As Dr. Fazleena Badurdeen reflects on UK’s Institute for Sustainable Manufacturing, she notes that focusing on sustainability is a recent phenomenon. “Previously, the main emphasis in manufacturing was making sure the economics were good: increasing profits and cutting costs. The primary stakeholders were customers, management and employees,” she says. “But now, when you look at manufacturing from a sustainability point of view, there are more stakeholders and one has to think of the impact on each one of them, be it employees, the community or anyone else who might be affected by the company’s operations.”
The broad-scale impact of sustainable manufacturing upon growing groups of stakeholders has called for multidisciplinary research across a broad spectrum, a development Dr. Badurdeen welcomes. “It’s not possible for one person to have all the expertise that is needed,” she asserts. “We need to collaborate with experts in fields such as business, public policy and social sciences to better design such sustainable systems.”
One such collaborative effort, involving faculty from the Colleges of Engineering and Business & Economics at UK, is the “Risk Assessment for Next Generation Supply Chain Readiness” or, “RANGER”—a project led by Dr. Badurdeen.
“RANGER is a U.S. Air Force sponsored project which deals with supply chain risk modeling,” she explains. “With globalization and outsourcing, supply chains have become very complex. Managing a supply chain means understanding the risks within the supply chain—and those risks come from various sources, including natural disasters, labor issues, material shortages, etc. We spent a lot of time compiling all of the possible risks companies could be exposed to. Right now there are about 160 on the list.”
As if navigating 160 different risk factors isn’t daunting enough for a manufacturer, Dr. Badurdeen says it is the interdependence between the risks which needs to be understood, and which RANGER has mapped and modeled. “It is the interdependence which makes managing supply chains so complex. When there was an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it affected production in Kentucky because Toyota in Georgetown couldn’t get the parts as needed.” Dr. Badurdeen’s team is currently working on software companies could use to study the effect of risk factors and their interrelationships on the supply chains.
Working on projects like RANGER and involving her students in manufacturing and supply chain research has been one of the more gratifying aspects of Dr. Badurdeen’s role as a professor. “Our students get to work in large, multidisciplinary teams, so they get a broader perspective than what they learn in the classroom.” She believes this team-oriented approach mirrors what students will find in the business world. “Through their interactions with these companies, they get to see things as they would experience in real life.”
Applying an education in mechanical engineering and sustainable manufacturing is what Dr. Badurdeen hopes she has helped students do once they have finished her courses. “When former students send me e-mails once they start working to say they realize the value of what was taught in those courses, I am content my job was done.”