At Weatherchem, Sustainability is Good Business
With the economy in the deepest recession in a generation, smart companies are looking for ways to cut back on their costs. At some companies, sustainability tends to fall by the wayside during tough economic times. But at Weatherchem, a Cleveland-based manufacturer of specialty consumer packaging, sustainability is becoming even more central to the way that the company does business.
“Weatherchem is going full speed ahead with sustainability initiatives,” said Jennifer Altstadt, President of Weatherchem Corporation. “We see sustainability not only as an issue of corporate responsibility and as a way to retain valuable employees, but as a central part of our business.”
Sustainability at Weatherchem focuses mainly on waste reduction and energy efficiency. As a manufacturing company, Weatherchem achieves cost savings and limits its environmental impact by reducing scrap, eliminating wasted materials and cutting down on energy usage.
The company was also recently recognized as a first-time recipient of the Northcoast 99 Award – given to northeast Ohio’s top employers for creating an excellent workplace, and environmental sustainability was part of the criteria for this honor.
Weatherchem approaches sustainability from a Lean Manufacturing perspective, hosting regular “rapid improvement” events to generate ideas from employees on how to reduce waste, identify opportunities to re-use materials, and other initiatives. Sustainability has also been the impetus for longer-term capital investments at Weatherchem.
“We’ve been able to find some quick sustainable solutions that resulted in immediate cost savings,” said Jennifer Altstadt. “We’re also looking for longer-term ongoing savings from some recent investments in more sustainable equipment.”
Weatherchem’s capital investments tied to sustainability include:
• Energy-efficient Electric Presses: Weatherchem has recently replaced six of its hydraulic presses (used to mold its plastic packaging products) with more energy-efficient electric presses that use 35-45% less energy. As opposed to hydraulic presses, which need to be cooled with evaporating water, the new energy-efficient electric presses will save approximately 800,000 gallons of water annually. The energy-efficient presses are also much quieter, with approximately 15 decibels of noise reduction per press, which contributes to a better work environment for employees.
• Natural Cold Air Chiller: Weatherchem uses a main chiller to cool its entire facility. The Weatherchem chiller now uses naturally cold air from outside – being located in Ohio, for much of the year, the air outside is cold enough to cool the manufacturing space. Although the chiller runs on electricity during the warm weather months, it is expected to generate energy cost savings of approximately 40-45% compared to the previous equipment.
Other Weatherchem sustainability efforts include:
• Reducing scrap by 50%: During the past three years, Weatherchem has achieved a 50% reduction in its scrap rate each year. The biggest contributors to scrap reduction were:
o Ongoing focus on Lean manufacturing to eliminate waste in the setup and teardown of production.
o First time quality parts: Weatherchem has renewed its focus on the quality of parts used for injection molding – this reduces the need for “do-overs” and wasted effort and materials.
o Improved monitoring of the manufacturing process: Weatherchem has developed an increasingly detailed knowledge of its entire production process, so that when problems or inefficiencies arise they can quickly be corrected.
o Newer tools and improved processes: Weatherchem has invested in new tools and a relentless emphasis on process improvement – from all levels of the company.
• Reducing product weight: Weatherchem’s scrap reduction has also been achieved in part by a steady lessening in the weight of the product. Weatherchem’s newest generation of caps and closures are 5-10% lighter than previous generations of the products, reducing the amount of virgin plastic material that needs to be included in their manufacture.
• Setting a goal to become “landfill free”: Weatherchem has a company-wide recycling program that will have recycled approximately 8 tons of paper during 2009. In addition to paper, all cardboard, corrugated packaging, plastic, closure scrap, liner cores, plant equipment, and office equipment used at Weatherchem are recycled.
• Chemical Reduction Program: Weatherchem uses chemical-free landscaping methods for its exterior grounds, and also trains its maintenance staff to reduce the use of chemicals when cleaning and maintaining the interior of the facility.
• Making all products recyclable: All Weatherchem products are made from polypropylene – “#5 plastic.” Until recently, most recycling centers could not accept this type of plastic, but more communities are now offering recycling programs that accept #5 plastic. This type of plastic is developing a reputation in the recycling industry as one of the easiest plastics to re-use for other purposes, such as shipping pallets, toothbrushes, and other post-consumer applications.
“Weatherchem strives to be an industry leader in sustainability, and we try to integrate sustainability in every part of our operations,” said Jennifer Altstadt. “Operating in an environmentally sustainable way is the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. By reducing waste and saving on the energy bill, we can also maintain our price levels and improve profitability.”
Weatherchem Corporation is an innovative manufacturer and marketer of convenient plastic dispensing closures and controlled access packaging. As the creators of the original Flapper® dispensing closure, Weatherchem now offers one of the industry’s most innovative closure product lines. In addition to LiquiFlapper® these include: NutraFlapper®, FlapMate®, Grinder NR, NutraGen II®, and Agricap®. Whether designing or selecting packaging for a new product or revamping the design of an existing product, Weatherchem has the closures that consumers love.
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