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A New Graduate Course On Environmental Issues In Manufacturing And Product Use

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.31.1 - 3.31.7

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J. A. Isaacs

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2251

A New Graduate Course on Environmental Issues In Manufacturing and Product Use

J. A. Isaacs Northeastern University

A new graduate level engineering course, offered in the Spring of 1998 and entitled “Environmental Issues in Manufacturing and Product Use”, explores environmental and economic aspects of alternative materials used in a product throughout the product life cycle. The objectives of this course strive to introduce industrial ecology, life cycle analysis and technical cost modeling to engineering students who have not been previously exposed to these concepts. Students work in teams to analyze case studies of specific products fabricated using metals, ceramics, polymers and paper. The system of case studies is set up so that real societal issues can be discussed and debated, with students using role-playing to present their findings. Beverage containers are the product selected for initial analyses. These case studies compare cost, energy, resources used and emissions generated through the mining, refining, manufacture, use and disposal stages of the product life cycle. Although analyses are limited due to time constraints, students are made aware of the enormous amount of information required for these investigations. Issues in legislation (manufacturer take-back, packaging, ecolabeling) and issues in disposal strategies (landfill, incineration, reuse and recycling) are debated. The difficulties associated with environmental impact assessments and the development of decision analysis tools to weigh the tradeoffs in technical, economic and environmental performance of the product are discussed. This course offers new perspectives for enhancing the breadth of engineering education, and has been welcomed as a complement to the existing curriculum.

1. Introduction With the increasing importance of commercialization and liabilities of materials, the manufacturing cost for part fabrication and the environmental consequences of using that material are becoming significant for characterizing the success and performance of a material, and for developing engineering design and manufacturing processes. Students must be made aware of repercussions related to selection and use of materials. Using case-based course instruction involving student teamwork, an interactive course is developed to raise the environmental literacy of upper-level undergraduate and graduate engineering students, and to integrate principles of engineering economy specifically for materials processing and manufacture.

With an understanding of both environmental and economic repercussions of materials selection, undergraduate students will make more informed decisions in undertaking their Senior Design Courses, and graduate students will be compelled to include aspects of these concepts in their research objectives. The nature of multi-dimensional case problems encourages debate as a means for initiating critical thinking in the classroom, and fosters development of other skill sets (e.g., effective communication, information literacy and interpersonal skills). Exploitation of data regarding manufacturing, product use and disposal lends itself to classroom discussions of realistic engineering cases. When making engineering decisions regarding the processing of

Isaacs, J. A. (1998, June), A New Graduate Course On Environmental Issues In Manufacturing And Product Use Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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