People Innovation Excellence

The making of a metric


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Numbers, metrics and measurements are the requirements to improvement. Governments and society are demanding more in terms of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. In the real world, terms like happiness and sustainability are difficult to measure. That’s where Professor Karl Haapala and his colleagues at Oregon State University come in. They’ve been working with small and mid-sized businesses to design sustainability into the manufacturing process from the beginning, rather than waiting until the end. In general, everyone agrees that you have to be considering the economics of it because if we’re not economically sustainable, we’re not going to be in business next month or next year. Haapala’s initial work centered on a work cell, but IEs could apply the methodology, on a range from an entire facility to just a single process.

Defining different metrics and then applying system dynamics can help businesses understand the breakdown of the cost structure in terms of material use and energy inputs tied to a particular process, which can tie into the environmental part of a sustainability metric, Haapala explained. The same thing applies to the labor side, understanding how to allocate labor if one worker handles multiple processes or performs multiple functions. The goal is to design sustainability into the manufacturing process from the beginning, rather than dealing with “end-of-pipe” challenges to reduce pollution or increase efficiency. For example, speeding up a manufacturing line technically improves efficiency. Eventually, decisions will come down to value judgments among the competing priorities.

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