February 6, 2013
In the industrial and environmental world, sustainability has serious ramifications which affect profitability. Operating and maintenance activities, performed properly, contribute to a company's ability to sustain its work force (keep people busy, happy and productive) and eliminate waste (materials, time and resources).
Bosch Rexroth Corporation, global specialists in the field of drive and control technologies, are taking sustainable manufacturing seriously and are talking about the six keys to sustainable manufacturing:
- Optimizing use of fossil fuels
- Eliminating waste
- Reduce and eliminate pollution
- Recovering energy without turning it into heat
- Saving time
Across all industries, communication and training are critical to the success of manufacturing sustainability practices. Chair of The American Institute of Chemical Engineers Deborah Grubbe proposes the "need to define, measure and create practitioners to advance sustainability practices."
The major elements of a sustainability program must be communicated repeatedly and succinctly to all employees. Signs and labels are an important part of that communication program."
Labeling for operational efficiency
Plant managers and engineers must increase their sustainability prowess and help operations run more smoothly, efficiently and safely—with the judicious use of signs and labels.
Operating equipment and machines according to the manufacturer's instructions reduces wear, increases efficiency (reducing energy consumption), extends the lifecycle of machines and reduces the need to purchase additional machines. The result is a lessened environmental impact and decreased costs. Think of it like driving the speed limit to conserve gas.
Providing operating instruction at the point of need - via labels and signs—ensures that correct procedures are followed and that machine operators do not drift into bad habits. This is also true for machine and equipment maintenance, such as conveyors, pumps, drives, bearings, vehicles and diesel motors.
When regular preventative maintenance is performed as recommended by the manufacturer, machines run more efficiently, less energy is used, less waste is produced and the number of unplanned maintenance outages is reduced. Posting daily and preventative maintenance instructions on machines provides the reminders needed to ensure this work is done. In addition, sharing information about the correct lubricant to be used at the points where lubrication is added reduces errors and waste.
Safety and sustainability
The simple act of opening a wrong valve or cutting into a wrong pipe and produce huge amounts of waste or millions of dollars worth of damage. Such costly errors can be prevented with valve tag warnings and pipe marking labels indicating pipe contents and flow direction.
Lacking adequate safety labeling and safety signs lead to damaged equipment, increased accidents and injuries. It's hard to sustain your team when workers are out of commission due to injuries.
Consider the tragic story of the Louisiana man who was chemically burned to death by refrigerant when opening an improperly labeled cylinder—leaving behind a wife and 3-year-old triplets. A judge fined the worker's employer $8 million and ordered the firm to pay the victim's family $2 million.
Sustainability and creativity
On a less tragic note, companies can take cues from those that are looking at sustainability in creative ways.
Bob Hoffman, a quality assurance director at Amitron, a printed circuit board manufacturer in Illinois, recommends selling, scrapping or recycling unwanted equipment to recover unused and inefficient floor space which may be at a premium at many facilities.
Drill Doctor dealt with waste efficiently and sustainably. The drill bit sharpening tool manufacturer headquartered in Ashland, Oregon, donated its outdated inventory—tools that overwhelmed an already crowded warehouse—to high school shop classes.
Now, the warehouse is better organized, and Drill Doctor's generous gifts continue to help kids develop lifetime career skills in woodworking and metalworking.
When introducing new procedures to improve sustainability, habits need to change. Strategically placed labels and signs support changing habits and compliance with the new procedures and practices.
"Signage only works if it is supported by clear training, the removal of barriers to undertake the behavior, and a clear commitment to undertake the new behavior. For instance, if we want to introduce recycling in the workplace, we must provide the necessary recycling containers (tools), the correct container labeling (prompt), proper practice, and ask staff to make a commitment to this new behavior," said Kathryn Cooper, president and chief learning officer, Sustainability Learning Center.
"Common sense and experience show that good, visible labels work; but even then after a while the workforce starts to ignore them so they need to be refreshed on a regular basis just as good management is not a one-off process but a continuous one," said U.K. sustainable business consultant Phil Harding.
So do your part to promote a sustainable future at your firm. Invest in and install proper signs and labels throughout your facility in all containers, piping, valves and equipment. It could make a big difference for you and for your business ... and the life you save may be your own.
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