In The Woodlands Texas, a bird’s-eye view reveals a brand-new look to the rooftops of Global Shop Solutions’ (GSS) three headquarter buildings. Now outfitted in solar panels, the GSS
headquarters will generate more energy than it needs to power its entire campus for 30 years. The ERP software producer added the solar panels to a growing list of eco-friendly habits it’s adopted to further boost its reputation for “doing the right thing.”
Significant efforts, such as those exhibited by GSS, are sprouting up across the industry. A multitude of companies in manufacturing are adopting a range of initiatives to make their products and businesses sustainable for the long term. These companies are learning that not only do green initiatives help to combat climate change, they also increase competitiveness. When buyers are presented with multiple products of equal quality, many today make their choice based on other factors, such as company culture, sustainability and leadership.
To get an idea of how manufacturing businesses are doing their part, FAB Shop Magazine spoke with a variety of companies in the industry that consider sustainability a major selling point and, in fact, a societal duty.
The meaning of sustainability
There are plenty of companies that have long considered environmental stewardship as an integral part of doing business, and there are others that are just now getting started. Wherever a company is on that spectrum isn’t necessarily the point, though; it’s the impact these initiatives will have on the company and the planet.
“Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with our mission and core values,” says Rakesh Kumar, vice president and general manager at Cincinnati Inc. (CI). “We consider it to be key to our longevity. We’re always working to improve on our proud heritage, and we do this by ensuring our company delivers high-quality machine tools that provide the most innovative solutions. We continuously seek to strike a healthy balance between serving our employees, partners and customers.”
Kumar says CI’s employees, partners and customers all play a role in the long-term success of the business and says the company prioritizes and nurtures them accordingly. In doing so, CI enhances the value it offers all stakeholders, including its neighbors and community.
“Our core values help encompass our views on sustainability, as well,” he adds. “CI has not only placed a value focus on technology and innovation, but also appreciates community leadership alongside environmental stewardship.”
Kumar says the company makes good use of technology to bolster productivity and produce innovative products to help customers solve problems. Placing value on community leadership is a focus as it means supporting the well-being of the surrounding communities, which, in turn, support CI.
“We recognize that by taking a strong approach toward environmental stewardship, we grow empowered enough to become responsible global citizens that balance their triple bottom line proactively,” he says.
Rhonda Zatezalo, content marketing specialist, Fronius USA LLC, agrees with the idea that sustainable efforts can have wildly successful results, often going far beyond their initial intent. In fact, this mentality has been at the heart of Fronius since the beginning.
“Sustainability has played a key role right from the start of the company more than 75 years ago,” Zatezalo says. “After the war, company founder Günter Fronius believed the short service life of car batteries was unacceptable. He revolutionized battery charging technology and made the available energy more efficient and sustainable as a result.
“This concept has endured and grown with us through the years as we see the increased needs for reduced resource use and reduced waste,” Zatezalo adds. “We build sustainability into everything we do, including site selection, product design, distribution and services.”
Robin Tindall, environmental stewardship team leader at Hypertherm Inc., agrees that sustainability is just a smart approach to doing business, saying that “Hypertherm is committed to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits,” adding that these commitments have “allowed us to be strong and resilient in the face of adversity.” As an example, she says that Hypertherm’s no-layoff policy “has kept all our workers employed during economic downturns and that allows us to recover when business picks back up quickly. Tactics like this ensure long-term success.”
As an employee-owned company, Hypertherm has a unique position where it can “take a longer view than publicly traded companies,” Tindall says. “We can commit to setting aggressive sustainability goals that require innovation and intense collaboration. But, more importantly, our sustainability goals address the impacts of our entire value chain, focusing on reducing the environmental impacts at our customer sites, thereby helping our customers be more resilient and more profitable.”
At MKS Instruments Inc., parent company to Ophir Optics, sustainability means operating in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. David Ryzhik, vice president of investor relations at MKS, says the company works with its employees, customers, communities and other interested parties to continuously improve its environmental programs.
“We believe that conserving natural resources and reducing our environmental impact is vital for achieving longevity – as a company and as a thriving global society,” he says. “At MKS, we also are committed to social sustainability and believe our employees are the greatest investment in our future success. We continually invest in new ways to develop our people, encourage mutual respect, inspire innovative thinking and create new opportunities for growth.”
Interestingly, technology paired with people seems to be the recipe for sustainable success in the manufacturing industry. Elia Guidorzi, international marketing executive at Techni Waterjet, says sustainability through technology has been at the heart of her company since the beginning when Techni first produced its Quantum electro servo pump, which was developed to offer “a more power efficient pump to the waterjet industry.”
The type of companies that consider sustainability at the core of their business is wide ranging – from bending and welding to waterjet and laser technologies. At TRUMPF Inc., Rainer Berghausen, head of group communication, says that sustainability has been an ongoing commitment at the company.
“As a family-owned company, TRUMPF strives for long-lasting and consistent success instead of short-term shareholder value,” he says. “Therefore, sustainability has always been a core concern. In recent years, our social engagement toward our employees and society was complemented by an ambitious strategy to reduce our emissions. Our target is to ensure that our actions take place within a responsible framework, both inside and outside of TRUMPF.”
It’s one thing to understand the value of sustainable business practices, but it’s quite another to execute on them – whether they manifest internally, in the form of solar panels, or whether they come to life as new innovative products that customers can take advantage of. Either way, the adoption and execution of sustainability can take years to carefully plan and deploy.
“A few years back, CI assessed its environmental impact and veered toward fabrication that’s less destructive to the environment,” says Todd Kirchoff, product manager, vertical motion products at CI. “That brilliant idea gave rise to the Hyform, CI’s most energy-efficient high-performance press brake.”
Compared to conventional press brakes where the motor and pump run continuously, the servo pump system on the Hyform allows the pump to stand at rest at the same time as the ram. This enables manufacturers to gain massive savings in their energy costs, but without forcing them to compromise on their productivity rates.
“Strategies like these and the launch of our FireSafe Eco-Fluid, a biodegradable hydraulic fluid, make up the strategies we use at CI to ensure the growth and sustainability of our business and its products,” Kirchoff explains. “An interesting fact: Beyond the energy savings offered by the Hyform, the tool only needs 22 gallons of FireSafe Eco-Fluid.”
At Fronius, Zatezalo says that its customers can also rely on the company for products developed with sustainability in mind.
“We have made it our task to manage, control and save energy across the various welding processes,” Zatezalo says. “However, sustainability goes beyond energy consumption. As early as the design phase, we focus on maximizing service life while ensuring process stability and optimal machine performance.
“By creating products that reduce rework and use less energy, we’re helping to change the way people work,” Zatezalo adds. “Fewer scrapped parts, less resource consumption, and welding machines that are upgradable and repairable help show that sustainability and welding can coexist.”
Internally, Fronius promotes the consistent use of renewable energies in its buildings as within the company’s infrastructure as a whole. The company constantly strives to reduce its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions as well as its dependency on fossil fuels.
Like CI and Fronius, Hypertherm has been producing products in the United States for decades and understands the value of sustainable product designs. Tindall says, “from a cradle-to-cradle perspective, we know our biggest environmental impacts are through our manufactured products. By starting with sustainable design principles and focusing on the circularity of our components and materials, we are continuously working to make our products longer lasting; more efficient; and easier to repair, recycle or refurbish.”
She says that one of Hypertherm’s biggest opportunities to reduce carbon impacts is helping customers utilize more of their raw materials, particularly mild steel. Modules like
PlateSaver, Nesting System Optimization and Plate Inventory are embedded in the company’s ProNest CAD/CAM nesting software.
“This is one of the best ways to reduce material waste and ultimately reduce carbon emissions,” Tindall says. “It also makes good business sense and saves our customers thousands of dollars in materials.”
Similarly, the products developed at MKS help its customers achieve their own sustainable goals. MKS products feed into the semiconductor, industrial, life and health sciences, and research and defense markets, among others.
“Our products indirectly contribute to positive environmental and social impact progress,” Ryzhik says, citing various points of progress, such as supporting the development of renewable energy infrastructure, enhancing customer health and safety for those that use MKS products, enabling environmental safety compliance, and increasing energy and water efficiencies in certain production processes.
“From an operational standpoint, we’ve begun tracking and disclosing our environmental impact metrics – energy, water, emissions – and are in the process of developing environmental targets that can help us stay accountable to our sustainability commitments and drive reductions in our overall footprint,” he adds.
In terms of actionable strategies at Techni, Guidorzi mentions again how inherent sustainability is to the overall concept of waterjet technology, reminding readers that it doesn’t produce fumes and that its only consumables – water and granite – can be recycled.
“In terms of products, Techni revolutionized the pumping technology that would ultimately reduce customers’ carbon footprint,” she says. “The Quantum electric servo pump consumes only the power that’s necessary for cutting, propelling competitors to also offer ‘green’ pumps. In that sense, we could say we started a positive trend.”
Shrinking the carbon footprint of its customers and its own is a goal at TRUMPF, as well. Berghausen sees CO2 emissions as the company’s biggest ecological impact and has defined a strategy to reduce it.
“These reduction goals are aligned with the Paris 1.5 degree C goal and verified by SBTI, the Science Based Target Initiative,” he explains. “In terms of ensuring sustainability throughout the supply chain, we meet transparency requirements and select our suppliers carefully and according to high ethical standards.
“We are in the midst of building structures within the company that consider our sustainability KPI throughout the strategic decision making,” he adds. “For example, ‘sustainability’ has just been established as one of six pillars in our long-term corporate strategy. We are also working on making our supply chain transparent and deriving appropriate measures with the Code of Conduct for Suppliers as well as the Code of Conduct for Employees and are constantly adapting to new conditions.”
Michael Boyko, sustainability team member at TRUMPF, elaborates, saying that in the United States, specifically, TRUMPF is reducing its carbon footprint by modernizing its production and tooling machines to reduce electrical and compressed air usage. The Farmington, Conn., facility will also undergo carbon footprint reductions with the replacement of older air conditioning units with newer, high-efficiency units.
“The company is also looking into using fuel cell technology to create its own electricity and relieve grid usage during peak hours,” Boyko says, adding that the company works directly with energy suppliers on projects that help reduce energy usage. “TRUMPF is adopting an SEM (Strategic Energy Management) program, and as part of ISO 50001 certification requirements, the company is investigating LEED certification for its U.S. buildings. All the measures that we have taken and will take in the future help to reduce our carbon footprint and ultimately help our customers to reduce their carbon footprints, as well.”
There are plenty of reasons to adopt green ways of doing business – with “preserving the future” quite obviously landing at the top of that long list. From a strictly business perspective, however, CI’s Kirchoff could easily rattle off the many ways a company and its customers can benefit.
“CI’s sustainability approach has us helping customers and other businesses achieve their own sustainability goals, too,” Kirchoff says. “More businesses and customers are recognizing the effectiveness, safety and environmental benefits of using products that are eco-friendly. In fact, it wasn’t more than a few years ago that we started getting asked about fire-resistant fluids.”
Kirchoff says the requests, mostly from West Coast customers, prompted the company to seek out and test fire-resistant fluids. When the company found no performance differences between them and conventional hydraulic oils, CI began offering the solution in-house.
“Enter our FireSafe Eco Fluid, CI’s response to our consumers’ and partners’ demands for more environmentally safe products,” he says. “The product’s reception remains more than pleasing, and it’s proof that there’s growth and profits in offering sustainable products and services.”
After switching to the FireSafe fluid, CI’s customers began saving on their insurance premiums. Because oil is a fire accelerant, insurance companies are much happier with the reduced risk of using non-flammable solutions. FireSafe becomes entirely inert in just under 30 days.
“And customers gain peace of mind that they aren’t poisoning the environment with every mishap,” Kirchoff says. “It’s a synthetic, biodegradable chemical mix that was designed to not just boost performance, but adhere to environmental protection, too. Should our customers make a spill here or there, they’ll know that cleaning up FireSafe is 10 times easier than cleaning conventional hydraulic oil – a product that’s both toxic and non-biodegradable.”
Customers are growing increasingly savvy when it comes to sustainable ways of doing business, and Hypertherm’s Tindall says customers are increasingly asking for information.
“They want to know about the recyclability of our consumables and power supplies, about the power consumption of our products, and the carbon footprint of both our products and our operations,” she says. “They’ve also asked about the sustainability of our suppliers.”
MKS’ Ryzhik says, “Many of our customers are aligned with MKS in their commitments to sustainability. As such, we strive to help our customers succeed by listening, collaborating and solving the hardest technology challenges together. We aim to address the sustainability and environmental impact of our products at each stage in their life cycle.”
As an example, MKS works with its customers and suppliers to evaluate declarable substances in alignment with the REACH framework, which aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment through improved identification of properties within chemical substances. Furthermore, for the end-of-life stage of MKS products, when a product has become obsolete and can no longer be serviced, the company established a refurbishment program in which it accepts older products and parts to resell once updated to customers.
Techni’s Guidorzi says her customers are keen to green technologies as many prefer to deal with companies that hold strong ethical values. And she’s pleased to learn of more governments that financially support investments in going green. “The waterjet process doesn’t require any gas or other substances, doesn’t generate fumes, doesn’t produce hazardous waste and is very safe to operate,” she says.
TRUMPF’s Berghausen echoes that sentiment saying that “larger corporations have increasingly demanding requirements toward their suppliers, which apply to us, as well. This covers, for example, possessing a certain sustainability rating, providing transparency about carbon footprints or even staying below specific energy consumption thresholds with our products. However, we are happy to meet these increased requirements, as they add the economical demand to our sustainability efforts.”
Supporting supply chains
Based on the input from the companies FAB Shop interviewed, it is quite clear that sustainable efforts are a must moving forward. Similar to a lean management philosophy, they remove the waste that keeps a company from reaching its maximum potential while also removing the waste that could be detrimental to the planet’s longevity. Sustainable efforts, however, also go a step further by helping address supply chain issues that the industry as a whole may be experiencing.
“When we choose to manage and improve the social, economic and environmental performance of our supply chains, more companies are able to conserve resources,” says CI’s Kumar. “Other results include optimized processes, product innovations, lowered costs, boosted productivity and enhanced corporate values. Research reveals that the business case for insisting on sustainable supply chains is growing.
“More companies are expanding their sustainability programs to include their suppliers,” he adds. “Yet, they often struggle with the implementation of such programs. The UN finds that businesses are growing increasingly interested in supply chain sustainability. They want to make solid progress with setting expectations for their suppliers. Yet, when it comes to driving sustainability in their supply chain, they’re not backing their expectations with solid actions.”
He mentions incidents like the factory collapses and fires seen in Bangladesh that highlight the true need for enhanced and immediate actions in this area.
To create a more robust supply chain, Fronius’ Zatezalo says long service life and repairability are key. “The longer a product is in service,” she says, “the less it requires from the supply chain. As items go out of service, parts can be reclaimed to be refurbished and reused, bringing other products back into service. These ideas are a small part of minimizing supply chain impact.
An example of this is Fronius’ new Multilock torch design. In the event of a fault – if the hosepack is unaffected, but the torch body is damaged – each component can be independently replaced in next to no time using the Multilock connection. A modular torch system not only provides greater flexibility, it also enables resource-conserving and sustainable use of the system.
“We’ve also designed a global network of subsidiaries and partners that facilitate effective and decentralized logistics,” Zatezalo adds. “This allows us to supply markets and customers in a more sustainable and targeted manner.”
Hypertherm’s Tindall says that sustainable initiatives “absolutely” help to address supply chain issues and that the company has adopted an aggressive goal for increasingly circular products by 2030.
“The definition of circularity is decoupling our economic growth from the
consumption of finite resources,” she says. “Suppose we minimize the use of finite resources and keep those already mined or manufactured in use and highly functioning as long as possible. We relieve pressures throughout the supply chain. Even simple efficiency and conservation practices can reduce pressure on the supply chain. Using less energy, less packaging and fewer materials means more resources for others. It also means a reduction in resources that need to be extracted, processed and transported, thus
putting less strain on these supply chain systems.”
Similarly, MKS’s Ryzhik says that sustainability efforts, which encompass environmental, social and governance topics, are key to any supply chain management program. Such efforts, he says, not only create and facilitate new forms of communication with the company’s suppliers, but they also offer ways for companies and their suppliers to identify potential opportunities and risks together.
“As part of our responsible and sustainable sourcing strategy, we are committed to working in partnership with our suppliers to set clear expectations in how we work together,” Ryzhik says. “Our goal is to create partnerships that support responsible and ethical business practices, conduct and compliance with applicable laws and regulations, resulting in better outcomes for our employees, our businesses and our environment.
Therefore, MKS adopted the industry-standard Responsible Business Alliance Code of Conduct as its Supplier Code of Conduct. The company is currently in the process of evaluating methods to survey its top suppliers and get a better understanding of their current alignment with MKS’ ESG commitments and Supplier Code of Conduct.
While better supply chain management can have a positive impact on the planet, TRUMPF’s Berghausen reminds readers of the trials and tribulations of the pandemic and how a robust supply chain can make or break a company’s success during difficult times.
“Over the last year, we have directly experienced the value of having trusted and long-term partnerships with our suppliers, as we still managed to keep our production up and running,” he says. “So, for TRUMPF, sustainability in terms of partnerships and commitment definitely paid off.
“When it comes to ecological issues, the interdependencies become even more clear,” he concludes, using the company’s nesting software as an example. “We offer software that optimally nests parts on sheet metal so that as much of the sheet as possible is used. This benefits not only the single part’s carbon footprint and reduces waste, but also produces the same number of parts out of less material.”