Sustainable manufacturing is defined as "The creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Sustainable manufacturing also enhances employee, community and product safety".
There are many reasons to keep sustainability top of mind when considering machine shop operations. One obvious reason is to reduce your operation's impact on the environment but other benefits include cost savings, enhanced worker health & safety as well as the strengthening of your competitive position and reputation.
The pathway to running a sustainable machine shop can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Of course the size of your operation and nature of the work you perform will dictate how involved your plan needs to be but for most smaller manufacturers its not necessary to implement complicated policies or to fill binders with lengthy procedures in order to accomplish your sustainability objectives. Remember, even if your shop implements just one sustainable initiative your operation will be more sustainable and environmentally friendly than it was before.
We've provided a simple framework to help machine shops of any size to get started on a sustainability plan.
Inspection and Analysis of the Workplace
Identify opportunities to Reduce Waste
Leverage Renewable Energy
Step 1 : Workplace Inspection The first step on the list involves a facility inspection to identify areas of your operation where improvements could be made. Ask yourself ...
What could be changed about your facility's operations and processes to reduce energy consumption?
What materials and substances are being used on the shop floor and are these items the best choices for the types of work being performed from a sustainable perspective?
At Ellery Manufacturing we've recently replaced our shop lighting and installed ceiling fans. We replaced our outdated halogen warehouse lighting with more energy efficient LED light fixtures and we implemented motion sensors to to ensure lighting in lesser used areas of the shop aren't needlessly turned on throughout the day. The ceiling fans we installed are located down the length of our production floor. They push cool air down to the shop floor during warmer months and they help distribute heat across the shop during the winter. The fans are also used to enhance our shop's air movement and ventilation. The fans are setup with a control system to ensure they aren't run needlessly.
Both of these initiatives are saving money for the company, reducing our energy consumption and they are providing our employees with a healthier, safer work environment.
Step 2 : Waste Reduction
Once your initial inspection is complete the second step in your sustainability plan involves identifying any materials, substances, tooling and equipment used in your workplace that can be recycled, re-purposed or if need be safely disposed. A good place to start would be a review of your shop's use of packaging supplies (ie. plastics, cardboard, wood) , coolant and scrap materials. Once these items are identified you need to next look at your current recycling approach and identify opportunities for improvement or plan for the implementation of new programs that will further enhance your shop's sustainable practices.
At Ellery Manufacturing we participate in several recycling / disposal programs that help us manage the following items in a sustainable manner:
Steel Scrap & Carbide
Paints & Solvents
E-Waste (Computers and misc. electronics)
Paper & Cardboard
Step 3 : Alternative Energy Sources
The final step in your road to sustainability is to look at how alternative sources of energy can be used to power your operation. Large manufacturers are already finding creative ways to power their facilities using renewable energy sources including wind and solar. The availability, cost and practicality of installing renewable energy options to power machine shops, especially smaller operations can make this step of the sustainable journey a little more challenging for some.
However, even if renewable energy isn't an option for your machine shop today its a good idea to keep your eyes open going forward to identify new solutions that may become available over time. It might not make sense to try and run your shop off of solar power today but over time these sorts of alternatives will scale down, become more affordable and increase their energy output to a point where alternative energy sources become realistic options.
What else are Machine Shops doing to become more Sustainable?
Here's a list of sustainable initiatives that other machine shops have successfully put in place.
Moving from single use shipping materials to re-usable materials.
Paperless document systems.
Replacing older desktop computers and monitors with more current, energy efficient models.
Carbide and steel tool recycling.
Coolant management systems and where possible switching to biodegradable, vegetable-based cutting oils.
Upgrading CNC machines to newer, energy efficient models.
Right-Sizing CNC machines to ensure the machines being used for certain parts aren't bigger than necessary and don't use more energy than required.
Installing energy efficient lighting systems.
Upgrading to heating / cooling systems that will adjust thermostat settings during certain times of the day and year to conserve energy.
Optimized compressed air systems.
Four day work weeks (4 x 10 Hr. shifts). The four day work week has been seen to increase productivity and reduce energy costs for certain shops by up to 5%.