Last year, when corporate giant Walmart made a commitment to sustainable manufacturing, it was a wake-up call to other large companies. For those within Lehigh’s Enterprise Systems Center (ESC), it was validation.
“Walmart is the 800-pound gorilla,” said Emory Zimmers, director of the ESC. “Once they took notice of the need for sustainable manufacturing it was a game changer for everyone committed to it.”
Making manufacturing more sustainable has been an industry imperative before being green was in vogue. But, in recent years it has picked up momentum as companies like Walmart and the federal government’s Department of Commerce made it a priority.
A study by the National Academy of Engineers showed that 93 percent of the material required to manufacture goods in the United States never makes it into the finished product. In essence, a high percentage of each product manufactured is pure inefficiency. Sustainable manufacturing involves the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts; conserve energy and natural resources; are safe for employees, communities, and consumers; and are economically sound.
For the last 35 years, ESC students have worked with companies throughout the Delaware, Lehigh and Susquehanna valleys to improve the bottom-line performance for more than 500 companies. Funding for much of this work has come from Pennsylvania’s Agility Program, which encourages manufacturing companies to become more effective and competitive by increasing manufacturing efficiency. The program places an emphasis on collaboration of graduate and undergraduate students with experienced alumni mentors to play an important role in developing real solutions implemented by industry partners.
Through a collaboration with Lehigh students, and with alumni who provide mentoring, the world’s largest food companies, Nestle and Kraft, have recently named their local facilities as national pilot projects for manufacturing sustainability.
Savings through sustainability
“I was excited to work with Lehigh students knowing they are process-oriented and results driven,” said James Durkin ‘83, the vice president of manufacturing for Kraft Foods Cheese and Dairy. Kraft Foods’ Lehigh Valley plant uses 10 wind turbines to power the nearly 1-million-square-foot facility. Lehigh students studied wind patterns and created decision-support tools to evaluate solar and wind energy for the company, enabling Kraft to evaluate its return on investment for any location in the country.
Durkin was so impressed with the results that he convinced Kraft’s vice president for sustainability to designate the Lehigh Valley plant as the country’s pilot facility for sustainable manufacturing and to have Lehigh students play a continued role.
This summer, 13 Lehigh students are working at the Lehigh Valley plant creating and conducting electricity process mapping, water and waste stream analysis, compressed air usage analysis and transportation and logistics process mapping. All of this will reduce Kraft’s operating costs through the adoption of more sustainable business practices.
Nestle, perhaps better known for its chocolate, has been in the Lehigh Valley for the past 16 years, where it manufactures and distributes bottled water as Nestle Waters. In 2007, when the company built a new facility in Breinigsville, Pa., it received the first gold LEED rating in Pennsylvania, one of the highest distinctions for green building design, construction and operations.
Lehigh students, working with Peter Rittenhouse, director of supply chain for Nestle Waters, created an energy process map that analyzed the entire system at the new plant. They were able to identify a computer glitch that did not enable the water towers, which cooled the building, to run efficiently. This catch by students will save the company $100,000 in electrical energy costs each year.
“The ESC’s unique layered-mentoring approach causes projects to maintain direction because the students have a constant guide to hitting the target,” said Rittenhouse.
Nestle Waters, NA, like its competitor Kraft, has also committed to making its Lehigh Valley water bottling plant the manufacturing sustainability pilot facility program for its entire operations, which includes 23 bottling operations in the U.S. and Canada.