Levi’s Making Jeans From Plastic Bottles?

American jean company Levi Strauss will be trying something different with their new line of jeans. They will be made of crushed brown and green plastic bottles. Each pair of Levi’s new Waste>Less jeans will contain a blend of eight plastic bottles. These new jeans will be unveiled on October 16 of next year and are part of Levi’s push to reduce the impact the jean making process has on the environment. Michael Kobori, the vice president of supply chain social and environmental sustainability, says Levi, “wants to build sustainability into everything they do.” He also goes on to say that the reason for this effort is because of resource scarcity and increasing volatility in cotton prices. Eric Olson, the senior vice president of BSR, an environmental group that works with businesses, comments on corporate social responsibility saying that, “we expect brands we trust to take care of us, to keep us honest. We don’t want to hear that we’re ruining someone’s life or destroying the planet. We don’t want to pay more, but we want companies to take care of it.”

Levi is the biggest maker of jeans in the world, with sales of $4.8 billion in 2011. A company of this size attracts attention and therefore helps to influence sustainability programs among other companies as well. That is why there is so much attention around their sustainability program. In 2007, Levi’s conducted a life-cycle assessment of some of its major products and found that 49 percent of the water use during the lifetime of a pair of 501 jeans occurred at the very beginning, with cotton farmers and another 45 percent. That’s when Levi created their Water<Less Jeans that significantly reduced the amount of water it takes to produce a pair of jeans from about 45 liters to 4. Soon after, Kirby began thinking about plastic. Cone Denim is the company that produces fabric for Levi’s 501s. They began to study plastic their director of product development had been testing fibers from recycled colored plastic bottles. These bottles were the brown beer bottles, green soda bottles, and the blue five-gallon jugs of water. Plastic bottles are recycled, sorted by color, cleaned, and turned into polyester flakes. These flakes can be stretched into fiber that can be spun into yarn and eventually woven into cotton fabric. There is a downside though because recycled fibers aren’t as strong or consistent as “virgin” fibers. Eventually, they devised proprietary processes that allowed them to strengthen the fiber.

The first Waste‹Less collection will include about 400,000 items include men’s jeans, women’s jeans and jean jackets. The price for a pair of jeans will range from $69 to $128. All together, about 3.5 million bottles were used in the first batch of Waste‹Less jeans. That’s a big accomplishment for Levi’s but the reality is that an estimated 33 billion bottles of soda are consumed in America every year and of those, only 29 percent are recycled.

So obviously Levi’s is doing a great thing by trying to reduce waste and save resources but they cannot change the world by themselves. That’s why their program is more about making a point and influencing others rather than making a purpose. If they can influence other companies and consumers to be more self-conscience about their effect on the environment, it would have a much greater impact than anything they could do themselves. Do you agree that their efforts are worth doing considering it doesn’t have a phenomenal impact?

Full Article Here  http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-18/levis-goes-green-with-waste-less-jeans

Is Baxter Increasing Production or Replacing Humans?

Baxter is a new manufacturing robot from Rethink Robotics. It is created to perform the menial repetitive tasks that occur at an assembly line such as picking items of a conveyor belt. Baxter is expected to increase the productivity of U.S. manufacturers and help them retain business that would otherwise migrate overseas.

Rodney Brooks with Baxter

The red and charcoal-gray Baxter goes on sale October 2012. Baxter has five cameras, a sonar sensor that detects motion 360 degrees around it, and can learn tasks within an hour. It is also very cheap in comparison to other assembly-line robots which can cost $200,00 each. At $22,000 a unit, Baxter is the equivalent paying a human $4 an hour for three years of eight-hour shifts.

Other assembly-line robots can be dangerous, so they are often isolated in cages away from employees. Baxter however, is designed to work safely alongside workers and can be set down safely almost anywhere on a factory floor. Its eyes are on a swiveling computer screen and greet any worker who approaches. To teach Baxter a job, a human simply grabs its arms, simulates the desired task, and presses a button to set the pattern. Baxter will also be upgradable. The company plans to update Baxter’s software for free every few months, enabling more complex behaviors such as two-handed manipulation.

Rethink Robotics’ origins date back to the 1990s when founder Rodney Brooks got an unwelcome taste of the realities of the global supply chain as the cost of shipping products overseas rose along with the price of oil. Rethink Robotics was conceived as an attempt to change the economics of manufacturing.

Baxter is designed to make U.S. workers more productive than their foreign rivals. However, worker production is not really a problem. According to IHS, U.S. companies produce about $2 trillion worth of goods annually while China produces $2.2 trillion. U.S. companies also do it with a tenth of the manpower as China. America’s manufacturing issues are more than just productivity. Companies use overseas manufacturers because they’re cheaper and nearer the rest of their supply chain.

There is also the fear that Baxter could replace U.S. workers. Rethink Chief Executive Officer Scott Eckert compares Baxter to the arrival of the personal computer. He says it effectively turns workers from menial laborers into robot managers. So the question remains. Is Baxter really going to keep jobs in the U.S. or will companies continue to use overseas manufacturers. If U.S. companies do decide to use Baxter instead of overseas manufacturers, then will U.S. workers simply be replaced? Its tough to say but Rodney Brooks seems to believe Baxter is the future to saving U.S. jobs and manufacturing.

Businessweek Article  http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-18/smarter-robots-with-no-pesky-uprisings#p1