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issue: May 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Green Manufacturing
Sustainability Takes Root


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Yaling Lee

 Appliance companies continue to raise sustainability benchmarks through greener manufacturing practices.

Bissell’s Green Little Green deep cleaner contains a minimum of 50% recycled plastic, while its packaging also uses recycled materials and is Styrofoam free.

Never have energy and global climate issues seemed more relevant than today, and more consumers are making purchase decisions based on the energy performance of products. The emphasis that U.S. President Obama has given to environmental and energy agendas has injected a new sense of urgency into the drive toward sustainability. Although this no doubt signals tougher standards and more environmental regulations on manufacturing to come, many appliance OEMs already involved in sustainability efforts consider being green an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Ricky Tucker, facilities manager at BSH Home Appliances’ cooking plant in New Bern, NC, U.S., tells APPLIANCE: “With so much consumer focus on environmental responsibility, green manufacturing gives Bosch a competitive edge in the market. Consumers are concerned about their environmental impact, and Bosch appliances offer the peace of mind that their appliances were made efficiently and also operate efficiently.”

Certified Sites

With 213 out of its 292 sites certified to the environmental management system (EMS) ISO 14001, Bosch constantly monitors its manufacturing activities to minimize energy use. “In our cooking plant, we track the amount of energy used in the factory per appliance produced. The major energy-consuming processes are analyzed and measures are put in place to reduce that energy,” explains Tucker. “The major energy consumer in the cooking factory is the curing oven for the porcelain and painting process. We analyzed the oven’s process to determine its most-efficient operation. Conveyor speeds, material loading, and operation schedules were all adjusted to achieve a lower energy use per product than before.” Similar analysis, Tucker says, has been conducted for all areas of each of Bosch’s factories, “including air-conditioning, compressed air system, and lighting systems.” All these efforts will play a part in helping Bosch achieve its goal of cutting CO2 emissions by at least 20% by 2020 from its 2007 level.

Bissell Homecare Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.; www.bissell.com) has also taken it upon itself to meet higher, self-set sustainability goals. The manufacturer of vacuums and deep-cleaning products has an in-house cross-functional team dedicated to keeping track of its carbon footprint metrics and devising ways to reduce emissions and waste. “The ForEverGreen team utilizes the key components required in an EMS, such as planning, implementation and operation, and checking and corrective action, and is currently assessing the ISO 14001 standard to formally document our system and procedures,” says Scott Boles, chair of the team.

 

Closing the Loop

One of the team’s achievements to date is the closed-loop manufacturing of some of its products. “The closed-loop process has been in production for about 19 months,” says Boles. “It starts with taking plastic from units at the end of their life, reprocessing the plastic material into resin, molding components, and testing to ensure the quality of the materials is maintained.” In 2008, Bissell says, it used more than 2 million lb of recycled resins in its units. “In fact, we have outgrown our own recycling material stream and are using other recycled material streams back into our new products.” Boles says the firm has achieved its major goal of using a minimum of 50% recycled resins in its new Green Little Green deep cleaner while maintaining the same quality and performance. “Our next goal is to reduce energy use and waste throughout our supply chain by at least 5% in 2010,” he adds.

Bissell is but one of several manufacturers that have started incorporating recycled materials in their new products. Last year, Electrolux was awarded the Inspiration Prize from the Swedish Recycling Industry Association for its Ultrasilencer Green vacuum, which contains 55% recycled plastic. Sony began using recycled polystyrene foam parts in its Bravia LCD TV last year, while Nokia’s 3110 Evolve is made from more than 50% renewable material.

Corporate efforts to improve sustainability with increasing use of recycled materials seem to have won favor with the public. A study shows that UK consumers considered the use of recycled materials in electronics products an “added bonus” when other aspects, such as price, functionality, and reliability, are equal. In addition, the focus groups “had a positive view of companies that used recycled materials.”

The nonprofit organization that conducted the study, Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP; Branbury, Oxon, UK; www.wrap.org.uk), helps UK businesses explore waste reduction opportunities and funds recycling projects. In 2008, one of its partners, Indesit UK, successfully used 100% recycled ABS recovered from domestic fridge waste to produce a cover plate for its Hotpoint Aquarius and Ultima washing machines. Although Indesit now plans to close the Kinmel Park facility where the recycled components were used, Gerrard Fisher, WRAP’s products sector manager, says the project nevertheless “shows that good-quality plastics can be recovered and used in a closed loop, the best form of recycling, because it retains the original design purpose and value of the material.”

Building on the success of the research, the group is currently working with UK green design firm Giraffe Innovation and manufacturer of molded audio/television parts TT Audio Plastics to develop a Meridian hi-fi co-branded with Ferrari. Both the casing and internal components of this high-end audio-visual equipment will be made out of 100% recycled WEEE plastics. “Historically, manufacturers have been reluctant to embrace recycling technology because of concerns about brand perception,” says Tim Ireland, CEO of Meridian Audio, in a press release. “Meridian is committed to retaining the quality of the brand, but at the same time is open to new technologies that benefit the environment. We are delighted to be involved in this project.” The firm expects to unveil the product in fall of this year.

 

Sustainable Packaging Makes Sense

There are, of course, many other approaches to reducing waste during manufacturing. Ricky Tucker of BSH says manufacturing with steel and plastic results in a lot of scrap, and globally, BSH is able to recycle 92% of this scrap and other waste. In addition, he says, BSH uses returnable packaging with local vendors. In its own packaging materials, BSH uses recycled materials, “including a recyclable plastic wrap that reduces cardboard usage and lessens the overall weight of the product.” This further reduces fuel expenses for shipping.

Spotting the many green opportunities that packaging represents, Bissell has also designed new packaging for its products, one of them being the PowerSteamer PowerBrush Select product, which uses a minimum of 75% recycled material. “We were also able to eliminate Styrofoam, which helped make the packaging readily recyclable for the end consumer.” Boles adds that the biggest challenge in green package design is ensuring the package will offer sufficient protection during transportation and storage. Once achieved, eco-friendly packaging makes a lot of business sense. By decreasing the packaging size of its products, for example, Bissell has increased not only its trailer efficiency and the number of units on a pallet, but also the retailer’s shelf holding power.

Systematic Environmental Management

Like energy and raw materials, water is heavily used in the manufacturing of appliances, and can bring about lots of savings if its usage is carefully monitored. According to Whirlpool Corp.’s Robert J. Karwowski, director of North America Region Environmental, Health & Safety, the firm has reduced its water usage as measured by gallons per major appliance (unit) manufactured, from an average of 261 gallons per appliance in 1976, to 119 gallons in 1990, to the current 45 gallons per unit in 2008. “This was achieved by using less-water-intense production processes like using powder paints and implementing better monitoring standards, as well as reusing existing water.”

One of the conservation strategies adopted by Whirlpool Corp. is metal prep cascading. “Metal prep is a process which prepares the metal for the finish coating. It creates a suitable surface for the coating to adhere to the part. The metal has to be washed to remove oil, usually using a caustic cleaner,” Karwowski explains. “Then it must be precoated with a thin zinc or iron phosphate crystal structure, which then must be sealed with another material, sometimes a chromium compound, to prevent rusting. Finally, the part can be painted.” As the process consists of many baths to rinse and wash the parts, Karwowski says cascading once-used water to lower-end need, such as removing dirt from the metal, has helped Whirlpool reduce water usage significantly.

Karwowski sees the benefits of adapting an EMS to each individual corporate culture. “The Whirlpool environmental management system has grown and evolved along with the earliest environmental movements and government regulations,” he says. “The system is tailored to Whirlpool’s culture and has proven reliable and cost-effective.”


 

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