By Dan Hebert, PE, Senior Technical Editor
Over the last few years, green has become an all-encompassing and often meaningless marketing buzzword. But in the real engineering-based world of machine builders, robot builders and their customers, greening the environment is inseparable from saving some green.
“Just focusing on being green doesn’t improve our market position,” observes Volker Klocke, Ing, senior controls project engineer with GL&V Paper Group in Lenox, Mass. GLV makes paper manufacturing machinery, winders and slitting systems in particular. “It’s instead the combination of functionality, safety and energy efficiency that makes our machines better in ways that matter to our customers,” adds Klocke.
Diane Trentini, director of marketing and sales operations for system integrator Optimation Technology in Rush, N.Y., agrees. “Good machine design means meeting design requirements while being cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable. All these criteria must align to justify a green machine.”
Green’s a Fad
Machine Builder Nation doesn’t operate in a vacuum from public opinion, as many products produced with machines eventually find their way to consumer use. So when environmental opinions change, machine builders are affected.
Just such a big change has taken place recently in the U.S., with public concern about the environment taking a precipitous drop. Data from a recent U.S. survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press unsurprisingly shows that the two top priorities are the economy and jobs (www.ControlDesign.com/concerns).
Concern for the environment and the related subject of global warming were ranked 16th and 20th respectively out of 20 issues. Pew’s analysis notes that public concern for environmental issues is very volatile, rising and falling based on matters such as the economy and foreign policy.
The message for machine builders is clear. Sustainable competitive advantage is based on delivering real cost and performance benefits. Coloring these benefits green can only help, but trying to sell green as an extra cost item just won’t work. The public won’t buy it, and machine builders cannot buck public opinion and succeed.
Another machine builder cautions against green hype. “We don’t see anything applicable to our machines as green, and using such a term would be nothing more than a marketing ploy with little if any real meaning,” says Leon Drake, chief engineer at Dynatorch, a manufacturer of CNC plasma cutting machines in Paducah, Ky.
Most everyone we spoke with agreed that green won’t sell machines unless it’s accompanied by real cost or performance improvements. But it turns out that many cost/performance advancements are green-related and have been spurred by the environmental movement.
Cost and performance improvements tinged with green are in big demand and don’t go in and out of fashion. Perhaps the leading way to go green, improve machine performance and cut machine operating costs is to cut energy use.
Green Starts With Energy Savings
Even when it costs more to make an energy-efficient machine, operating savings can offset the expense. Touting a machine’s energy efficiency as a green benefit can provide a competitive advantage.
“Green for us mainly means making more energy-efficient machines to reduce energy consumption by our customers,” explains Klocke of GLV. “Toward that end, we always try to have the low-energy state be the safe and default state for our machines. Another way to save energy is to reduce the time to switch a machine completely off and then on again.”
Partner Pak in Huntington Beach, Calif., manufactures machines to seal clamshell packages using UV adhesive technology. It also designs custom packing machinery with SCARA robots to pick and place products or dispense adhesive. By using a different sealing technology than its competitors, Partner Pack says it achieves a quantum leap in energy savings. “Our UV sealing method allows a packaging line to be fully automated and only uses about 10% of the energy of more traditional sealing methods such as RF or sonic,” claims Helcio Trindade, vice president of engineering at Partner Pak. “We have been able to capitalize on our energy savings as part of sustainability initiatives endorsed by Wal-Mart, Costco and other major retailers. These firms and some of our other larger customers are buying machines from us because our entire packaging process is green.”