Identifying the need to make manufacturing processes greener, Balkrishna C Rao,associate professor, department of Engineering Design at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, has pioneered the Frugal Manufacturing concept. For years he has been working on how to use minimal resources at low cost to produce frugal products in smart factories in order to encourage sustainable development.
Frugality plays a key role in many Indian industries including engineering. The production of various sophisticated products at low cost can be realised through frugal engineering. Thus, frugal engineering is being applied by manufacturers across the world.
Frugal Manufacturing aims at producing all kinds of products, including frugal products, sustainably. By adopting this method, Indian manufacturers can get an edge over global competitors through the use of next-generation manufacturing processes and machine tool systems.
The Frugal Manufacturing process can also support the manufacturing of unusual products. During the pandemic, the techniques allowed manufacturers to produce face shields, hand wash stations, testing equipment and respiratory support equipment with minimal resources.
The optimal Frugal Manufacturing process would be a zero-waste, single low-cost manufacturing process to produce accurate dimensions and excellent surface features of a part or product in a single pass.
The sustainable manufacturing concept is within the scope of the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ concept of sustainability. This concept, aimed at making manufacturing eco-friendly and competitive, is promoted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academy of Engineering.
To further quantify the frugality of the manufacturing concept, Rao has introduced a measure called the ‘factor of frugality’. This measure is used to assess the frugality of manufacturing processes like casting, additive manufacturing, sheet processing, powder metallurgy and other traditional operations.
Additionally, the use of Frugal Manufacturing in smart factories allows the production of Net Finished Shape (NFS) instead of the prevalent Near Net Shape (NNS) products. This is beneficial as NFS is the final product of the primary manufacturing processes while NNS requires waste generating and costly secondary operations to create the final product.
Rao is one of the earlier researchers of frugal engineering globally. Rao’s seminal article, explaining the concept of Frugal Manufacturing in smart factories and presenting intriguing case studies, was published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Royal Society Open Science.
“Manufacturers seek to lower costs to stay profitable, and the conventional way of doing this has usually been by increasing the scale of production. With the irreversible interrelated phenomena of climate change, the decline in biodiversity and population growth facing the world, there has also been awareness of the need for frugal ways of consumption. Accordingly, there is now a shift in manufacturing philosophy from bigger-is-better to frugal-is-better, and zero waste products and processes have been increasingly gaining attention in recent years,” Rao said
“The potential of FM to achieve quality, zero waste and low cost in a minimal number of operations should be harnessed for the development of smart factories that are vital to Industry 4.0,” Rao wrote in his paper in a Royal Society journal.
Rao strongly believes that frugal manufacturing will have an incremental impact on all human endeavours. Sustainable production will tackle issues like climate change and other man-made crises. While being significant for all-around development, Frugal Manufacturing will help meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).