Being more eco-friendly goes beyond recycling chips. There are multiple ways that manufacturers can be more sustainable. While it may be difficult to make big operational changes all at once, even just a few smarter choices can have worthwhile environmental benefits.
“Customers today are looking for more sustainability-minded suppliers and may even require it,” says Gene Skiba, CEO at NewSoTech, a company that helps manufacturers improve efficiencies and reduce carbon footprints. “Plus, many environmental improvements have cost benefits over time, making them good business investments that lower the total cost of ownership.”
Here are five ways manufacturers can go greener.
Reduce energy consumption The best way to use less energy is to operate more efficiently. Automation often saves energy because it is consistently accurate and efficient, and manufacturers can run lights-out shifts in some cases, and energy is typically cheaper during “third shift” hours. Collecting data about the shop’s equipment may help identify the energy hogs, so they can be replaced with efficient machines. Additive manufacturing (AM) may potentially offer a lower-energy option than traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, as machines may operate less and shorten the supply chain. Learn more about how AM saves energy in this article from Design News.
Use renewable energy sources Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal are becoming more viable energy options today, and they may not cost anything to adopt them. There are federal, state, and local grants and loans available to help manufacturers with new energy projects. See the U.S. Department of Energy’s page about funding, or contact local utilities to inquire about funding opportunities.
Choose sustainable materials Materials are considered more sustainable if they are made from recycled media or were produced at a factory with a low carbon footprint. There are high-quality polymers, metals, plastics, and textiles made using more sustainable production processes.
Reduce waste Although recycling waste products is a good sustainable measure, avoiding the use of excess materials in the first place is even better. For example, AM is a more sustainable manufacturing option because it only utilizes the material needed. Automating more tedious jobs eliminates the chance for human error (and rework). Robots get it done right every time, so there are no mistakes to throw away.
Extend part longevity Longer-lasting components reduce waste. This may require changing the type of material used or adding coatings to protect parts from corrosion, thermal cycling, galling, or other harsh elements. Parts may cost more initially, but extreme durability can lower total lifecycle costs by reducing unplanned downtime and extending service intervals.
By thinking longer-term, manufacturers can take steps to improve their sustainability. It’s a good investment in the business and the planet.