Frugal Manufacturing- Is it a Chinese Nomenclature?

I came to know of the term ‘frugal manufacturing’ after the news reporters wrote about the interview of Carlos Ghosn, the legendary boss of Renault Motors, France. He talked so highly about the frugal manufacturing that has been mastered by Indian engineers. I started thinking if it is another term meaning basically the famed ‘lean manufacturing’ of Toyota Production Systems. However, I decided to resort to goggle to help me. Here are some excerpts that may be of use to those in manufacturing.

As defined, ‘frugal manufacturing means that our manufacturing processes must embody the basic principles of saving resources and being environmentally friendly.’ Be it the processes in manufacturing petrochemicals or steel alloys, the basic objective must consider how to avoid or minimize waste. For this purpose, all the waste gas and water required in the process must be utilized comprehensively and recovered. Heat from all the processes must be fully utilized.

Similar developments have come in shaping of components and parts. Semi-finished products can be directly forged into shapes close to those of the final products, leaving only a little final processing to be done. Precision forging, and lost foam casting- investment casting have cut down the number of steps to reach the final precision dimensions required for the assembly. Waste material generated during the machining operations to reach the final dimensions have reduced.

Even gear teeth of component such as differential gears and pinions are rolled eliminating the cutting and finishing processes. Parts shaped out of metal powder under a thermal quasi-static pressure are precise enough to be used directly or with a minimal machining in assembly. Some specific metals, such as aluminum alloy, can be directly forged to the required shape in a process called semi-solid shaping. The surfaces of such products need no processing.

Presented below is the concept of frugal manufacturing in automobile manufacturing by one Chinese expert.

Product design must ensure energy conservation. For instance, the manufacturing technology for a certain model car may be very advanced and its manufacture may waste very little resources, but if its engine technology is not very advanced and it has high oil consumption, it is not an energy-conserving product. Therefore, in all manufacturing industries, ensuring the lowest possible consumption of energy and resources in the use of their products must be considered together with conservation of resources and energy in the production process when we are designing a product. It can be said that a good manufacturing engineer acknowledges this as a basic principle, but quite often fine divisions within the profession and the lack of mutual communication makes it difficult to comprehensively address all these issues, and various problems arise. For example, the key to getting an automobile to save oil lies in the efficiency of the engine, but it is not just a problem of engine engineering. It also involves body design, the air resistance coefficient, the selection of materials for the various parts, and the weight of its chassis and shell. All these things are done by different departments and engineers. When they are integrated in the end, all requests are taken into account. When I was working in Sweden, I saw a Volvo billboard on which was written, “You can put a Volvo truck on a Volvo car without crushing the car.” This shows how strong the Volvo car is. By contrast, if you press to hard on the hood of a Japanese car when you’re waxing it, you’ll put a dent in it. When designing a car, Japanese put economy first. The whole car is very light and gets great gas mileage. Swedes are proud of their heavy and strong cars. The German Mercedes Benz has the heaviest chassis in the world. The Mercedes Benz Company once did a test in which they put a Mercedes in the middle of a seven car chain with an American, South Korean and Japanese car in front and in back of it on an expressway and then initiated a chain reaction crash. The other six cars were flattened but the Mercedes retained its shape, chiefly because its chassis is heavy and the body is very strong and resists compression. Seen from today’s point of view, this idea does not completely conform to the requirement of frugality and is not entirely conservative. When making cars, Japan and South Korea give greater consideration to saving energy and resources. America cars are a compromise in which economy is balanced against stability and reliance. Therefore, our products design must be guided by a comprehensive scientific outlook on development.

Third, when making a product, we must take into account its disassembly and the sorting and recycling of its parts when it is scrapped, not just the convenience of the manufacturing process, in order to create a frugal society. Nowadays, we are confronted with a significant problem, the problem of what to do with discarded electronic products. All electronic products contain large quantities of various kinds of metals, including precious and rare metals. They are very valuable and they are scattered throughout the products. In addition, most of them were welded in, making it difficult to extract them when the product is scrapped. This is a big problem, another aspect of which is the problem with the sealing, dismantling, recycling and maintenance of the coolants in home appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators.

On the whole, the guiding principle for our whole manufacturing industry must take into account what is helpful to creating a frugal and environment-friendly society. At present, China’s industrial sector is growing rapidly. The manufacturing industry has always been dominant (making up 38% of GDP). In another 15 or 20 years, the manufacturing industry will still be a major sector as well as a big consumer of energy resources. Therefore, the manufacturing industry must shoulder this responsibility and create a frugal society in all respects.

Recently, many countries have enacted laws concerning product recycling. In addition to considering conservation in the design, manufacturing technology, materials selection and product use, there is still a very important issue, using materials as fully as possible through recycling, circulation and reuse of waste materials. The United States, for instance, has legislation concerning recycling auto parts. I believe that if we have such a conception of frugal manufacturing and form an accompanying set of technologies and a design philosophy, then we will have the basis for such legislation, and can prompt our government to pass such legislation.

There is nothing new in what the Chinese are talking. Have they faked ‘lean manufacturing’ too?

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