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Gerald Shankel of Fabricators & Manufacturers Association examines how the green movement today permeates throughout the metal forming and fabricating industry as manufacturers try to preserve precious natural resources through measures that can deliver cost-saving benefits both in the short-term and long-term.



Use of the term “a win-win” in the business world has become a cliché. However, because this article will address how the green movement today permeates throughout the metal forming and fabricating industry, it’s certainly appropriate to “recycle” the phrase here.

Indeed, for this vital segment of the manufacturing world, which bends, cuts, extrudes, fastens, finishes, levels, punches, shears, stamps, welds and assembles components made from sheet or structural metal to create products of all kinds, the surge in sustainable manufacturing practices is a significant win-win. First, efforts by manufacturers to preserve our precious natural resources are positive from an altruistic perspective. And second, such measures can deliver cost-saving benefits both in the short-term and long-term.

A 2009 study by Aberdeen Group (Boston, MA) on the sustainability initiatives conducted by more than 200 companies, many in manufacturing, illustrates this dual benefit. Those deemed “best in class” achieved a significant 9 percent reduction in carbon footprint while cutting energy costs by 6 percent, facilities costs by 7 percent, paper costs by 10 percent and transportation/logistics costs by 7 percent. Talk about win-win!

Such statistics help pinpoint the benefits of the green movement. In our industry, many new developments have evolved that dramatically show how the fabricating segment of manufacturing is increasingly engaged in green practices. There are new magazines that look at manufacturing through a green filter to help fabricators who want to implement sustainable practices. They feature coverage on green manufacturing initiatives, eco-friendly equipment and products, manufacturers with successful sustainability stories, and government updates. Many other journals in our industry are devoting similar coverage to green issues.

These same publications also often describe new “assistance” programs, many established by government entities, available to manufacturers to help create their sustainable programs. One growing in popularity in our industry is the Green Suppliers Network, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Its mission is to help small and medium-sized manufacturers stay competitive and profitable while reducing their impact on the environment.

This is accomplished via the network’s “Lean and Clean Advantage.” The program works with large manufacturers to engage their suppliers in low-cost technical reviews to identify strategies to improve process lines, use materials more efficiently and eliminate the root causes of waste. Other collaborations have formed to further spur the green movement. For example, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME; Dearborn, MI) recently teamed with the American Wind Energy Association (Washington, DC) and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (Ottawa, ON) to support development of the wind energy supply chain in the U.S. and Canada and help manufacturers transition to wind energy components.

Of course, there is a host of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiatives. For example, the department offers the Industrial Technologies Program Save Energy Now that aims to drive a reduction of 25 percent or more in industrial energy intensity in ten years. The DOE conducts a number of very ambitious energy efficiency research programs. And, let’s not forget the very prominent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) rating program. Created by the U.S. Green Building Council (Washington, DC), LEED awards projects based on their use of sustainable materials and highly efficient equipment.

As one may expect, industrial education events and exhibitions today address green issues in a major way. Our industry’s largest trade show, FABTECH, is a prime example. At this year’s convention in Atlanta, GA, in November, one keynote presentation is titled, “Make Green by Going Green: How Manufacturers Can Gain a Competitive Advantage.” A panel will focus on how implementing a practical lean and green approach to consuming water, gas, utilities and raw materials can benefit both the environment and a company’s bottom line.

Several workshops at FABTECH this year will address green initiatives. They include more general presentations like conducting “green audits” and sessions on more specific topics such as how to be green with finishing systems, and tips on ways to convert to more energy-efficient factory lighting. There also is a surge of industry events that focus solely on green issues. One is the Lean to Green Manufacturing Conference this fall in Columbus, OH, planned by SME. Using lean manufacturing principles as the base, this four-day session features industry leaders sharing their experiences for improving environmental impacts, eliminating waste and maximizing green benefits.


Without a doubt, the discussions, educational programs and media coverage are having an impact. Manufacturers in our industry are aggressively implementing green tactics. Here are just a few examples from the many occurring across the country:
? DeWys Manufacturing (Grand Rapids, MI), a precision fabricator, learned from an environmental audit that reducing wastewater was an area it should target. Through increase employee vigilance and better monitoring of equipment, the company cut its annual water usage by 58 percent.
? Aqua Lung (Vista, CA), a manufacturer of diving and snorkeling equipment, installed a “daylighting” system that which harnesses natural daylight in its 60,000 sq ft facility. Through the use of photocontrols and a dedicated phone line to the local utility to monitor usage, the site achieved an immediate electricity consumption reduction of 33 percent.
? Rapid-Line Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI), a full-service fabrication and tooling shop that designs, manufactures and finishes metal products, initially focused its green efforts on natural gas consumption. Implementing a variety of measures, such as installing insulation and industrial-grades fans to capture and redirect excess heat from its paint line ovens, Rapid-Line reduced its natural gas consumption significantly while saving $46,000 annually.
? AGS Technology, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL), an injection molder, sources recycled plastic and formulates the raw material in-house to make molded components for companies primarily in the automotive and durable goods industries. This environmentally conscious tactic also delivers significant cost savings for AGS and its customers.

This list can go on and on. Even here at FMA headquarters we’re following the green trend. Through the installation of energy efficient fixtures, we will save $35,000 annually on our lighting bill. It’s clearly evident that the number of companies in metal forming and fabricating that will “go green” and keep “growing green” at their facilities, large and small, will escalate every year. Yes, when that happens, everyone involved in the process is a winner.

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Gerald Shankel is president and chief executive officer of Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA; Rockford, IL), a professional organization with more than 2,100 members working together to improve the metal forming and fabricating industry together through technology councils, educational programs, networking events, seven industry magazines and the FABTECH Show.


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