CHENNAI : Indian Institute of Technology Madras Faculty Dr. Balkrishna C Rao is pioneering the concept of ‘Frugal Manufacturing’ for Sustainable Development in Smart Factories. He has worked over the years on different aspects of frugal products made with minimal resources at low cost to provide good functionality.
The importance accorded to frugality in India has in a way empowered it in many parts of the Indian industry including engineering. Frugal engineering is being seriously applied across the world for various sophisticated products engineered for good functionality at low-cost. Manufacturing is critical to such engineering for realising these products.
Frugal Manufacturing, as part of this framework, is aimed at producing sustainably all kinds of products including frugal ones. Dr. Rao’s ongoing research involves devising approaches for the design and frugal manufacturing of quality products at low cost while consuming minimal resources. The adoption of Frugal Manufacturing can help Indian manufacturers in getting a lead in the global race of next-generation manufacturing processes and machine tool systems.
Beyond sustainability and economic competitiveness, FM can conceivably support unusual applications. The production of face shields, hand wash stations, testing equipment and respiratory support equipment using minimal resources during the COVID-19 pandemic stands testimony to the use of Frugal Manufacturing techniques for the greater good.
Dr. Balkrishna C. Rao, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Design, IIT Madras, has been an early researcher globally in frugal engineering. He has recently published a seminal article in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Royal Society Open Science (https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.210375), in which he explained the concept of FM in smart factories and presents interesting case studies in this area. The Research Paper can be downloaded from the following link – https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.210375.
Elaborating on his Research, Dr. Balkrishna C. Rao, Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Design, IIT Madras, said, “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.”
“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,” writes Dr. Balkrishna C. Rao in his Research Paper in Royal Society journal.
Frugal Manufacturing, as part of frugal engineering, aims for zero waste while fabricating good-quality parts through fewer low-cost processes. The best-case scenario for FM would therefore entail a single low-cost manufacturing process to produce accurate dimensions and excellent surface features, of a part or product, in a single pass with zero waste!
The concept of FM falls within the scope of the newly-developed ‘cradle-to-cradle’ concept of sustainability promoted by the US-Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academy of Engineering and is aimed at making the manufacturing sector green and competitive.
Dr. Balkrishna Rao has also introduced a measure called ‘factor of frugality’ to quantify frugality in all aspects of product development including manufacturing. He has used this measure to assess the frugality of manufacturing processes such as, but not limited to, casting, additive manufacturing, sheet processing, powder metallurgy, and other traditional operations.
The inclusion of FM in smart factories would allow for the production of Net Finished Shape (NFS) products, which are much better than the prevailing Near Net Shape (NNS) products. This is because, NFS is the final product coming from primary manufacturing processes while NNS entails the use of secondary operations for finishing, which in turn generates waste and raise costs.
Dr. Balkrishna Rao strongly believes that frugal engineering will increasingly impact all human endeavours, both commercial and public. It will help in tackling the challenges of climate change and other planetary and manmade crises of our time. Frugal engineering is significant for all-around development and will help in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the following decades.