It’s a green world
Each year, as we assemble our Global Supplement, it’s fascinating to see what trends and technologies are affecting manufacturers in other parts of the world. Each nation wrestles with its own unique challenges, be they governmental, regulatory or economic. However, for all of the differences, there are some remarkable similarities. ‘Green manufacturing,’ for example, is a global concern.
For manufacturers in many parts of Europe, “going green” has been standard operating procedure for years. As evidenced by initiatives such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) European Directive, which came into force in July 2006, the reduction or elimination of non-Earth-friendly materials is a mandated priority. In other nations where nascent industrial economies are booming, environmental-friendly policies are only beginning to take shape. Conducting business in the global economy requires greater sensitivity to such topics as pollution and use of natural resources. These topics simply can not be ignored.
Then there’s the United States. During the past several decades, green practices and energy conservation have come in and out of vogue. During the 1970s, the so-called “energy crisis” forced a new way of thinking about automobile fuel efficiency, only to give way to gas-chugging SUVs in the 1990s and early 2000s. With pump prices routinely exceeding $3 per gallon, we’re now returning to the world of hybrids and alternative fuel exploration. Hopefully, this time the changes will stick.
The resurgent popularity in green manufacturing, however, serves only as one example of how the ebb and flow of product across borders forces an exchange of ideas and priorities as well. Automation technologies are making inroads in areas where relatively low-cost labor historically has provided the primary means of production, and the open exchange of information between plant- and business-level systems continues to blur the lines between the worlds of IT and operations. It seems that as the borders between the nations become more transparent, so too do the borders between the “islands of information” that have historically existed within the plant. (For a more detailed exploration of this topic, be sure to read the product research feature on MES systems on page 57. And for a more in-depth look at the impact of green manufacturing in North America, be sure to check out the cover story coming up in the April 2008 issue.)
All of these issues and more are explored within the pages of this month’s global supplement, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.