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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Applied Technology Center to focus on "green" manufacturing

Technologies used by the U.S. military to cut down on waste and pollution in its manufacturing operations may help commercial industries along the U.S.-Mexico border become more environmentally friendly.

That's one of the objectives of the new Thomas E. Davidson Applied Technology Center at New Mexico State University's Physical Science Laboratory.

"We think there are cost-effective technologies already developed for the Army that could be used to solve environmental problems facing the maquiladoras on the Mexican side of the border and industries on this side as well," said Robert Silver, PSL's Sustainable Green Manufacturing Program manager.

At a ceremony last month dedicating the Davidson Applied Technology Center, U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen, R-N.M., announced that PSL has been awarded $722,000 in federal funds for its green manufacturing program. The same amount will go to each of PSL's three partners in the initiative -- the Industrial Ecology Center at the U.S. Army's Picatinny Arsenal, the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence (NDCEE) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Although the program's research and development activities are primarily aimed at military manufacturing processes, part of PSL's task is to work with industries in the border region on technology transfer. To get the process started, Silver said a series of seminars is being planned to discuss environmental quality issues with maquiladora representatives.

"The maquilas are cost-driven, not regulation-driven," he said. "The Department of Defense and the maquila industries are surprisingly similar in this interest in cost. They want to know, for instance, how water-intensive is this process, how much electricity does it use, how much is it going to cost me to run this?"

The green manufacturing program aims to reduce pollution and waste without increasing costs, by introducing clean technologies and materials, better corrosion detection and prevention, improved design and more efficient use of resources.

"What the military has been trying to do is engineer out the waste," Silver said. "Rather than pay at the end of the pipeline to clean up pollution or dispose of waste, you design it out of your process at the front end."

An example, he said, is a method developed recently by NDCEE for repainting military aircraft. Instead of using toxic solvents to remove the old paint, it uses "a high-pressure water pump with a robotic arm that is controlled by a computer," he said. "It is so precise, you can control the spray and the pattern so that it will take off only one layer of paint, and leave the primer on."

Paint chips are the only waste, he said, and they can be separated out so the water can be recycled again and again. Once a computer program is set up for removing paint from a particular type of aircraft, Silver said, copies of the program can be sent to other sites where workers with minimal training can run the robotic equipment.

PSL's initial work on the green manufacturing contract will involve activities such as developing predictive technology models. To determine how long a device will continue to function under various conditions, the Davidson Applied Technology Center has testing equipment to subject the device to "accelerated aging," simulating long-term exposure to corrosion, ultraviolet light, heat, vibrations or other factors. The center also will develop advanced sensors for monitoring the condition of equipment or stored supplies.

Knowing the conditions under which a piece of equipment is likely to fail can result in improved manufacturing processes, better maintenance and more efficient use, Silver said.

The sustainable green manufacturing program is an outgrowth of PSL's long-standing working relationship with Picatinny Arsenal. Thomas E. Davidson, for whom the Applied Technology Center is named, was technical director at Picatinny before joining PSL in 1994 and he brought with him a keen interest in the green manufacturing technologies that were being developed at Picatinny. Davidson was PSL's deputy director for resource management at the time of his death last year.