Green Is No Gamble

It Can Be a Sure Thing to Develop Sustainable Machines and Production Lines That Will Improve Your Bottom Line

By Jim Montague

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Worried about blowing your dough on building greener machines and more-sustainable production lines? Don't be. You can't lose.

Of course, it's still vital to be careful and pragmatic in your approach to designing, building and implementing machines that use less power, process more-sustainable raw materials, and produce greener products. In the context of this article, green and sustainability mean any device, material or product that requires less energy, consumes fewer resources, and enables operators and end users to do the same. Then, if you can add sustainability to the usual goals of speed, efficiency, simplicity, safety and security, it becomes just another required design element and specified operating parameter — and one that can generate substantial savings for users and added revenue for builders.

"The message from our customers is, 'We want to use less material and less energy,'" says Mike Weaver, president and co-CEO at Standard-Knapp in Portland, Conn. "All the water bottles that our machinery works with started out at 18 g of plastic, but now they're down to about 12 g. This has a positive impact on sustainability, but they're less substantial, and this 'lightweighting' of typical PET bottles creates a ripple effect on downstream bottling and packaging operations. These lightweight bottles are far less tolerant of the line pressure created when the conveyors on tray packers and loaders, case packers, shrink wrappers and bottle packers decrease speed to collect and organize them for packaging, and so they can be distorted or damaged and cause processing problems." It was clear that Standard-Knapp had to reduce and balance the line pressures on its lighter bottles.

Stand Out With Sustainability
Similarly, the commercial development team at Paper Converting Machine Co. in Green Bay, Wis., saw going green as a way to differentiate its machines from their competition. A division of Barry-Wehmiller, PCMC makes wide and narrow printers for rewind lines for flexible packaging, tissue and wet wipes packaging, and other equipment. So the team sought to increase sustainability along with the efficiency of its flagship Fusion flexographic, wide-width printing machine, which is the latest generation of the central impression (CI) presses it has built for 20–30 years. Because a machine can be built greener as well as run greener, PCMC redesigned its CI press, so its 18-month-old Fusion would have 46% fewer parts by combining castings and using frameless servo motors (Figure 1).

In addition, instead of using a traditional forced-air, ink-drying section, the team implemented PCMC's FleXtreme compressed-air drying method. Compressed-air drying is more efficient than forced air because its speed and turbulence break the boundary layer on individual ink droplets, drying them faster by overcoming the "skin effect" associated with forced-air systems.

Choosing compressed air might seem counterintuitive because it usually requires more energy, and so it's viewed as a less-sustainable approach. However, FleXtreme and its earlier, patented eXtreme method use only 20 psi compressed air, not the more costly 60–80 psi air used in most tools and factories.

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