Leveraging “Design For Manufacturing” for More Sustainable Buildings

By Patrick
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This blog is adapted from an AIA presentation on Technology and Practice presented in partnership with the UNC Charlotte College of Architecture in October 2016.

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Design for Manufacturing is a process whereby designers consider the impact of manufacturing processes in the way they design buildings.

Large components—whether large concrete panels or whole modular rooms for an apartment building—might be completed within a factory environment and delivered to a jobsite where they are connected to MEP systems.

To be successful in this approach, designers must work with building component manufacturers to understand their capabilities and design a construction approach that accounts for the logistics of getting modules to the jobsite and installed.

By considering how to optimize factory processes and then most efficiently assembling the modular elements in the field, designers can leverage strategies that greatly eliminate construction waste.

With reduced waste, building owners can adjust their budgets and apply significant savings from improved processes to better materials and overall more sustainable buildings.

The Two Paths to Reducing Construction Costs

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Reducing Construction Costs

Construction projects typically see amounts of waste near 30% due to redundant rework and inefficiency. Without this waste, building owners could achieve significant project savings and reinvest in higher quality materials that are less harmful to the environment.

There are two potential approaches to reducing costs in construction:

  • AEC professionals can continually look for cheaper materials and labor to control construction costs. For example, vinyl is a very popular building material, largely because it is inexpensive compared to wood and other solutions. Yet PVC is made from chlorine salt using lots of electricity in a very environmentally unfriendly process.
  • Alternatively, AEC professionals can change their processes. By adopting a Design for Manufacturing approach, fabricators can automate many of the repetitive tasks that have to be done to produce a building. Fewer, albeit more highly skilled, workers can manage building component production in a safe, factory environment.

The latter approach may require a greater upfront investment, but the return on that investment can be recouped through the dramatic reductions in waste. Those savings can, in turn, be applied to investment in more sustainable building solutions.

Reinvesting Savings in Sustainability

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Green projects are projected to grow significantly in the years ahead. At present, buildings consume 70% of all electricity in the United States, reports the U.S. Green Building Council. There are numerous ways to reduce this electric consumption, but most AEC professionals consider building products rather than building processes as a solution.

Designers’ strategies for achieving sustainable design might range from making tighter envelopes that require less heating and cooling, adding solar panels, using smart lighting controls, to numerous other initiatives.

In the UK and some other countries, laws limit buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions. In some parts of the U.S.—namely, California—there are some emissions limitations set by law, but most green building is done in the name of incentives such as LEED or the 2030 Challenge for Sustainability, among other programs.

But for owners and AEC professionals that truly care about green buildings, it is important to also consider a clean AEC process.

A Design for Manufacturing approach to AEC could potentially lead to cleaner processes than traditional onsite construction.

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Making Cities Bigger and Better

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Aerial view of Albaicin , Granada City Spain
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, the United Nations Human Settlements Program forecasts. Meanwhile cities themselves are growing, with the number of megacities—those with populations greater than 10 million—expected to hit 41 by 2030, up from 28 today and just 10 in 1990.

The challenge is how to make sprawling, dense cities livable, sustainable and efficient for residents. But priorities for livability aren’t easy to define.

“If you have an older population, then things they see as priorities may be different than in a city with a huge number of young people,” says Stephen Hammer, manager of climate policy for the World Bank Group in Washington, DC. “If you have mass migration of people from the countryside, then the creation of economic opportunities and housing services may be at top of the list. For a period of time, that will be the priority, and as people begin to settle in, ideas will shift about what makes it a desirable place. It may be cleaner air, clean water, access to energy services or access to employment.”

Urban planners do their best to ensure services and amenities like transportation, sanitation, green spaces and more. However, many megacities are growing faster than city services, as informal housing springs up to accommodate the flood of new arrivals.

“People will go to great trouble to get to cities, because there are opportunities there in a way there never were in the countryside,” says Robert Bruegmann, professor emeritus of art history, architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the book “Sprawl: A Compact History.”

For poor families, that might require living in a slum. However, “there is self-organization to these things,” he says of slums. “You have to be able to at least wheel a cart through to all the residences. You can’t have a living space that’s inaccessible. Without any formal government, mechanisms to maintain access emerge all over the world.”

Residential buildingWhat hasn’t worked is tearing down the slums to build high-rise housing. “There is not enough public money to house everybody,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The number of units built rarely equals the number torn down. The current accepted wisdom is ‘we’re going to have to let people do self-build housing.’”

Informal “does not equal slum,” cautions Khaled El-Araby, professor of transportation planning and traffic engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo. The Egyptian capital ranks at No. 17 among megacities, according to Demographia, with an estimated population of 15.6 million. The informal areas are simply “built outside formal planning and building regulations of the government,” he says. “In a sense, this is not always bad. When you have a dense, compact city such as Cairo, trips between work and home usually are relatively short. They have contained economic activities there, like workshops and commerce. From an urban-planning perspective, they are OK, but we want higher building standards and a better level of access to basic services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation.”

The urban core of Cairo is very dense, with an estimated 15,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The government has been building new planned cities to accommodate population growth, including a planned new capital city. However, less than 10% of Cairo’s population currently lives in the new cities, Dr. El-Araby notes.

While the planned cities extend mostly east and west of Cairo into the desert, apart from social/economic housing projects supported by the government, Cairo is experiencing a chronic shortage of affordable housing. So, many people opt to move to informal settlements around the urban core of the city, along the Nile—mostly on prime agricultural land, Dr. El-Araby says.

street top view“We cannot relocate around 60% of Cairo’s population. We have to make an assessment of the informal areas that are unsafe and cannot access basic services and relocate those people to viable, serviced areas. For others, we just have to address problems like controlling expansions and residential densities and improving access to services like transportation,” he says.

Future technology might solve some of megacities’ problems. “If we can kick the carbon-fuel habit, then a key part of the argument for public transportation goes out the window,” Dr. Bruegmann says. “The issue should never be which is the best settlement pattern.

It should be how do people want to live, and then how to make that possible without doing damage to everyone else and to the environment.”

Developing countries may be able to leapfrog to new technology that makes some current problems moot. Just as one no longer needs a landline to telephone, “we may move to more decentralized energy systems, like solar panels on roof tops,” without a need to run electrical lines everywhere, Dr. Hammer says.

Technology also is aiding urban planners. Analysis of data from sensors and city systems gives decision-makers a better understanding of real use and needs and help them manage and optimize services. Modeling technology can simulate “what if” scenarios.

The World Bank developed a tool called CURB, which uses local data to provide tailored analysis that tells city officials how their decisions may affect greenhouse-gas emissions. Such applications and tools, he says, can help cities “understand which interventions can deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Greening the Link Between Land and Sea

By Catherine
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Cargo Ship APL TOURMALINE arriving at the Port of Oakland
By Catherine Bolgar

With container-port traffic having more than tripled since 2000, and today’s world container trade expected to double by 2024, ports have become important industrial centers, as well as flashpoints for environmental concerns. Regulations and technology are combining to help ports be greener.

When a port invests in green technology, it is not only good for the environment but also good for themselves, because it can make unit operating costs go down in the long run,” says Vinh Thai, senior lecturer at the School of Business IT and Logistics at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

As the link between land and sea, ports affect not just terrestrial and marine habitats, but also such environmental aspects as air quality and noise, especially for the often-large cities next to them.

“During the loading and unloading of petroleum products, a release can occur with consequent damage to the ecosystem,” says Rosa Mari Darbra, associate professor of chemical and industrial engineering at Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona. “The noise of the port, which works 24 hours every day, may generate disturbance and even anxiety to the surrounding population. The storage of solid bulk, such as coal, can generate particles. If they are not properly protected, they may affect the respiratory systems of citizens, especially children and old people.”

The International Maritime Organization adopted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or Marpol, in 1973. It aims to prevent, among other things, fuel spills with design measures such as double hulls, and prohibits dumping sewage near land. It also requires ports to be able to accept waste from ships and either recycle or treat it appropriately on land, either at the port itself or elsewhere.

In order to facilitate ships’ delivery of waste at port, Spain in 2010 established a flat rate for waste-handling, Dr. Darbra says. Even if this measure has increased work for ports, the aim is to encourage ships to be greener.

Cargo shipAir pollution has been tamed around ports in the North Sea, Baltic Sea and North America by requiring ships to switch to low-sulfur fuel when entering designated coastal areas. Some ports, such as Rotterdam, offer discounted fees to ships that can show low emissions, Dr. Thai says.

Similarly, Hong Kong and Singapore reduce port fees for vessels that switch to cleaner fuel while at berth. Nine of the world’s top 10 busiest ports are in Asia, and the ports with the highest emission levels from shipping also are in Asia: Singapore, Hong Kong, Tianjin, China, and Port Klang, Malaysia.

Ports also are cutting emissions by encouraging ships to shut down their engines while at berth and switch to onshore power systems. These power generators usually burn fuel that’s cleaner than the bunker fuel used by ships. However, the challenges are providing enough power and connectivity. “Sometimes the electrical plugs and sockets aren’t the same between countries—the voltage isn’t the same,” Dr. Thai says.

Similarly, ports can switch to cargo-handling equipment such as cranes that run on electricity instead of diesel, he adds. Even warehouses can be greener if designed to use natural light instead of electricity whenever possible.

Greater efficiency does reduce harmful emissions. “In high-traffic ports, the congestion from vessels idling for long periods of time significantly increases pollution levels. This is responsible for excessive pollution, producing greater greenhouse-gas effects when productivity does not increase equally with efficiency. It’s a vicious circle,” says Jaime Ortiz, vice provost for global strategies and studies at the University of Houston. “Economically it’s not good either, as pollution shortens the lifespans of the vessels, the cargo on board and the people working on the ships.”

forklift handling container box loading to freight trainThe design of land transportation also affects ports’ sustainability. The use of trucks to transport the cargo from the port to the hinterland involves highway congestion and pollution, Dr. Darbra says. If a maximum amount of cargo were shifted to rail, it would bring important reductions in pollution. Two other competitive solutions are short sea shipping and inland waterways.

“These three measures could improve the environmental sustainability of seaports a lot,” Dr. Darbra says. “They could help decongest traffic at seaports.”

Inland vessels have less capacity than ocean-going ships, but can carry far more cargo than trucks. Goods could travel with less pollution by inland waterways to logistical centers closer to their destination, before being shifted to trucks for just the last, short leg. Inland waterways “give more power to the logistic chain,” Dr. Darbra says.

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock



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