Creating a “green” business through sustainable processes and energy efficiency has become a top priority for manufacturers. Here are five “green” converting practices that aren’t just an altruistic notion — they’re smarter ways to run your company.
Within the converting industry, where scrap is a fact of life, the concept of reducing waste isn’t just a feel-good movement. It’s how converters do business.
While it may seem like our industry is a bit late to adapt to new business trends, when it comes to sustainability, the argument could be made that we’ve been relentless in our pursuit of reducing scrap for years. Sustainability and efficiency involve similar goals and processes.
In this post, we are going to focus on five ways to improve the sustainability of your business (and our old friend, the earth) by doing everything you can to reduce waste.
Examples of Sustainability in Print-Related Industries
In an article in Label and Narrow Web, a number of sustainability efforts were highlighted, including:
- RR Donnelley’s “reuse, repair, repurpose and recycle” mantras, which includes using end-of-roll paper as packing material, returning wood pallets to vendors for reuse, and reprocessing or remixing ink.
- UPM Raflatac using over 760 products on a global level that contain recycled content, are FSC or PEFC certified, or include environmentally benign adhesives.
- Green Bay Packaging’s KONA Paper, which is made of used coffee bean bags, while PLA sustainable films are made from corn.
Two surveys reveal that consumers are willing to pay more to companies that embrace sustainability (55% willing to pay extra) and that CEOs feel that sustainability is a key part of their future (81% in 2010, up from 50% in 2007).
All of this is nothing new to anyone who has read about climate change and the need for us to clean up our act on a global level. But what can converters do to improve their own processes, and reduce the amount of waste we generate?
Five Techniques to Reduce Waste
What’s encouraging about sustainability is that it doesn’t necessarily require an increase in expenditures on your part. Going green with your converting actually can be a reassessment of your current processes, and a move towards more efficient methodologies. Here are five for starters.
1. Use an island placement module
In the past, when you cut out small parts from expensive materials, there tended to be a high degree of waste because you didn’t have control of spacing.
When you use an island placement module, as demonstrated in the video below, you can generate space as needed, limiting the amount of material you’re wasting. Parts are cut out of the more expensive material and then laid down on a base web traveling at a higher rate of speed, allowing you to generate spacing.
Lynn Perenic of Argent Tape and Label used island placement to reduce scrap and wasted materials. Argent has a significant presence in the automotive vertical markets, and one of their projects involved an automotive glove box tag.
“Using the old way, we were running it on a flexo press, die cutting it and placing the tape,” she said. “We were wasting about 3 to 4 inches of tape.”
If tape is cheap, that’s fine. But when the material is more expensive, as it was in this case, the costs can mount up. Argent Tape and Label immediately saw an impact on its bottom line: They’d shipped approximately 178,000 parts since January of 2017, and because of island placement, they’d realized cost savings of $4,450.
Perenic mentioned how well island placement also works with specialty shapes. One particular project involved acrylic foam tape placed on nameplates. Island placement allows for the nameplates to be place on the desired location without ooze and thus there is less scrap.
Island placement is used in the medical and pharmaceutical realm, particularly with transdermal drug patches. Waste is expensive, especially when you’re getting charged by the pound if it’s a drug or toxic.
2. Rewind and reuse release liners
The amount of waste generated by release liners is astronomical. Again, L&NW sites NTI data, which indicates approximately 370,000 tons of waste comes from release liners.
This efficiency, er, sustainability effort is all thanks to tension-controlled rewinding. The waste that results from release liners has long been an industry headache. But thanks to more tension-controlled rewinding, the re-liner can be rewound and used again.
Other efforts include the use of linerless labels, which Alexander Watson Associates noted in a 2014 report could “save up to 14.5 of the total applied costs of labels.”
3. Consider seconds
Companies may decide to ship their waste to a company like Channeled Resources, which takes your scrap and repurposes it into “seconds.”
A longstanding business focused on sustainability and recycling well before it became in vogue, Channeled Resources allows you to both do something more productive with your waste, and also purchase repurposed scraps in a potentially cost-saving manner.
4. Implement slot die coating
The slot die coating process has the ability to reduce coating solution and substrate losses in the scale-up and manufacturing process. Dr. Edward Cohen, who had provided us with tremendous insights on coating before, describes the different mechanisms that make this possible:
All of the coating solution that is delivered to the slot die is applied to the substrate. Therefore; there is no solution losses from solution aging and contamination as there is in coating process which recycle the coating solution, such as roll coaters, air knife, etc.
The solution coating weight is rapidly achieved and controlled by precise control of the flow rate. This reduces start-up time and reduces start-up loss of coating solution and substrate.
The control of coating weight during a coating campaign is rapid and precise and reduces the loss of coating solution and substrate. Most other methods take a longer time to correct coating and material coated in this time is scrapped.
The Transverse coating weight Profile Td uniformity is 1-2%, which is significantly better than most other coating methods. If the uniformity is much larger than 5-8%, as with other coating methods, the average coating weight must be set high enough so that the lowest point in the profile meets product performance requirements. With a more uniform Td, the average coating weight control point can be reduced, resulting in reduced coating solution consumption. This can be significant with expensive coating solution ingredients.
5. Spreading via separation of the web
Creating separation of the web allows you to generate even more efficiencies. The principle is simple: Using a series of different rollers, one big web can be spread out to multiple different webs, with converting modules that can all perform different functions.
For example, if you have a web coming in starting out at 8” wide, it can be split into 4 – 2” strips. Rollers cause the separation, and the parts can be peeled off and placed in different locations.
Many people who have relied on legacy equipment are continuously overlooking spreading as an option, especially in industries where the materials aren’t as costly. However, with a growing focus on sensibility, the bottom line might not be the only consideration.
If you’re looking for ways to eliminate waste, consider a spreading option even if materials are cheap.
What Else Can You Do?
If you’re looking for ways to improve your company’s own sustainability efforts, take a look at Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI)’s L.I.F.E. program, which was created for its converter and supplier members. L.I.F.E. stands for Label Initiative for the Environment, and its goal is to assist its association’s members with finding cost-effective ways to reduce their company’s environmental footprint.
The program is open to the public, notes TMLI Environmental Health and Safety Committee chairman Calvin Frost. Over 60 facilities have earned the distinction, and Frost notes that “I believe it sets one converter apart from another.”
Sustainability yields so many positive benefits, but as has often been the case with the industrial world, sometimes the bottom line trumps the impact on Mother Earth. The methods we’ve shared for you reveal methods that not only help the planet, but help your business, too.