and the study should also be of interest to policymakers in each country.

It is also intended that network participants will contribute to future activity in standards and definitions for sustainable manufacturing.


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