Going Green in Manufacturing

Mike Cabanski, Cobra Plastics, January 2009
Originally presented at the WAIB annual conference; published in Spray Technology & Marketing's January 2009 issue, Volume 19, No. 1

Implementing Green principles into your company is about providing healthier alternatives for the environment and your financial standing, as well as your employees. Having a Green facility is an excellent public relations tool when dealing with other businesses, government institutions and, most importantly, your customers. Green thinking requires a completely new mindset and open intellect to explore all aspects of your daily operation.

Going green allows your company to be ecologically friendly while driving your operation costs down. The year 2008 showed us how vulnerable we are to rising energy costs and the detrimental effects on the bottom line. By going Green, your company can benefit from potential local, state, and federal tax incentives.

Getting Started

The best resource to begin with is the United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) checklist. The USGBC developed this checklist so companies can measure improvement in it's performance. LEED is an all-encompassing point-based certification program, which covers six categories for accreditation under New Construction for Existing Building formats. The amount of LEED points earned decides wether a facility is deemed Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

With a growing number of corporations utilizing USGBC's LEED certification program, being a supplier that is also LEED certified can be a great selling point. Many large marketers within the aerosol industry are already LEED certified, and with the directive from the big box stores to push Green, it would be in a supplier's best interest to promote their own green initiatives.

LEED focuses on six major areas of a facility: Sustainable Sites, Material & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere and Innovation & Design Process.

Sustainable Sites
A sustainable site for your facility is one that is close to city services and is accessible to mass transit – such as bus routes and rail services, as well as supplying allowances for bicycle riders. The impact of the building's footprint on the habitat should be minimized through the planting of water efficient shrubs, trees and other vegetation. The vegetation also controls sedimentation, soil erosion, promotes wildlife refuge and reduces heat island effects. Heat island effects are caused by thermal differences between developed land, such as parking lots, roof tops, and undeveloped land. Utilization of covered parking, vegetative roofing, and high solar reflectance materials minimizes potential thermal variances.

Materials and Resources
Materials and Resources covers recycling, the use of recycled components, regional materials and use of renewable resources in the building itself. The first course of action is the simplest: recycling bins throughout the facility should be implemented to reduce waste that is transported to landfills. From each individual's desk, the copy and print room, break / lunch rooms, as well as the workstations on the factory floor, the presence of these receptacles provokes people into recycling , not only at work, but also throughout their personal lives.

Companies that are expanding should reuse materials removed during construction to minimize demand for virgin products. All new structures should be built with regional materials from within a 500 mile radius to minimize the waste associated with transporting the materials to your site. Incorporation of recycled content and rapidly renewable resources for building materials should also be considered. Rapidly renewable resources are materials that have a maximum 10 year life cycle and consist of cork, wood, bamboo, and cotton, to name just a few.

Indoor Air Quality
Indoor Air Quality covers a broad range of aspects concerning air quality and natural lighting to enhance the comfort of a building's occupants. Making your facility a smoke-free environment mean no smoking is allowed inside, unless in a designated room, or within 25' area of all doors., windows and air inlets of the building. Ventilation, thermal comfort, lighting and daylight views should be maximized to provide occupant comfort. Indoor air contaminants can be reduced by using a low VOC construction adhesives, sealants and coatings as well as low emitting carpet systems. Paper products such as towels, napkins, facial tissue and toilet paper should be bought with a minimum of 10% recycled content. Green Cleaning protects the health and well being of occupants without sidturbing our environment. Certified cleaning products with the “Green Seal”, “GreenGaurd” and other labels are covered under this category (but that is best left for another article in itself). Entryway mats that are maintained weekly should be utilized to cut down on the tracking of outside contaminents and wear and tear on permanent carpeting.

Water Efficiency
Water Efficiency covers landscaping, reduction of wastewater and water use reduction technologies. Considering there are over 26 states in the U.S. In a drought situation, state and local governments offer incentives to those that adopt water-saving technologies. Consideration of landscaping that does not require permanent watering is ideal, or using captured rainwater, recycled grey water or non-potable treated water for irrigation is just as beneficial. Install water conserving toilet systems and faucets along with motion sensors to avoid water waste from running water. New technologies such as waterless urinals and dual flush toilets cut water consumption and wastewater.

Energy and Atmosphere
Energy and Atmosphere focuses on reducing energy consumption, building documentation, occupant productivity, lower operating costs and ensuring that the facility is performing to all set requirements. Companies must look at the biggest offenders, which could actually be the smallest attributes, such as mandatory EXIT signs; here, LED lighting – which requires less energy to power and glow brighter – could be utilized. Fluorescent lighting should be run from the coolest, dimmable ballasts such as a T5 rating or better. Compact fluorescent light bulbs can replace all conventional light bulbs; they last seven to ten times longer and result in substantially less energy use. Simply painting the walls and ceilings bright colors maximizes lighting by requiring fewer light bulbs to brighten dark areas. Use occupancy and daylight sensors for all light switches, as well as skylights and maximum-sized windows to provide natural light. Preventative maintenance programs for equipment provide machinery to run efficiently and will reduce overall costs of minimizing calls to contractors to fix or replace equipment.

Innovation and Design Process
This is an area where a company can become a leader and set new standards for which credits are given. This can be done specifically by spearheading a new design or innovative way to conserve water or energy and establish measurements of the performance. The USGBC will also give credit for having LEED Accredited Professional on staff educating the building team regarding Green principles.

Getting it done

How do these principles correlate to our industry and an injection molding facility? New technologies in chiller systems used to cool the injection presses have enabled us to cut wastewater, water usage and enery consumption. Through the conversion to an air cooled chiller system from a water cooled chiller system, three very large pieces of energy consuming handling equipment were eliminated, as well as achieving a reduction in the amount of pipping necessary. Air cooled close loop chiller systems require a one-time makeup water mixture, as opposed to water cooled chiller systems that require continuous replacement of chemically treated water, resulting in reduced waste-water costs. The compressor for the air cooled system that impels the chilled water is run off of magnetic bearings. These bearings create a magnetic field in which the compressor shafts “float”, removing the need for greases or oils to lubricate and reduce maintenance. The compressor also operates at a quieter level due to the magnetic motor and bearings, lowering the overall noise pollution. Compressor cycling, due to spikes in demand loads, is eliminated through the use of variable frequency drives creating substantial energy efficiency.

Variable Frequency Drives (VFD's) or Variable Speed Drives (VSD's) are used to throttle a motor, in this case to deliver fluids, instead of running at a constant speed and wasting energy. Variable speed drives are crucial for injection molding presses, as they slow the hydraulic pumps during low oil demand during certain portions of the cycle. Without the VSD, the pumps would keep flowing oil at a set level and relief valves would dump the oil back to the reservoir tank. The use of VSD's can lower maintenance costs on the presses by minimizing the operation of relief valves, their seals and hoses.

Designated recycling bins by each press for all scrap plastic not shipped to a customer from color changeovers, purging and runners allow for grinding and re-processing. All cardboard and pallets used from incoming materials are collected and either utilized in a return policy or sold back to the supplier. Elimination of pallets in shipping by floor loading shipments cuts down on lumber requirements. Carton design should maximize parts per box and the number of boxes that will fit on a truck to reduce headspace. An onsite railroad spur and large capacity silos cut back on the volume of deliveries, thus reducing energy requirements used in transport.

Going green and reducing operating costs is not a contradiction, it's a reality. Your company does not need to follow the LEED accreditation process, but should make a plan to look at areas to improve your carbon footprint, reduce energy consumption and minimize raw material extraction. This is beneficial in terms of economic value, environmental responsibility and, by providing an example, encouraging others to be environmentally responsible and proactive in the future.

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