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Environment & Sustainability

Eagle Alloy: Sustained Growth in the Metalcasting Industry

  • July 1, 2015

Across the United States, there are 1,900 metalcasting plants that melt and pour metal into molds, creating complex components that are known as metal castings. Some 90 percent of manufactured products encompass metal castings. That amazing statistic provides an idea of how ubiquitous cast parts are, and how important this industry is to America’s manufacturing base. About 200,000 people are directly employed in the metalcasting industry.

Eagle Alloy, based in Muskegon, Michigan, was named the 2015 Metalcaster of the Year by Modern Casting magazine. The magazine cited the company’s practice of finding new solutions to common problems.

On the environmental front, Eagle implemented a new thermal reclamation system that recycles about 80 percent of the spent sand that remains after the metalcasting process. As a result, the company won’t have to buy new sand for several years, and more than one millions tons of byproduct that would have ended up in permanent landfills has been reclaimed.

The commitment to sustainability extends also to the health of their employees. Eagle noticed that employees were not taking advantage of the preventative diagnostic tests available to them. Part of the reason was that it meant taking time off from work to visit a doctor’s office or clinic. So Eagle teamed up with several other employers to establish an onsite medical clinic, which offers testing as well as treatments. This step is helping to keep its workforce healthier on a proactive basis.

There is a great deal of international competition in the metalcasting business, but innovative and sustainability-minded firms like Eagle Alloy will be positioned to meet customer demand.

Act Global: Company Sells Environmentally Responsible Synthetic Turf in 70 Countries

  • April 20, 2015

Synthetic turf has become a popular alternative to traditional grass at sports stadiums, practice fields, playgrounds, and in other landscape settings. Its advantages are compelling: Quality playing surfaces; low maintenance; as well as resistance to wear and adverse weather.

Another major advantage is consistence with water-conservation goals. Many parts of the world, and of the United States, are enacting regulations concerning water use. Even in areas without such regulations, those wishing to be good stewards of the economy are often choosing synthetic turf, rather than natural turfs that require constant watering.

Synthetic turf has come a long way since its first use at the AstroDome in 1966. Today’s third-generation synthetic turf products from companies like industry leader Act Global have advanced designs, and use state-of-the-art UV inhibitors that withstand tough environmental conditions.  

Many projects employ crumb rubber infill, which is made of recycled tires. For an excellent example of high-quality crumb rubber infill, see the Great Manufacturing Story on Liberty Tire Recycling.

Act Global, which is based in Texas, is one of the world’s largest artificial turf companies. They manufacture synthetic turf products on three continents. Moreover, they have served companies in 70 countries and counting. Their installations are FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) certified, signifying optimal, world-class quality. Act Global points to its research and development, coupled with its product quality and customer service, as reasons for its successful growth.

The company also emphasizes good citizenship by supporting world aid organizations, contributing to disaster relief, and supporting other worthy charities. As stated on Act Global’s web site, “We believe that it is our responsibility and privilege as a company to give back.”

Liberty Tire Recycling: Reclaiming 140 Million Tires Per Year for Healthier, More Scenic Communities

  • April 15, 2015

The American countryside is becoming more scenic, thanks to companies that are working with local communities to rid their land of abandoned tires. Liberty Tire Recycling is the nation’s largest tire recycler, collecting an astounding total of 140 million tires each year, or about one-third of all scrap tires. That makes them the largest tire recycler in the country.

Reclaimed tires are processed and refined for alternative clean-rubber uses. Some are used by civil engineers as a substitute for stone aggregates. Some become feedstock for manufacturers, or as fuel to power kilns and mills, while others go into the manufacture of adhesives.

At five Liberty Tire plants, tires are converted to crumb rubber, which is often used in rubberized asphalt highways that resist cracking, improve nighttime visibility, and reduce noise. Crumb rubber is often used with synthetic turf (see the Great Manufacturing Story about Act Global), which is used for sports fields at the high school, college and professional levels, as well as playgrounds. Crumb rubber also goes into products like welcome mats and synthetic railroad ties. All of these uses encourage conservation.

Abandoned tires pose an environmental hazard (through chemical runoff) and a health risk, in addition to being an eyesore. By attracting mosquitoes and vermin, they can be a breeding ground for West Nile Virus. Liberty Tire partners with communities and property owners to address the problem. The firm has remediated 150 existing dump sites over seven years in Georgia, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, according to the company.

Liberty Tire is based in Pittsburgh, and has facilities in convenient locations around North America. Total employment is about 1,100 workers.  

Given the growing public recognition of the importance of conservation and recycling, and the wide variety of applications for clean, reclaimed rubber, demand for the services of Liberty Tire and other recyclers is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Firmgreen: Converting Hydrocarbons from Renewable Resources to Electricity for Vehicles and Fuel Cells

  • April 12, 2015

Firmgreen is an example of a U.S.-based manufacturer that derives the vast majority of its sales revenue from overseas. Based in Newport Beach, the company makes products that convert solid, liquid, and gaseous hydrocarbons from renewable resources (such as biomass and landfill gas) into renewable electricity and clean biofuels to power vehicles and fuel cells.

The company relies on insurance from the Ex-Im Bank to back much of its overseas business. Company executives note that some European and Asian rivals have government-sponsored financing. Without Ex-Im Bank, the competitive playing field would be far from level.

Firmgreen’s web site notes that it is committed to developing facilities that generate value for the owners of landfills and water treatment plants; provide the best use of local waste, water, and solar resources; operate in an environmentally responsible manner; and generate job creation and an increased tax base. Not surprisingly, that commitment commands the attention of potential clients in a variety of countries, including the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico. As countries strive to increase their renewable energy portfolios, companies like Firmgreen will continue to see opportunities for their advanced technologies.

Foss Manufacturing: First Respirator to Eliminate 99.99% of Bacteria

  • April 10, 2015

As healthcare professionals treat their patients, exposure to harmful bacteria is a natural concern. A new product, the SpectraShield Surgical Respirator Mask by Nexera Medical, is a huge step forward. It is the first antibacterial respirator mask to achieve FDA clearance. By eliminating 99.99 percent of bacteria on the treated surface within one hour, it makes huge strides in protecting healthcare employees as they do their daily work.

The mask was named the 2011 New Hampshire High Technology Council Product of the Year. The mask’s breakthrough in antimicrobial effectiveness was developed by Foss Manufacturing, which is based in New Hampshire. In contrast to antimicrobial agents that are applied via chemical coatings, the non-metallic technology in Fosshield® is blended into the fabric, and uses a balance of silver and copper ions in a fiber. The ions attract any microbe present on the fiber and disable their critical functions (metabolism, respiration, and reproduction).

Founded in 1954, Foss Manufacturing specializes in the use of non-woven fabrics and specialty synthetic fibers. Its products can be found everywhere from carwashes and motor homes to wall coverings and craft felts. Foss recently secured a new loan that will allow it to restructure debt and bring on at least 40 more employees. The company is a terrific example of the innovative manufacturing conducted across  North America.

Greenheck Fan Corporation: Award-Winning Energy Efficiency

  • April 10, 2015

One of the most dynamic changes in the construction of commercial and industrial buildings in recent years has been clients’ demand for energy-efficient ventilation systems that are also highly cost-effective. While technologically challenging, these expectations have also created an opportunity for a company like Greenheck Fan Corporation, an award-winning manufacturer based in Schofield, Wisconsin.

A case in point is a project for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which sought LEED certified gold status, and variable ventilation rates based on time of day and room occupancy, for the large community center building they began planning in 2006.

The building would include an auditorium, gymnasium, classrooms and other rooms with distinct purposes.

The project specs eliminated three standard fan options. Single-speed traditional fans were ruled out immediately. More advanced single-phase speed controlled fans had too limited turndown capabilities. Three-phase fans controlled by variable frequency drives were simply cost prohibitive for this application.

Greenheck Fan provided the solution. The building, which opened in 2008, uses fans with direct drive Vari-Green motors that are cost-effective, energy efficient and easy to control. The Vari-Green motor is pre-wired so a controller can send a signal to start the fan and adjust the speed from 350 to1,750 RPM as needed. The controllers then interface with the energy management system to provide on/off and variable-speed instructions to the fans. The building is LEED-certified and highly efficient, to the satisfaction of the church and its visitors.

A number of years ago, Greenheck Fan realized that it would need to seek out new markets domestically and internationally. Today, they employ 2,500 people, including 1,800 in Wisconsin. They manufacture in Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, North Carolina, Mexico and China. They market their products through 130 manufacturers’ reps in North America and another 70 around the world.

Meanwhile, they continue to invest in plant, equipment and employee training, to ensure they are providing optimal solutions to customers. Their product line includes fans and ventilators, dampers, louvers, kitchen ventilation systems and energy recovery ventilators.

Based on these achievements, Greenheck Fan received Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year awards for both 2004 and 2012 by a panel of experts.

Xylem: Helping Address the Global Water Crisis

  • February 2, 2015

In a recent survey in China, 96 percent of urban residents identified water quality as a serious issue. Concerns range from industrial discharge to polluted waterways to supply-and-consumption concerns. The Chinese government is getting the message, and water-quality investments there are on the rise.

The survey was conducted by Xylem, which is a global water technology provider that empowers customers to transport, treat, test and use water efficiently in a range of settings. Xylem is based in Rye Brook, New York, and has 12,500 employees around the globe. It does business in more than three-quarters of the world’s nations.

Each year since 2012, Xylem has published the Value of Water Index, and the China edition in 2014 was the first conducted outside of the U.S.

While the water-quality-and-supply challenges in China are at a crisis level, Xylem’s research documents that growing demand and aging infrastructure will threaten the U.S. water supply, as well. Aging pipes and treatment plants are being pushed to their limits. A water main breaks in America every two minutes, resulting in the cumulative loss of nearly 2 trillion gallons of clean water.

Xylem specializes in developing water treatment systems (with more than 200,000 installations to date); empowering the reuse of treated wastewater for industrial, landscape, and agricultural purposes; and providing energy-saving technologies, such as pumps that use significantly less energy than many models currently in use. These smart pumps can reduce energy costs by 50 to 70 percent by adjusting speed to reflect demand.

The current scenario, in which clean-water supplies decline and water use increases, is unsustainable. Simply put, Xylem and companies like it are developing and deploying the technologies that must play a critical role in addressing the global water crisis.

Cope Plastics: Demonstrating Recycling as a Business Strategy

  • January 13, 2015

Cope Plastics is a privately held, woman-owned based in Alton, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. In 2014, the firm was recognized by the International Association of Plastics Distribution with the Environmental Excellence Award for Best Recycling Program. Therein is a Great Manufacturing Story.

Cope is a fabricator of plastic sheet, rod and tube, serving customers across much of the country. In 2012, the company invited customers to return plastic scrap for recycling. In the 12-month period ending in June 2014, Cope received and recycled 604,053 pounds of scrap, constituting 36 different grades of plastic.   

Next, Cope added a single-stream recycling program for employees, many of whom live in communities that do not provide curbside recycling. Employees brought their mixed recyclables to work, and this program kept 200,000 pounds of post-consumer waste being diverted from area landfills.

Moreover, Cope now recycles old or broken wood pallets by returning them to a pallet manufacturer that converts them into mulch. This Cope initiative creates about 100,000 pounds of mulch each year, and eliminates the need to burn the obsolete pallets.

Cope adopted its recycling program as part of a sound business strategy that emphasizes close relationships with customers and suppliers. The business continues to grow, as well. In late 2014, Cope purchased J.B. Jensen & Son, Inc. The transaction provides Cope with additional screw machines and computer numerically controlled equipment to machine plastics for the auto, electronics, aerospace, food transportation, and farm equipment industries.

Cope began operations as a plastics parts distributor in 1946. During the 1950s, industrial customers began requesting  cut-to-specification parts with drilled holes and finished edges. Cope responded by expanding its fabrication capabilities.

After initially serving mostly just the St. Louis regional market, in 1964 the company opened sales offices in the Midwest and the South. Jane Saale became CEO and part-owner in 2004. The company now has numerous locations that serve as sales offices, warehouses, and limited-fabrication centers, from which it serves an estimated 7,000 industrial customers.

Andersen: North America’s Largest Window and Door Manufacturer Is Still Creating New Jobs

  • January 9, 2015

Some of today’s greatest manufacturing stories feature companies with long, proud legacies that are still introducing breakthrough products, and creating manufacturing jobs today. A perfect example is Andersen, the largest window and door manufacturer in North America.

In 2009, in the midst of the recession, the company introduced its Andersen 100 Series of windows and patio doors. The product line has been well received, and with the recovery in the housing market, demand for the products has grown.

As a result, in early 2015, Andersen announced a $45 million expansion of two plants in its home state of Minnesota. The project, which will receive $2 million in performance-based incentives from the state, will create more than 300 new jobs. Concurrently, Andersen opened a new, modern factory in Bayport, to complement its other plants.

The company has been making products in Minnesota for more than 100 years. Hans Andersen, a Danish immigrant, opened a lumber yard, and provided standardized sizes of wood window frames, which became affectionately known in the construction industry as “the 10-minute window.”

Over the decades, Andersen has been on the front end of incorporating new materials, improving manufacturing techniques, and producing energy-efficient products. But one thing that has not changed is Andersen’s commitment to being a responsible employer and a sound community steward.

Andersen now employs more than 9,000 people in North America. That includes 450 employees (projected to grow to 650) at the Renewal by Andersen factory in Cottage Grove, which was first constructed in 1995, and will be enlarged as part of the expansion plan announced in 2015. The factory serves the window replacement market, with employees interacting directly with end-user consumers. Another plant in North Branch will also be enhanced in the new round of company investment.

When a business has operated in the same region for more than 100 years, it may not be surprising that it makes corporate citizenship a top priority.  The company sees being a responsible corporate citizen as including “everything from developing innovative, comprehensive sustainability initiatives to supporting community programs to creating a safe environment for our employees and customers.” Andersen has also committed to reduce solid waste, energy and water use by 20 percent by 2020.

Roseburg: Committed to Sustainable Forestry

  • December 20, 2014

For more than 75 years, an Oregon-based manufacturer named Roseburg Forest Products has harvested and sustained the forests, maintaining the highest standards of sustainability and stewardship of natural resources.

The closely held company operates 12 manufacturing plants, all in the U.S. Its major product lines include composite panels, plywood, engineered wood, and lumber. Yet, the starting point for this GreatManufacturingStory is the forest.

Roseburg owns 650,000 acres of forest land in Oregon and northern California. Each year, the company plants and nurtures more than five million new trees. Protecting that renewable resource is a matter of personal commitment to Roseburg’s management team and its 3,000 employees. Their environmental stewardship applies not only to the trees, but also to the soil and to the wildlife that inhabits the forest.

Sustainability extends to Roseburg’s material-use practices. Some 150,000 tons of wood residual material are reused every year to make high-grade particleboard. Other residuals are sent to a biomass co-generation facility where they are converted into energy.

Architects, builders, designers and consumers purchase Roseburg’s products, confident that the company is making the optimal use of forest products and residuals. Roseburg voluntarily complies with the Eco-Certified Composition (ECC) Sustainability Standard, which was developed by the Composite Panel Association.

As the association’s web site explains, “ECC Certification is available to individual manufacturing plants and requires an on-site qualification audit and subsequent annual audits. Unfinished composite panel products must first comply with the stringent California Air Resources Board (CARB) formaldehyde emissions regulation before being considered for other ECC criteria.” 

Qualified plants must then meet at least three of five other stringent standards, dealing with carbon footprint, local and renewable resources, recycled/recovered, sustainability, and wood sourcing practices.

Roseburg’s products can be seen in decorative applications (such as shelving, wall paneling, and veneer-finishes for furniture); construction uses (joists, columns, studs, beams, and real wood siding); and other industrial and specialty applications.

Yet, beyond the environmental stewardship and quality products, there is another side to this company that is also commendable. In September 2014, a wildfire swept through Weed, California, destroying houses and businesses alike. Roseburg’s veneer plant in Weed sustained significant damage.

Not only did Roseburg immediately set about replacing the boiler, and rebuilding the plant, but it also made heroic efforts to keep the affected workers employed. The company even took the lead in raising funds to assist victims who had lost their homes. Remarkably, the plant was partially open again well before Thanksgiving, and local leaders were effusive in their praise for this great manufacturing company.