Dematerializing the Process: Roadmap to the Plant of Tomorrow


Written by:
Mike Pemberton


Pumps & Systems, January 2008

Click here to read part two and part three.

The stiff competition for global market share is exerting downward pressure on prices at the same time as labor, capital and raw material costs all escalate under increasing environmental regulations. With margin pressure escalating on multiple fronts, the charge to find new avenues that can reduce operating costs and meet regulatory compliance is shifting manufacturing processes from the economics of lean to the systemic philosophy of dematerialization.

What is dematerialization?

In a broad sense, dematerialization means doing more with less: reducing the quantity of materials required to serve the economic functions in society. Dematerialization originally focused on reducing the weight of materials being used in products, but its impact on the environment now expands far beyond that, because less materials used in industrial processes reduces energy usage, green house emissions and the facility footprint.

In other words, dematerialization ultimately helps sustain the human economy over the long term through higher manufacturing efficiency. And in many cases, acceptable net earning increases can only be achieved through these higher manufacturing efficiencies, requiring the reengineering of existing or new processes for quantum leaps in performance.

Rethinking the production process, right-sizing process equipment, installing equipment that is intelligent and integrating its real-time information into production and asset management information systems are of paramount importance. These features of dematerialization are the requirements for the manufacturing processes of tomorrow - and will be part and parcel of sustainable plant design.

One Plant's Status

In 2001, a representative of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) of Snowmass, CO addressed a Sustainability Conference in Dallas, TX. Texas Instruments (TI) executives in attendance requested that RMI hold a seminar at their corporate office on innovative microchip fabrication plant designs, one of several industries where RMI has expertise.

The subsequent meetings at TI headquarters in Dallas fostered awareness of opportunities for sustainability and whole-system design. In Richardson, TX in November 2004, TI broke ground on a state-of-the-art, high-efficiency, million square foot chip fabrication facility, designed in large part with ideas generated from meetings with RMI.

Before they broke ground, Texas Instruments was seriously considering building its new facility overseas to compete on costs. Fabrication facility costs are inordinately high, not only due to the specialized tools that are required but also because of the scale and complexity of the process equipment that delivers large volumes of chilled water, clean air, vacuum, scrubbed exhaust and other utilities.

TI understood that implementing energy conservation measures can improve key operating parameters such as batch setup time, process yield, and production flexibility. In new or modernized plants, energy conversation measures will reduce capital investment and construction time - both critical factors that enhance competitive position.

In building a new plant, TI also had to combat conventional attitudes and standard design problems. Despite significant potential for innovation, manufacturing understandably fosters a risk-averse culture due to exacting process requirements, safety risks, the high cost of downtime, and stiff competition. Meeting production targets and time-to-market goals requires precise monitoring and control over a myriad of process variables. When there is consensus that a particular system design is working, it is duplicated exactly from one facility to the next. From then on the prevailing attitude is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Historically, facility designers and engineers have also been incentivized to oversize process equipment to handle future capacity increases. In effect, they have been hired to design systems that work today, not to design systems that work efficiently and adapt to future change. Standard designs has been seen as a way to save time, reduce capital costs and ensure consistency, yet this same inflexibility dampens the potential for enhancement to the process and often inhibits the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

Other challenges included the extensive heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems with high-performance filters to maintain clean room temperature and humidity, while removing airborne particles. Pumps, chillers, fans and furnaces deliver cooling water and conditioned air into the clean rooms via an extensive network of pipes and ducts. Electricity is the largest single operating expense for chipmakers (outside of labor), totaling millions of dollars annually at a single facility. A modern chip fabrication facility also uses up to 2-3 million gallons of water per day, with about a fourth of it used for cooling.

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