By Sam Rundell and Eric Huston
SKF was founded in 1907 and grew to become a global company, present in more than 130 countries. The Flowery Branch factory joined the SKF Group in 1986. SKF Flowery Branch is a bearing manufacturing plant located one hour north of Atlanta, Georgia. The site occupies 64 acres with 200,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space near Lake Sidney Lanier, employs 268 full-time people and last year produced over eight million bearings of various types and sizes. We are committed to a culture of sustainability and are always looking for new innovations to further that effort.
Some of the basic methods we use include conservation, recycling, reuse and point source reduction. Our journey to sustainability is guided by our Group Environmental, Health and Safety Policy, an ISO 14001 environmental management system, our BeyondZeroTM initiative and business excellence practices.
The parent company, AB SKF (commonly referred to as the “Group”) issued our first environmental policy in 1989 that evolved into the Group Environmental, Health and Safety Policy in 2005. The policy states:
“The Group’s overall objective is to attain long-term and sustained profitability. The main task related to this objective is to develop, produce and market products and services that satisfy the needs of our customers and at the same time are safe for their intended use. They should be efficient in their use of energy, protective of the environment, and recyclable or safely disposable.”
The policy goes on to describe SKF’s commitment to health, safety and the environment, both internally and externally.
The issuance of the policy strengthened and encouraged sustainability activities at Flowery Branch. We began our journey toward sustainability with obvious and rather simple activities, as many other companies have. A recycling task team was formed to expand our efforts beyond oil, steel and cardboard. We began recycling all metals, wood, plastic, carbide and diamond tools, grinding wheels, batteries, electronics, and more. An energy efficiency task team began to explore conservation opportunities. Both areas ultimately contributed to cost reductions, as well as environmental considerations.
SKF Group obtained ISO 14001 certification in 1998. This certification required the formation of an environmental management system for each facility within the group. This management system provided structure for our sustainability activities that we did not have before. Programs became documented and assessable. The new organization provided a roadmap for our sustainability activities that permitted them to continue despite changing circumstances and personnel.
An annual Aspect/Impact Analysis provided a method to prioritize activities and establish objectives and targets for the following year. Our HVAC system was modified for better control; heat exchangers were installed to make use of ambient temperature water for cooling when available; high energy consuming lights were replaced with energy efficient fluorescent fixtures; waste grease and the plastic drum liners are used for engineered fuel consumed at a cement kiln; ash generated from the combustion becomes part of the raw material for the next batch of cement, which results in zero landfill; and disposable shipping containers were replaced with returnable ones. The system also facilitates sharing information between SKF locations, as well as with local community organizations. Activities flourished and expanded beyond what we had originally envisioned.
To further achieve environmental excellence, SKF Group launched an ambitious and challenging target called BeyondZero in 2005. With this target, SKF aims to be the role model for sustainability in the industry. SKF challenges the limitation of conventional environmental targets, which typically drive only for zero negative impacts on nature. In combination with our internal efforts to reduce negative environmental impacts, we aim to exceed the “zero” target by contributing positively to the environment and going beyond the zero target.
The BeyondZero initiative is our contribution to maintaining a healthy planet by continuously minimizing the negative impacts on the environment from our operations AND at the same time helping our customers in achieving and maximizing their environmental performance. We work continuously and intensely to develop a portfolio of products, solutions and services to help our customers in energy efficiency with quantified examples. We offer our customers the power of engineering knowledge through innovation and technologies while helping to protect the environment at the same time.
The BeyondZero ambition is embedded in our approach to business excellence practices which began at Flowery Branch in 2009. The SKF Bridge of Business Excellence includes sustainability as one of the program drivers along with profitability, quality, innovation and speed. The values are: empowerment, high ethics, openness and teamwork. The principles of standardized work, right from me, we care, customer value driven output and continuous improvement can all be associated with sustainability initiatives.
Reference to business excellence helps to keep sustainability activities at the forefront of management’s agenda. Manufacturing systems are examined and modified where needed. Only the material needed for an operation is used, eliminating waste and contributing to point source reduction.
As a status check on our business excellence journey, in early 2011 the Flowery Branch team conducted an assessment and benchmarking exercise using the commercially available SKF Client Needs Analysis for Energy and Sustainability (CNA-ES). Through a facilitated workshop involving cross-functional disciplines, the CNA-ES helped us identify and reflect on our best practices gained from prior improvement activities, our current performance and areas of potential for future improvement. Some examples include:
Compressed air leaks were repaired and an inspection program was instituted to keep them in check.
We were able to optimize our heat treat furnace utilization and eliminate the need to operate and maintain an entire heat treat furnace line.
Condensate from air conditioning is collected and used for make-up water in the central grinding coolant system.
Occupancy sensors were installed to turn off lights when not needed.
Each task undertaken has made positive contributions to both internal and external environments and our profitability. Continuous improvement directs us to avail ourselves of new techniques and innovations as they develop.
Shared information from other SKF facilities and local entities are the source of many ideas and innovations for the future. Skylights and solar tubes, LED lighting, solar panels, and bio-mass are just a few ideas under consideration. Improved recycling and reuse methods are implemented as they become available. In addition, we are considering implementation of the newly released ISO 50001 energy management standard. We continually strive to identify and eliminate waste in our manufacturing processes. Indeed, the best way to conserve a resource is to not consume it in the first place.
Sustainability is an important part of our lives at SKF Flowery Branch. Our Group Environmental, Health and Safety Policy, ISO 14001 environmental management system and business excellence practices have been instrumental in guiding us on our journey to sustainability. Through continuous improvement, we will strive to become more efficient in our use of resources and be good stewards of the environment while also achieving our financial objectives. Sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive; we can achieve both, as long as we continue to include sustainability in our agenda and sustain it as part of our culture.
Sam Rundell is the Environmental, Health and Safety Administrator at SKF Flowery Branch, Georgia. He has over twenty years experience in manufacturing and plant engineering with SKF. www.skf.com
Eric Huston is Vice President, Asset and Energy Management for SKF Service Division based in San Diego, California. He has over twenty years of physical asset management work experience. www.skf.com