ISMI REPORT II: Sustainable development — the next industrial revolution?

by Phil LoPiccolo, Editor-in-Chief

Companies evaluating whether to implement environmentally friendly technologies in semiconductor fabs typically weigh the potential environmental benefits vs. the added capital costs. But that approach may soon become obsolete. Speaking at the recent International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI) Symposium on Manufacturing Effectiveness, Texas Instruments’ sustainable development manager Paul Westbrook cited TI’s new 300mm RFAB in Richardson, TX, as evidence that designing and constructing greener facilities not only can reduce harmful effects on the environment, it can also be a powerful driver of cost savings.

In 2004, when TI executives set out to build the first semiconductor manufacturing facility to be certified by the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, “they didn’t do it because they wanted to hug a tree,” Westbrook said. “They did it because it made good business sense.”

In fact, he credits an integrated design of green technologies and techniques as key to meeting the company’s goal of spending 30% less on constructing the facility than it did a few years earlier for a similar plant six miles away. By investing approximately $1.5 million — less than 1% of the total project cost — in LEED-related items, TI was able to meet the overall 30% cost-cutting challenge, as well as reduce operating costs by $1 million in the first year and up to $4 million at full buildout — while at the same time lowering emissions by 50%, water usage by 35%, and energy use by 20%.

Westbrook also attributes the achievement to the company’s ability to implement an iterative, multidisciplinary process of analyzing sustainable development options. As an example, he pointed to the evaluation conducted on energy-efficient lighting fixtures that contain built-in motion and daylight sensors to turn the lights on only when needed, and that can be networked and computer-controlled to enable more flexible lighting patterns.

“If you look at just the simple payback period for these ‘ergolights,’ it’s about 16.7 years, and nobody in their right mind would put them in based on that,” Westbrook said. But from a broader view, the TI team found that 30% fewer fixtures would be needed overall and waste heat would be significantly reduced, together dropping the ROI to about six years. Adding savings from other lighting and energy-related changes, such as high-efficiency windows, light shelves, a reflective roof, sun shades, extra insulation, vacuum pumps, and the like, also eliminated the need for a ~$1 million air-conditioning “chiller.” “At that point, the payback becomes instantaneous, or there may be a net capital savings,” he said. “And the operating costs are lowered forever.”

Moreover, Westbrook pointed out that if a nicer work environment, with more natural lighting, reduces the number of employees’ sick days even by just 1%, the cost savings for a large office complex can exceed $1 million/year, considering that workers’ salaries account for 92% of all office worker costs over a 30-year period. And providing a nice environment may even give companies an advantage when recruiting top talent, he added.

“It’s the integration of all these factors that can prove the value of this approach, Westbrook said. “Once you build a financial case, who’s going to argue with that?”

Looking forward, Westbrook believes that touting the business benefits of technologies traditionally recognized for their environmental benefits may help usher in a new era in manufacturing. In the first industrial revolution 150 years ago, people were scarce and nature was abundant, so if you increased the productivity of people, you were the successful industry, he said. But in this century, when people are abundant and nature is scarce, “we are going to witness the next industrial revolution — the resource revolution,” he said, citing a concept from the book Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. “Now it’s about who can get the most out of every drop of water, every unit of electricity,” he said. “Those who use resources most efficiently are the ones who are going to win.” — P.L.


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