Michael Kane on Lowering a Manufacturing Firm’s Carbon Footprint

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The recently retired executive Michael Kane Boral understands the importance of sustainability in the ecological context of a manufacturing company. Lowering your carbon footprint takes a concerted effort, but can be achieved by re-considering your entire process from the ground up.

Most would agree that a carbon footprint reduction results in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. While environmental benefits are obvious there are other advantages to manufacturing costs, product design/performance, product preference in deep green applications, manufacturing efficiency, and disciplines that accompany a true cleantech review from top to bottom. Currently, 22% of US GHG emissions stem from industry, according to US EPA reports. There is no argument that GHG emissions impact the environment – however much debate there may be on the extent of the impact. Few, however, discuss the benefits to a manufacturer beyond the environment and it can be successfully argued that emissions reductions and process tightening go hand in hand with the greening of a manufacturing process. It simply makes you a better manufacturer.

In a discussion with Michael Kane Boral Limited retired CEO he outlined for us 5 steps to evaluate your equipment, raw material sources, heat or thermal inputs, transportation inputs, manufacturing optimization alternatives, marketing advantages, and corporate image enhancement opportunities to be gained by a serious look at clean tech manufacturing of the future.

After 47 years running a variety commodity heavy industry divisions of global corporations in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia he distills that experience into 5 areas of discovery many of which can be implemented with small capital inputs. A well-done job will require close collaboration between research scientists, manufacturing, procurement, and transportation executives to deliver a fully optimized outcome and often stimulates new product introductions or revitalizations that take a company in new directions with suites of new product offerings that can stimulate a previously slow to change the organization to become an industry leader.

Michael Kane Boral Tips to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Improve your Manufacturing Process

  1. Consider remanufacturing methods. Apply the R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – to your manufacturing practices, but also add the fourth R, remanufacturing. This refers to reclaiming durable materials from your or other industries manufacturing processes. Look closely at the chemical properties, assess strength, fluidity, color, flexibility, and all performance adjustments including a polymer or other chemistry adjustments that can improve product performance while incorporating the new material. Examples of this are recycled waste paper versus wood-based pulps, specialty types of cement which are by-products of steel or electrical production processes (slag and fly ash cement), post-consumer glass (cutlet) to replace virgin sand and associated quarrying activities, production process waste that can be re-fed through your own process minimizing waste generated and lowering costs inputs. When you are done you will have tightened up your process and manufacturing disciplines and in many cases have new enviro-friendly products for your industry.
  2. Implement additive manufacturing. Many companies are practicing with  3D printing alternatives and some show significant promise. The costs of this technology to date may be prohibitive for commodity manufacturers, however. Look instead to your sources of thermal content. Moving from coal inputs (steel and cement manufacturing) to natural gas, electric or better sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower, biomass or geothermal sources need to be explored. In recent decades many companies have been successful in taping co-generation opportunities (landfill gas, turbine used to generate your base electric needs and selling excess into the grid).
  3. In every case with all the alternatives, you assess you must evaluate each option by determining the environmental impact of each change to your process. Consider the full life cycle of your products from cradle to grave – sourcing to landfilling.
  4. Consider full utilization of six sigma technologies particularly as it applies to new product development. Likewise, implement Lean Manufacturing techniques to assure yourself that you have instilled the proper disciplines in your organization to sustain the heightened specificity of your new tighter (less forgiving) manufacturing process. Reduce yield losses by reducing machine idling and unplanned outages through a rigorous preventative maintenance program.
  5. Simple things like implementing LED lighting to increase lumens (see your operation better), improve housekeeping, and 5S efforts. Install machine monitoring add-ons like thermal tags on motors to anticipate motor failure in advance of process interruptions. Michael Kane’s Boral experience with Lean Manufacturing convinced him that while the first three steps are part of a wholesale re-manufacturing effort steps 4 and 5 prepare your organization to adopt the changes required in the first three.

Starting with these 5 tips you can begin to explore the opportunities lying in plain view on the factory floor.