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NATM convention: Panel discusses the obstacles and benefits of environmentally friendly manufacturing processes

NATM convention: Panel discusses the obstacles and benefits of environmentally friendly manufacturing processes

John-Burgess at NATM SCRUTINY of manufacturing processes has never been greater, as focus is placed on corporate environmental responsibility to reduce voluminous waste in the manufacturing sector.

The NATM acknowledged this when it presented its first-ever Green Manufacturing Award to Engelbrecht Grills & Cookers, of Paxton, Illinois, at the 23rd Annual Convention and Trade Show in Albuquerque.

What exactly is this thing called “green”? What are companies in this industry doing? What are the obstacles they've faced and continue to face as they implement new practices?

Pat Godwin Jr at NATM To get a glimpse into “green,” the NATM assembled a panel featuring John Burgess, executive vice-president and chief operating officer for Carry-On Trailers, and Pat Godwin Jr, vice-president of Godwin Manufacturing, and then fired away.

Q: What is your company doing to recycle or reuse production materials?

Godwin: “Everything we make is out of steel, so it's pretty easy to recycle. Other than that, we powder-coat everything. Whatever is left over or falls to the floor is simply swept up and reused in the next batch. We reuse packaging materials from vendors.”

Burgess: “With the steel-aluminum business, we recycle. However, it's not as simple as you think. You have to set up your plants to do that. If you make it hard for folks in plants to recycle, they're going to put the wrong things in those containers. Dumpster diving, as we called it early in the day, is a purely economic activity. We put in a lot of separate mini-dumpsters to make it easy to recycle. The problem they have is that since it's so visual, anybody walking by says, ‘We can use that.’ But that way, we can make sure steel goes in the steel bin and aluminum in the aluminum bin. Our steel guys like it and the aluminum guys like it because they're able to keep them separate. No manufacturer wants to separate materials once they get dumped into a roll-off.”

Godwin: “We actually took the dimensions we wanted the completed product to be and then sized components to be cut down from full sheets. It's all put in a shear and cut a certain way. I used to work for a place that had a lot of waste. We don't have that. Our dumpster is full of shavings and little three-inch pieces and steel bandings.”

Burgess: “Management definitely has to pay attention. We ship a lot of little trailers, and freight is huge for our company on the carry-on side. So to maximize the number of trailers we get on a load, we came up with Styrofoam blocks. You're sitting there thinking, ‘That's not very green, John.’ But the nice thing about them is we reuse them. And when we finally can't use them anymore, we sell them back to our Styrofoam guy.

“We've also had success with different organizations. A lot of times you have people in an organization who do recycling for a fundraiser, so almost all of our plants have somebody collecting toner cartridges. With a lot of recycled things, you don't have to do much because you have administration people going, ‘Give me that cartridge because my church gets $2 for every one turned in.’”

Godwin: “We do a lot of the same things. One added little twist is in the transition of Wal-Mart over years from smaller stores to Supercenters. We have gone to sales where they get rid of cardboard balers. You can buy them relatively cheap. You just have to set them up. The bottom line is that every load you carry to the dumpster is a load you no longer have to pay the landfill to take. What was a detriment — you had to pay landfill — is now a situation where you are actually getting something back.”

Burgess: “It's the discipline, running three shifts and teaching 850 employees to not just throw that into the dumpster. You have a cardboard dumpster and steel dumpster and all different silos we want them to put things in. You still go by the steel bin and there's garbage in there. You'd think that somebody would want to buy it, but being in rural areas, they don't find it economically feasible to haul.”

Godwin: “We had some lighting issues in the shop. Halo lighting is very bright, but it takes a lot of energy to burn them. They've got to warm up. You flip them off, and it takes 5, 10, 15 minutes to light back up. We found out from Progress Energy that they had a program where if we could commit to changing ours over to fluorescent from what we were using, we'd not only lower our power bill, but they would send us a check to buy the lights. How can you beat that? Those are things you need to pursue. Look at your power supplier and see if they have programs available. Immediately we started saving on our power bill.”

Q: Can you put a dollar figure on any of your practices?

Godwin: “The biggest project we took on was to commit to powder-coating in '99. And since then, we doubled that operation. It's been a heck of an expense, but the secret side of it that people don't see is something simple. We ended up powder-coating on a fluke. One of our fiercest competitors had looked into it and had backed away from it based on the sheer capital it took. When my dad (Pat Godwin Sr) found out about that, he said, ‘We're going to do it or we're going to go bankrupt trying.’ So we raised the bar. But what we didn't know was that while there is a heck of a capital expense, look at where we came from: We were using 25 employees working six days in the paint shop, so we were talking overtime every week. When we first initiated the system, we dropped that to 12 employees working two days a week. That tells you how automation and going green at the same time can pay benefits.”

Burgess: “We looked at how much energy we were consuming out of the whole shop: ‘How much are the welders taking? How much is the shear taking? How much is the saw taking?’ My recommendation is that if you have an old welder, get rid of it, recycle it. It's junk. The new welders they're coming out with are 80% more efficient. As soon as the operator lets go of the trigger on the welder, it stops the current going to the transformer. It runs the fan, but as soon as it detects the machine is cool, it shuts the fan off. It's amazing how much energy the old machines were sucking. We have a pneumatic press brake, compared to mechanical, hydraulic ones. With the pneumatic one, you only need two times the force to do the job. So you're not going to use a whole lot of energy. If you run the mechanical one, you're going to run 42 tons of force whether you need it or not. You have all that pent-up energy, and it's wasted.”

Q: How have you taken that and marketed that?

Burgess: “We never did. There are no bragging rights. I've had customers ask, ‘Where does your steel come from? Where do the nuts and bolts come from?’ I've never been asked, ‘How green is your company?’ Four or five years ago, Toyota ran ads saying that their Indiana production plant was so green. They ran them for two months and then quit. I think it's because people care what they put into the body but don't care how the car is built. The customer is like, ‘Yeah, that's great. Glad you're doing green. But what are you selling and how much is it?’ We've never marketed that way.”

Godwin: “We doubled our paint operation and we have made some real strides in durability. In our markets, we do a lot of equipment in a salt-spray winter environment. So customers are going to aluminum-stainless because of corrosion resistance. We knew we had a good paint system, but we had to make it better. From that perspective, we wanted to make steel products more durable and corrosion-resistant. So a few years ago, we embarked on a process where we were going green and making the product better. That's the double whammy there. That's the double benefit. We weren't taking advantage of that from a marketing perspective. With the very first customer, we secretively zinc-primered their equipment, and they didn't know it. We told them a few months later. We hadn't gotten back any issues with paint or corrosion, so we sat down and told them about it. And they elected not to tell their people because they wanted a true test. And so far, it's really paid dividends. The cat's out of the bag now. Everybody knows it. But this particular customer, he actually put specifications on. So it makes it hard for the other guy to do it. From a marketing strategy, we made his product more durable. As of January 12 this year, zinc primer is standard equipment on what we produce. That's a commitment because it is more expensive. We had to add another $6 million in the paint shop to do it. Now it's time to get out and market this and reap the benefits.”

Q: Can you as a manufacturer charge for it and actually say, “I can get this much more for this product because it's green and because I made this investment?”

Godwin: “We actually could. We can charge for it. But obviously steel products are going up now and we're going to have a price increase anyway. We're absorbing it and taking it on the chin. That's the investment we're making. We want this customer to want this product because it does what we tell them it will do. When you can go from 800 hours of an accelerated salt-spray test with a liquid paint job to 1000 hours with powder-coated. … And now we're going to zinc primer. You bump that to 4000 hours and nobody can touch that. It's the closest thing to galvanized as you can get. When you can raise the bar from 1000 to 4000 hours, we were so pleased with that.”

Burgess: “I think the price of products will go up because of the cost of commodities. There will be a higher expectation. You have to tout that and educate your customers to let them know this is going to last longer. I think most people will see that.”

Q: Spearheading lean practices in a workplace can be thankless. Describe how your company overcame the obstacles with employees and customers.

Burgess: “When we built the plant in Virginia in 2004, we put lighting in. If I went to the plant today and said, 'How do you like the lighting? They'd say, ‘Can we the get old lighting back?’ The reason is because it's a lot of maintenance. It's not easy to replace light bulbs. From an operation standpoint, it saves us a lot of money on electricity. We're already in that rebuilding program. You build things underneath these lights. So to get up underneath these lights, nobody wants to do it. From a plant perspective, we're pushing it.”

Godwin: “Obviously, the longer employees have been around, the harder they are to train. But they see the benefits. They want their kids to hunt and fish in the same places they did. So there is added benefit. Scrap steel is a win-win now because of the price of scrap. But then again, raw materials are a win-win for steelmakers. It's one of those things that if you can get a buy-in from a few people, then it slowly trickles in and becomes commonplace.”

Q: What are the major challenges your company faces when it embraces practicing quality while using green?

Burgess: “Well, you can't go the other way on quality. That's the death knell in a casket for you. Whatever you need to do to keep prices the same, we've just been more conservative about it. If you can conserve paint and powder, do it. You can't sacrifice quality.”

Godwin: “Yes, I want to go more green. But I want it to be better quality. I want it to be a two-edged sword. ‘Here's what we're doing to be more green. But look at how much better the product is than it used to be.’ Now we do the zinc primer underneath the topcoat. We do a lot of undercoating in our place too. We're working with our suppliers to be able to come up with a water-based material. There's a transit bus company in Canada that's been using this for a long time. If it works for them, it should work for us. Yes, our paint is green. But we're not finished — our next step is committing to make all our processes green when it comes to undercoating, rust-proofing, and painting. We want it to be better than what it was.”

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