Business of Metalforming


 

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Eco Challenges: Fish-Friendly Manufacturing

By: Michael Bleau

Tuesday, March 01, 2011
 
The environmental aspects of metalforming are becoming increasingly important to local communities and workers, and allowing many companies to strengthen their bottom line. Recently, I asked several metal stampers what they were doing to become greener, and how the activities affected their financials. One manufacturer really stood out from the crowd, going beyond anything that I had imagined. The plant’s manufacturing engineering manager walked me through his environmental planning and project materials, and described some interesting ways that his company communicates these changes throughout the plant floor.

This North American metalforming plant annually processes 225,000 tons of steel and aluminum for the automotive industry. In doing so, it annually consumes $7 million worth of energy—$3 million spent during nonproduction periods. Energy consumption consists mainly of electricity (60 percent), along with steam, water/sewer and natural gas, supporting stamping and fabrication processes and other facility uses.

What impressed me the most about its green presentation is the level of professionalism and detail being brought to environmental initiatives. I’ve seen business plans with less detail, so it’s obvious that this company and its 10-member environmental-improvement team take this initiative very seriously. For example, the team is documenting its entire plan with objectives, targets and results. This documentation clearly outlines the goals and why these goals have been established, includes past performance indicators and targets, and addresses how the goals mesh with the company’s overall performance plans. The team meets weekly to review progress, consider new initiatives and discuss strategies and projects designed to eliminate waste, cut energy consumption and identify ways to better track performance.

The approach to improvement follows a basic seven-step process that starts with a thorough understanding of requirements through a series of reactive, preventive and proactive steps. For each identified area of improvement, the team has developed a series of projects associated with changing to an optimal future state. In some cases, these projects are designed to identify additional improvement opportunities.

For example, the plant is installing electronic devices at strategic points within its production lines to monitor air and power consumption and identify the drivers of production and nonproduction energy costs. In one case, this monitoring provided insight into how much energy was being consumed—during nonproduction time—by large pump motors on a press line. The team then developed a solution and quickly took action, investing a mere $6000 in electronic countermeasures. As a result, energy-hungry pump motors now automatically shut down when a line is idle, saving the plant more than $70,000 in annual energy costs.

Other energy-saving activities completed:

• Replacing pushbutton light bulbs on control panels to LED lights;

• Adding a chiller regulator to aluminum-welding lines;

• Using an ultrasonic detector to find and repair air leaks; and

• Future steam elimination with forced-air replacements.

While these and other ongoing environmentally focused projects have resulted in nearly $2 million in annual energy-cost savings, what really takes top honors is the success of some of the plant’s water-saving and cleanliness initiatives. Clearly, this plant’s goals are not all driven from a cost-savings perspective. For example, through a series of kaizen initiatives, the plant installed automatic faucet and flush units in bathrooms and at hand-washing stations, coupled with a relatively inexpensive bacteria-removing water-filtration system on its water-cooling systems. While these efforts minimally reduce costs, they have reduced the plant’s water consumption by 1.8 million gallons annually.

Efforts like this represent a positive impact on the environment—and here’s the tie-in to the title of this article. To demonstrate to workers (and customers and other plant visitors) just how clean the plant’s cooling-system water has become, the plant installed a 100-gal. fish-filled aquarium on the shop floor, within an informational kiosk. The cooling system’s water circulates continuously through the tank, and after nearly a year the fish remain happy and healthy.

Benchmarking this company, consider these steps:

Pull employees together to organize all environmental materials under one team, so that you can see the big picture; organize environmental and energy-saving exercises as you would any part of your business; and communicate internally the goals and results, explaining how everyone plays a part.

Ways to learn more include:

• Visit www.pma.org for details about the Precision Metalforming Association’s Safety and Environment Committee.

• Visit your state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment website.

• Visit the Environment & Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice’s website, www.justice.gov/enrd. MF

 


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