Sustainable Is What Sustainable Does

Companies Change the Meaning of Sustainability

By Joe Feeley

15th year AnniversaryAs Control Design celebrates its 15th anniversary, we bring you a look back at some of the topics we have covered and that have generated the most discussion among our machine builder and integrator audience. This article is part of our June 2012 cover story, "We Celebrate 15 Years."

The scramble to "sustainable" manufacturing accelerated in earnest during this period. The very definition of "sustainability" zoomed beyond its roots as a zero-sum game, meaning producing power from renewable or inexhaustible fuel, and products from renewable precursors or recyclable materials. It implied not screwing up the surroundings in the process.

The trouble with using the term correctly is that it's largely unachievable. At least today. So its meaning changes to better suit initiatives that industry is willing to engage. Many companies include machine safety, environmental responsibility and employee well-being. Many also include initiatives such as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and quality management. So we end up with something better described as smart manufacturing or responsible manufacturing. This is an altogether good thing. We made the point editorially a while back so readers might better tolerate an apparent overuse of the word.

In a March 2009 news report, "Business Benefits Drive Sustainability," we reported on sustainability initiatives at Coca-Cola, presented by the company's director of commercial product supply engineering, Mark Lee, during a media event at the 2008 Automation Fair. "It's a bit surprising that sustainability is being treated as something new," he remarked. "It's really just good business practice."

That means expectations on machine builders and our coverage reflected how builders can balance sustainability and profitability in a productive partnership for both builder and user.

Something that we called a game-changer in October 2010's "Change the Game" seemed to provide solid evidence that performance and profitability go hand in hand with some elements of a more-sustainable process.

At the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), during a presentation by MAG-IAS titled "Green Manufacturing Techniques and Machine Design," Doug Watts, the machining center builder's vice president of engineering, outlined a project to eliminate the use of tooling coolant in a titanium machining center.

It's based on a cryogenic process that uses a through-spindle/through-tool liquid nitrogen (-320 °F) flow to control the machining zone temperature.

Watts made a few compelling points. Nitrogen is not a greenhouse gas. The process eliminates disposal, management and usage systems associated with flood coolants. It eliminates cleaners needed to remove coolant residue from machine and parts. It eliminates hazards related to aerosolized flood coolants.

Nice, but wouldn't it be difficult to generate real interest in this on the basis of environmental improvement/responsibility? The project team members responded that, though the initial objectives were for the coolant, they realized early in the project that processing rates for titanium could double because of this process. Watts said tool life might improve tenfold. "There'll be lots of interest in a process that does that," they smiled.

Responsible design and performance improvement are not mutually exclusive. They're just not always obvious at first.

Find links to our additional coverage of how sustainability impacted the machine builder below.

Business Benefits Drive Sustainability
March 2009
Sustainability Is More Than Just the Latest Green Buzzword

Green -- Your Way
April 2009
The Elements That Add Up to an Efficient, High-Performance Machine Your Customer Will Embrace Aren't Just the Obvious Ones

Green Identity
April 2010
An Important First Step Toward Sustainable Manufacturing Is Better Machine Efficiency and Conservation

Term Limits
April 2010
Machine Builders Have a Growing Need to Include Energy-Efficiency and Material-Conservation Initiatives in Their Designs

Change the Game
October 2010
Green Manufacturing Techniques and Machine Design: A Game-Changing Project Eliminate the Use of Coolant in a Titanium Machining Center

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