For Some Manufacturers, Going Green Means Sticking to What You Know

Across the globe, manufacturing companies are looking for ways to produce quality products while also reducing their environmental impact. And the routes many companies are taking to achieve this show the level of innovation and dedication that makes manufacturing a strong, vibrant industry.

Not all manufacturers make products that are inherently “green.” But forward-thinking businesses are finding ways to get there using core competencies. At a preview event to the Hannover Messe trade show (April 8 to 13) in Hannover, Germany, many companies were touting their eco offerings. For some, like Mennekes and H-TEC, cleantech is their core business. Others looked deeper within their knowledge and skills base to find ways of providing products that help minimize the overall impact manufacturing has on the environment. Here are three examples worth learning from.

Durr Systems GmbH: Going Green is Not All Hot Air

Most know Durr for its paint application systems, used largely in the automotive sector. According to Mathais Christen, senior manager of corporate communications, the painting process consumes 60 percent of the energy used to assemble a vehicle. It’s a fact that has made the company very conscientious about energy usage and energy efficiency.

Lessons learned from painting cars helped put the company on a greener track, Christen said. For example, many of the paints used in the automotive industry use solvents. These solvents are released into the air as the paint dries. Eliminating solvents requires heating the air up to 900 degrees C (1650 degrees F). “In the end, you have lots of hot air left. So we asked what we could do with this hot air once we are done burning solvents,” explained Werner Zondler, Durr’s sales director for environmental and energy systems.

Durr developed technology for turning waste heat into electricity. The heat is used to boils a gas or liquid and, as the substance expands, it is pushed through a turbine to generate power. Durr offers this technology to any company that has to burn solvents, or that has a high level of exhaust gas, such as a small power station. Today, Durr has developed an entire portfolio of clean technologies, including air purification and energy efficiency systems.

Ebm-papst: A Fan of Efficiency

At the Hannover Messe preview event, ebm-papst displayed one of its latest innovations — a fan unit with a wall ring made of 50 percent wood and other renewable materials. Ebm-papst is a well-known manufacturer of fans and drives. The wood-ring fan is designed for use in refrigeration units. It requires less energy and oil to produce than a plastic wall ring. At the end of its life, the ring can be shredded, the wood can be separated from the plastic and both components can be recycled.

The simplicity of the concept is deceiving, and fails to demonstrate the company’s dedication to efficiency. The company taps all known aerodynamic principles to ensure that its products are moving the most amount of air with the least amount of effort. This focus on maximum efficiency is part of the corporate culture, and is present in all aspects of the company’s manufacturing process. Ebm-papst was even featured on an episode of the History Channel’s Modern Marvels program showcasing its environmental and operation efficiency efforts.

SKF Group: Green from the Very Beginning

Starting as a simple manufacturer of ball bearings, SKF Group has grown into a worldwide leader in efficiency and clean manufacturing. SKF has five core business units that serve more than 40 industrial sectors. But it’s exactly those humble beginnings that have guided the company toward its current path.

“When we were making bearings, people thought that’s all we were doing,” said Colin Roberts, vice president of group technical press. SKF’s earliest ball bearing designs were intended to reduce friction, which in turn reduces energy. This is one of the key ingredients to greener manufacturing.

SKF shares knowledge across all its business units — bearings, lubrication, seals, mechatronics, and engineering services. “The knowledge we have in all these areas helps us develop solutions for engineering companies all over the world,” Roberts said. Among its many service offerings, SKF helps manufacturers devise custom solutions to reduce air pollution, water usage, and raw material consumption.

The company also sells products to renewable energy system manufacturers, including ball bearings for wind turbines. SKF also makes solar actuators and gears that allow solar panels to track the sun’s position. It’s also helping to develop technology for the relatively new market of ocean tide energy systems.

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